6. Labels 101: Know the difference between marketing and nutrition, Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, author of Eat Drink Vote advises.
“The food industry spends billions of dollars a year to encourage people to buy their products, but foods marketed as ‘healthy’ particularly encourage sales and, therefore, greater calorie intake,” says Nestle. She explains that research shows that people will eat more of a food if they perceive it to be healthy. Eating too much of even healthy foods is a problem, but often these ‘healthy’ foods are anything but. For instance, the flavor that you lose from taking the fat out of yogurt to make it “low fat” is often replaced with, you guessed it, sugar.
7. Labels 201: Do a quick scan of ingredient labels when making food purchases, says Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, author of The Hunger Fix.
If you have trouble deciphering the nutrition label, remember this quick tip: -ose is gross. “If you find high-fructose corn syrup, then that container should be gone,” says Dr. Peeke. “Anything with sugar, rice syrup, corn syrup, or an -ose (fructose, sucrose) as one of the first three ingredients. Gone.”
8. Labels 301: Get more in-depth on ingredient labels, suggests Robert Lustig, MD.
“There are two reasons that people don’t know how to read a label,” says Dr. Lustig. “First, there are 56 names for sugar, and the food industry uses all of them. What they’ll often do is use different kinds of sugar specifically to lower the amount of any given one so that it goes further down the ingredient list.” It’s a sneaky trick that manufacturers use so that “sugar” isn’t the first thing people see. “You can have different sugars for ingredient number five, six, seven, eight and nine; but if you add them up, it’s number one.”
“The second problem is that they list total sugars, not added sugar.” Dr. Lustig explains this using yogurt: A plain yogurt will have about 7 grams of naturally occurring lactose. “It’s the fructose that matters, and that’s what’s in the added sugar,” he says. A fruit-flavored yogurt will have 19 grams of sugar, meaning it has 12 grams of added sugar. “It’s like eating a bowl of plain yogurt plus a bowl of Cap’n Crunch.” The Food and Drug Administration is currently working to add a line on food labels for added sugar, so Dr. Lustig also recommends that you write your representative to support the new food labeling.
9. Figure out why you’re eating it, says Anne Alexander, host of the Get Sugar Smart online course.
“You’re supposed to enjoy a chocolate chip cookie,” explains Alexander. “But if an out-of-control sweet tooth threatens your health, it’s likely that you overeat sweet foods for reasons other than pleasure. Two of the most common are stress relief and emotional comfort.” She points out that understanding why you’re turning to sugar can help you find healthier alternatives, such as exercise or support from friends.
10. Love yourself more than sugar is what Talia Fuhrman, author of Love Your Body, stresses.
It’s OK to forgive yourself for sugar slip-ups, but remember that, for next time, you can be your own best friend. “Self-oriented compassion is a key part of loving ourselves, inside and out,” says Fuhrman. “You may fight yourself on the urge to dive into an entire cheesecake and then feel guilty or shameful because you didn’t have the discipline to stop yourself from eating the whole thing—but the truth is, you can love yourself more than you love that quick hit of sugar.” She points out that self-destructive binges often stem from low self-esteem, so focusing on loving yourself can be easier than focusing on avoiding sugar.