The abundance of sugary foods in the firehouse (or any house) can make it difficult to lose those "Holiday" pounds. Here are five great tips every first responder should use to reduce sugars.
How are your pants and uniform fitting? We all resolve (at some point) to improve our health and fitness yet oftentimes find that we are a couple of pounds heavier than we want to be. And, it seems like everywhere you go there are leftover cookies, cakes, and baked goods. I often find myself saying; “You picked the wrong day to cut sugar.”
There is no shame in craving sweets, at least that is what I tell myself. According to research, sugar is said to be as addictive as some street drugs, with similar effects on the brain. The problem with eating too much sugar is that it can lead to body fat accumulation, mood swings, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a slew of other health problems (Why Sugar is Bad- Click Here).
How much sugar should we be eating?
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day (88 grams), which amounts to an extra 350 calories. While we sometimes add sugar to food ourselves, most added sugar comes from processed and prepared foods. Sugar-sweetened beverages and breakfast cereals are two of the most serious offenders. It is important to make the distinction between added sugars and sugars that occur naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables. It’s the added sugar that’s problematic. Not the natural sugar in fruit, which has fiber to slow absorption.
Sugars are added to food to help them taste better. The most obvious added sugars are regular table sugar (sucrose) or high fructose corn syrup that you find in sweets, chocolate, cakes, and some fizzy and juice drinks. What is surprising is that sugars are added to other products you consume every day including packaged vegetables, ketchup, greek yogurts, and salad dressings. The good news is that added sugars can no longer be hidden. New FDA labels require that manufacturers list the added sugar content of their food products (Click here for the FDA regulation).
The American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended that Americans drastically cut back on added sugar to help slow the obesity and heart disease epidemics. They suggest an added-sugar limit of no more than 30-36 grams 120-146 calories) per day, depending on your size and gender. That’s about how much is in a medium-sized brownie.
There’s no nutritional need or benefit that comes from eating added sugar and reducing it might be more difficult than you think. The best approach is to gradually implement these tips and stay consistent with following them. Of course, there will be the occasional “cheat meal” which is acceptable as long as it does not turn into 3-months of cheat meals.
- There are some obvious ways to reduce sugar, the best way is to avoid or reduce products that have a lot of added sugar, including foods that list “sugar” as the first or second ingredient. This sounds obvious but the first and the best thing you can do is make some conscious efforts to just eat less sugar: reduce cakes, cookies, sugary cereals, desserts, etc.
- Find the hidden sugars. Read labels, sugar is hidden in a lot of common foods. You will notice it is added to vegetables, yogurts, milk products, and dressings. Often, the lower-fat options have higher amounts of sugar to help with the taste. Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar, or go for the low-sugar version.
- Eat whole, real foods. If you have a sweet tooth, try satisfying your cravings with sweet foods like fruit. When you do eat packaged foods, check the ingredient list and know the various names for sugar (dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose) so you can spot it in the foods you’re eating. Packaged foods might also have sugar alternatives like high-fructose corn syrup which can also be detrimental to your health. Stick to eating real foods whenever possible.
- Instead of sugary, fizzy drinks and juice drinks (soda), go for water or unsweetened fruit juice (try to dilute the fruit juices to further reduce the sugar). If you take sugar in hot drinks or add it to cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether!
- Reduce desserts either in frequency or amounts. It’s alright to indulge every once in a while, try to mind portion sizes when you do. The best way to indulge is to have it part of a planned “cheat” day where you give yourself a day or a meal. The key is to not let these indulges turn into a common event.
I’ve been trying to reduce sugars to the recommended amounts. It was difficult at first, but after a couple of days that sugar “craving” subsided. And, as the cravings went away I noticed my energy and mood improved. Click here to join ZAM in the CHALLENGE.
If you want to make improvements to your health (and physique) you must find ways to reduce sugar in your diet. Implementing these small steps to reduce sugars can go a long way toward improving your health.
I challenge you (and your crew/ family) to find ways to reduce sugar….
Let me know if these tips help.
Stay safe and healthy,
Aaron Zamzow (ZAM)
Looking to improve your health and fitness? FRF has just launched the Resilient 50-day Challenge. FREE entry includes a workout, eating guide, and motivation. Get started today!
Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013;16(4):434-439. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8
Freeman CR, Zehra A, Ramirez V, Wiers CE, Volkow ND, Wang GJ. Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Front Biosci (Landmark Ed). 2018;23:2255-2266.
Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-20.