Sugar is the main dietary culprit of cavities and tooth decay, yet many Americans consume more sugar than they ever realize. Even if you have relatively healthy eating habits, sugar is added to numerous foods you may never suspect, such as bread, pasta and yogurt. Of course, sugar is also a necessary part of our diet, and therefore shouldn't be cut out entirely. Yet, if you're consuming too much sugar, it won't only be bad for your teeth, but can also lead to cardiovascular risks and other general health problems. Here are seven ways to cut back on unnecessary sugar intake:
1. Change your drinking habits
Drinks such as fruit juices, teas and coffees, cocktails, sports drinks and sodas are main offenders of tooth decay and often contain tremendous amounts of added sugar. Try to reduce how often you consume sugary libations from your diet, and avoid adding sugar to drinks when possible. For example, if you're in the habit of adding lots of sugar or honey to your tea, slowly try to wean down how much you mix into your daily cup. When it comes to coffee, be wary of elaborate seasonal beverages, as these drinks often pack loads of excess calories and added sugars. Instead of opting for soda or a sports beverage, drink a glass of water instead.
2. Skip the artificial sweeteners
Time magazine notes that artificial sweeteners can confuse your body. This is because when you taste sweet foods, the digestive system expects calories. Some research suggests that artificial sweeteners are even associated with weight gain. Though these alternatives do not have the same tooth-damaging properties as sugar, they offer no nutritional benefits and may leave you craving the real thing. One exception is sugarless gum, which can help fight bad breath and plaque buildup.
3. Focus on other flavors
Whether you're a master chef or mediocre home cook, everyone knows that sugar can make a dish taste good. Rather than focus on the sweet elements of a dish, skip the sugar and highlight other flavors. Herbs, spices, powders and extracts can all add a big kick of flavor to make a meal stand out without putting your teeth and gums at risk. The American Heart Association advises swapping out sugar for extracts such as vanilla, almond or lemon.
4. Opt for fresh fruit
Fruit juice often has more added sugar than you'll need in a day. What's more, canned fruits stored in syrup pack a heavy dose of added sugar. According to Time, even prepackaged smoothies that seem healthy contain a surprising amount of sugar. In order to cut down, purchase fresh fruits and eat them rather than drink them. If you're an avid smoothie drinker, use a blender at home to make smoothies from scratch rather than relying on a local shop or ice cream parlor. All in all, fruit is a valuable part of a balanced diet, but remain cognizant of added sugars in processed fruit products.
5. Set a quota
Knowing how much sugar your body needs in a day is imperative to cutting out excess. The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day and that men consume no more than nine. This is the equivalent of 24 and 36 grams, respectively. Take note of how much sugar you are consuming each day, and then make a point of reducing your intake to the recommended amount. This will allow you to identify what foods and drinks are major offenders (such as soda) and see the difference made by eliminating them from your diet.
6. Rethink snacks
Staple snacks such as potato chips and popcorn can be major contributors to tooth decay, and don't provide great nutritional benefits. Instead, swap out unhealthy snacks for fruits, vegetables, nuts and other balanced alternatives. Remember that candy, cookies and other sweets are high in sugar as well. Dried fruits are a healthy snack, but keep in mind that they are usually sticky and can cling to your teeth. When you enjoy dried fruits, make sure to rinse your mouth afterward and make a point of flossing well.
7. Read food labels
There's no way of knowing how much sugar is in the foods you buy if you don't read the label. When you're out grocery shopping for a big meal, take note of how much sugar is in each item individually. This will give you a sense of how much sugar is going into the meal overall. Read the label carefully to understand the other nutritional benefits as well. If you pick up an item that has lots of added sugar, seek out a comparable alternative that's a bit healthier.