Take the “sweet” into your own hands.

When I decided to make the switch to eating healthy, I only focused on eliminating one ingredient from my food: SUGAR. At the time that seemed relatively easy. I figured it was time to stop eating chocolate chip cookies (my ultimate addiction!) and cereal and probably that was about as much sugar as I was consuming in my daily diet. Wow was I wrong!!!!

The decision to stop eating that one ingredient led me onto an incredible journey of discovering how to read nutrition labels, ingredients, and most importantly “in between the lines”. By the time I figured out what foods had sugar I realized that I could never eat again. Kidding…but not really. So many foods have sugar or sugar substitutes or sugar alcohol….the list is never ending. Now with the “organic” movement and the “gluten free” movement, companies have put in sexy ingredients to motivate consumers to choose their products over the traditional ones – without them realizing that the products are still full of sugar.

Common “hidden” names for sugar include:

  • Agave Nectar
  • Evaporated Cane Juice
  • Barley Malt
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Cane Juice Crystals
  • Carub Syrup
  • Corn Syrup
  • Corn Syrup Solids
  • Crystaline Fructose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit Juice Concentrates
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Glucose
  • Galactose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Organic Raw Sugar
  • Sucrose

….and there’s more that I am not listing.

In addition to these “sugar” ingredients, is the naturally occurring sugars you have in whole foods such as fruits. And of course we can’t ignore foods that rise our blood sugar (aka carbohydrates),

So the question for me became… can I absolutely eliminate sugar from mine and my family’s diet? The answer is an absolute NO.

My children inevitably eat sugary foods while they’re at school, birthday parties, halloween, and family functions.

I definitely eat less sugar than them because I don’t get a popsicle when I finish working out and no one gives me candy when I finish a motion in my law practice, but nonetheless I make exceptions just like everyone else. 🙂

So what’s the workaround for my family?

My conclusion has been that even though I can’t eliminate sugar (or junk food) in its entirety, I can definitely LIMIT it…at the very least in my home where I do have control.

I find that the best way I can limit sugar is to prepare my food at home. This can range from making homemade food from scratch or using certain already made ingredients that I feel comfortable as a base for what I am going to prepare.

I understand how hard this is. I am an attorney and work, I have 3 kids, I have hundreds of social commitments, I have to help with homework and clean the house and do laundry and take the boys to karate and soccer. I also have to exercise and make time for my husband. It is not easy to make foods from scratch. But we all have priorities and what we prioritize gets done. For some it is a priority to always look well groomed and pretty. I can easily say I never have time to put on makeup or blowdry my hair, but the reality is that makeup and blowdry is not my priority. (It probably should be!!!) For some the priority is keeping the house immaculate and in conversation a friend might confess “I don’t know how you have time to always keep the house clean, I just don’t have time to sweep every day.” You get the picture.

For me, food is a priority. So if I have to choose between making food or folding the clothes…I choose the food. And making my own foods makes my options endless. It allows me to eliminate sugar from recipes that I don’t think need it. It allows me to use the kinds of sweeteners I want to use – such as maple syrup, honey, carob or stevia. And most importantly it gives me control over quantities. Therein lies the key.

So here are 5 food items where we pack on a lot of sugar and can easily make adjustments to limit the intake and have a healthier home.

  1. Yogurt. I used to buy chobani yogurt for the kids and they loved them. They are so easy to throw in a lunchbox and have real fruit…but they are super high in sugar. I eventually bit the bullet and switched over to plain greek yogurt. Now I have small containers for the kids that I can put the yogurt in and I add in the ingredients I want. Sometimes I drizzle a little bit of honey, other times I put raisins or fruit or some granola for crunch. I recently saw Fage is selling a plain yogurt with a little packet of honey on the side. It is the same concept except I would never put all the honey the packet brings as it would be outrageously high in sugar.
  2. Oatmeal – I used to buy the variety pack instant oatmeal packets. My favorite was maple brown sugar and the banana one. Then I learned about the benefits of steel cut oats and I decided to make the switch. At first my kids were not thrilled with this change. They used to tell me that they like their grandma’s oatmeal better than mine. But little by little they got used to it, especially when I started doing this little trick: I make the steel cut oats with a little cinnamon and a vanilla stick but otherwise plain (sometimes I cook it with apples). I serve it on the plate and I set on the table chopped banana and a bottle of maple syrup. then I have the kids add in the banana and I help them to a little drizzle of maple syrup. They enjoy the process so much that they love the oatmeal and always ask for more. I’ve realized that when they KNOW they are adding sweet, it doesn’t have to BE so sweet. They only need a drizzle. As for me, I have begun enjoying oatmeal with unsweetened almond milk and I don’t require any sweet.
  3. Muffin, pancake and waffle mixes – There are so many great recipes nowadays on paleo and healthy websites. There is really no reason to buy store bought processed mixes. In addition to controlling what kind of flour and sweeteners you use, you can also add in really great ingredients like seeds, coconut oil, raw cacao, etc.
  4. Chocolate Milk- We all love my chocolate milk recipe. Unsweetened almond milk, raw cacao, a pinch of celtic sea salt, and stevia to taste. For the advanced palettes, we add a few drops of cayenne pepper.
  5. Nut Butters- I love nutella. It is just delicious. But let’s face it, that is a treat for very limited occasions. There are, however, healthy nut butters that you can make to have the feel of nutella. My favorite is 1 cup of almonds, 1-2 tbsp of raw cacao, a pinch of celtic sea salt and 1 packed tbsp of coconut oil (for those with a big sweet tooth you can add a couple of drops of stevia)- blend in a high power blender. This makes a delicious nutella-like spread that goes perfectly with a banana, apple or pear or on a slice of ezekiel bread.

These simple ideas can make a huge difference in your home and keep you from piling on too much sugar onto your daily diet.