Simple ways to reduce your added sugar intake

Our next post was written by school teacher and mother of two, Jenna Smith. One of our newest Steering Committee parent members, Smith lives on the Gold Coast and enjoys running and touch football. Her piece provides tips on how to reduce one’s daily sugar intake. 

Life with a family can be a little crazy at times. Parents are often working full-time on top of family and social commitments, plus sport and school-related activities, meaning they’re often left without much spare time. As a parent, we have many little ‘assistants’ that supposedly make our 21st century lives easier, but what I’ve found is that all of these technologies, amazing health remedies and quick fixes are making life more complicated. This is particularly true when it comes to food.

Feeding your family is one of the most important jobs you have as a parent, but there’s so much pressure involved. We’re advised to avoid too much gluten, wheat, dairy, sugar, preservatives and pesticides, GMO (genetically modified organisms) and MSG (monosodium glutamate). Some tell us to be paleo, vegan or vegetarian; to avoid artificially sweetened treats; and to buy Australian made products to support local farmers.

My advice would be to keep it simple and avoid complication. Only you truly know what’s best for your family and there are thousands of ways to ensure they eat well. Naturally, you will only succeed if you find the way that best suits you.

I personally chose to ‘wage war’ on added sugar in our household because it’s found everywhere, particularly in the most unexpected places. To reduce my family’s added sugar intake, I had to conduct some research around processed foods to help shape my food choices. I also had to cook more often than I normally would. While this may be inconvenient, I believe my health is an investment, so I invested my time. In a nutshell, this is what worked for me:

  • Eating real foods: If the food is sold in its natural, whole form, it won’t contain any added nasties, including our little white ‘frenemy’. I sweeten my meals with whole vegetables and fruits instead of opting for cans, jars or packets.

  • Avoiding the inner aisles at the supermarket: I stick to the ends of my grocery store, as this is usually where the raw, whole foods are found. The products with the most added sugar are generally found on shelves, or in bottles, jars and packaged products.
  • Always reading the label: I became completely disheartened and outraged when I took a closer look at the processed items my family were regularly consuming. It’s not always possible to avoid processed foods, but now I always check the ingredients list. Lists with fewer words are always advisable, while products with unknown ingredients should be overlooked. Lists are always descending in order of which ingredients make up the majority of the product, so if sugar, or any of its misleading aliases, are high on the list, avoid the product.

  • Taking the serving size into consideration: I was surprised to learn how much sugar and preservatives are found in full-serve sizes. Whenever I offer my family a treat, I make sure I only serve a small portion and only occasionally.

Although this may sound easy enough to follow, it’s just as easy to fall back into bad habits, consuming more added sugar than intended and visiting the same aisles and same shelves, once the inconvenience of life sets in. To address this, meal preparation is perhaps the safest way to avoid added sugars by eating more real, whole foods. Meal prep isn’t reserved for weightlifters or gym junkies, nor is it designed to add yet another task to your already busy day. I find it’s an important step towards leading a happier, more organised and healthier life. To prepare meals, I ensure my trips to the supermarket are planned well in advance. If you don’t yet have the healthy ingredients at your home, you’ll likely regress to the quick fix alternative.

One of the greatest tools a working family can have is a slow cooker. I pop my ingredients into the cooker and serve them upon your returning from work. Also, I prepare my oats or chia puddings the night before eating them. I also have containers full of random vegetables ready to throw into a rough omelette for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, so I’m not relying on packaged cereals.

If this has inspired you, challenge yourself and challenge the industry. I’ve accepted the challenge and I’m feeling better than ever. Your family is worth it and, like me, you and your children will never look back.

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