It seems that experts and talking heads everywhere preach the benefits of completely cutting sugar out of our diets. It improves brain function, heart health and even dementia in the long-term. But sugar can sometimes be a necessary evil, and by simply keeping your sugar consumption in-check, you reap the same health benefits as those who cut it out entirely. We spoke with Nikki Ostrower, nutritionist and founder of NAO Nutrition to get her easy and effective tips on how to limit your sugar intake as we forge into the year ahead.
Maintain normalized blood sugar levels
If you’re a morning person, it can be very easy to get in the routine of rolling out of bed, throwing on your gym clothes, and heading right to class without eating beforehand. This can cause your blood sugar to drop, and can easily lead to poor health choices following class. “It may be cliche, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day,” Ostrower says. She recommends eating wholesome, high protein foods such as hard boiled eggs or greek yogurt before heading out the door to help stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings. Which leads us to…
Avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach
We’ve all been there. Half-asleep, running late to the indoor cycling studio – a $6, sugary cup of coffee is a small price to pay for nodding off during tap-backs. While cutting out coffee altogether is unnecessary – and near impossible for the majority of us – Ostrower does not suggest drinking coffee on an empty stomach. The caffeine “increases blood sugar, and pokes on our adrenal glands” which can easily lead to poor food choices or more sugary options when you’re looking for an afternoon burst of energy. Next time you’re feeling groggy, Ostrower suggests trying low-sugar kombucha tea instead. The fermented, probiotic beverage repairs your gut and re-energizes you for the day ahead.
Prepare your next day’s meals at night
Short on time? Plan and prep your meals the night before. Not only does this keep you in control of portion sizes and sugar levels, but it saves you money; sparing yourself from the daily 4 o’clock Starbucks run and any office refrigerator temptations.
Ostrower suggests the easy to digest, and easier to prepare (I’m talking less than five minutes, people!), overnight oats to keep you full the majority of your day. By switching from the store-brand to store-bought ingredients, you avoid processed sugars that often accompany oatmeals of the instant variety.
Our favorite – combine chia seeds, steel cut oats, cinnamon, one peeled medium apple, and one cup almond milk. Blend and let refrigerate overnight. Eight hours later and voila! You have a caramel apple in a cup!
Incorporate low glycemic fruits into your shopping cart
It’s easy to let our stomachs (and imaginations) run wild when food shopping. Cookies just seem so easily justifiable when strategically placed next to the almond milk! As a solution, Ostrower recommends reaching for fruits that are low glycemic instead. Cherries, pears, and grapefruits are all packed with antioxidants and prevent spikes in blood sugar, satisfying your sweet tooth, while keeping your processed sugar cravings at bay.
In contrast, super sugary foods or foods high in carbohydrates amp up glucose levels in your bloodstream. Carbs aren’t all gloom and doom, however, as they can aid in a quick recovery following a vigorous workout. Just remember, balance is key!
Crave a healthier lifestyle rather than a strictly regulated diet
“2017 is all about lifestyle, rather than resolution,” Ostrower says. Actively seeking nutrient-dense meals rather than empty calories, are much easier goals to aspire to and achieve, than just cutting out sugar cold-turkey. Start small and make minor adjustments. Try signing up for classes out of your comfort zone, skipping the appetizer when out to eat, or even going to sleep an hour earlier. Little changes like these can drastically improve your way of life, with little effort exerted. Before you know it, your resolve to eat healthier will be second nature. And sugar? Left behind in 2016!