I was recently asked three questions that go hand-in-hand: What are some ways to limit sugar intake? How do you approach grocery shopping and reading labels? Where did I have success/failure in my sugar-breakup? I'm going to split this up into 2 posts. This will focus on shopping and the next will be more about cutting down on sugar in general.
Let's start off with this cute, yet scary little intro:
An article similar to this video is what sparked my interest in sugar. And just as a disclaimer, I probably go over that recommended 25g added sugar maybe 2-4 times each week. However, I'm rarely over by much. Yesterday was Valentines Day, so there was a lot of chocolate and ice cream in my life. I set myself up really well in the beginning of the day, kind of knowing that I would take chocolate to the face later on in the day.... I had 1/3 of a Dove Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate bar and something my mom calls The Brownie Dessert (I'm going to highlight that in my next post, so sit tight and I'll link to it when its done!)
Let's get down to it!
The way I approached grocery shopping living alone in Korea and the way I approach it in the US are very different. In Korea, "guilty products" are much more obvious. If it looks bad, it probably is. There really isn't much food advertising in Korea, with the exception of print ads, so they aren't subject to the same inundation of propaganda and product-selling that we are in the US. I'm going to try to combine what I did and learned there, with how I now shop here.
1. Be aware of all sugar's aliases.
Sugar- just sugar- can have 56 different names! That is NOT including chemical sweeteners. Know your enemy! Ok, that's a little dramatic- sugar isn't the enemy.... more like the friend you know you should only see sometimes because the relationship is a wee bit toxic.
2. Shop the perimeter of the store first.
Produce, meat, dairy, and health food sections should be first. Just be aware that just because a product is "organic" or "natural" doesn't mean it is low in sugar, and certainly doesn't indicate that it is good for you (it also doesn't preclude it from being a better option). Once you go into those middle aisles, you open yourself up to temptation. If you know you can't trust yourself, then stay away! Or, and this is what I usually do, make a list. Seems intuitive, I know, but if you're bee-lining for only the products you need, they you can sail right past the other stuff.
I usually like to buy ridiculous amounts of fresh produce. I aim for 5-6 helpings of veg, and 3-5 of fruit per day. Sometimes I struggle with it, but having the produce in the house and not wanting to let it go bad and have it be wasted money is real motivation to get the good stuff in!
What I buy in the middle:
+ pretzels or Wasa crackers/water crackers (ideally, ONE crunchy-carby snack in the house at any given time)
+ spices and condiments. Ketchup (will always be a staple, but I am aware it is loaded with sugar), grated parm, grainy mustard, dressings (I a-l-w-a-y-s cut my dressings with water or Greek yogurt, lower the impact and stretches them so I don't need to buy them more often)
+ coffee and tea
+ 1 cereal. I'll go with something that tastes good with relatively low sugar. Right now I have the Post Cranberry Almond somethingorother, and I bought the same thing in Korea.
+ canned stuff. For me, canned or jarred items are rare, but sometimes I want chickpeas or olives or stewed tomatoes.
+ natural peanut butter and sometimes grape jelly. My name is Katie and I'm a PB&J addict.
3. How I read the label:
Part 1: The nutrition table
I'm going to focus on the absolute basics. Sugar only. I know there is value to knowing how to read the calories, protein, sugar, and fiber together. However, today we're keeping it focused on sugar only.
First, I think about the product in my hand. What is it? What should be in it? Is it or does it have fruit or dairy? I'm really, really picky with yogurt. We know that sugar occurs naturally in dairy, but just how much it natural? You should absolutely watch this short video put out by CBS News:: The Skinny on Yogurt and Your Health. It tells us that for a 6oz serving of yogurt, there should be no more than 12g of sugar: that's the natural sugar. If you reach for the fruity yogurt, read the ingredient list (more on that in a bit)!
Things like juices, that claim to be made from 100% juice- I'm very suspicious of. I usually steer clear, but occasionally get the single-serving containers and make them last for a long time (I dilute my juice).
Part 2: The ingredients
I eat a lot of peanut butter. My favorite breakfast is steel cut oatmeal with peanut butter, banana, 1/2 scoop vanilla protein, and almond milk. And, as you read above, I love me some PB&J. Peanut butter is/was (I've noticed a difference in the labels of major brands recently) a huge culprit of the sneaky added sugars. You think "this doesn't taste sweet," but there is absolutely sugar in it. I shifted to the 1 or 2 ingredient brands. Peanut butter's ingredient list should read like this: peanuts, salt. Some brands are made without salt, but I prefer it with a little salt added.
It is super important to look at the ingredient list. Reading the list is pretty easy, the most prevalent ingredient is first and the least prevalent is last. Sometimes I pick something up and see that it has sugar on the list, and I'm ok with it- because it is so far down on the list. For example, my favorite yogurt is the Chobani passion fruit: 5.3 oz, 140 cal, 15g sugar, 11g protein. If you watched the yogurt video, you'll notice it is a little higher in calories with a little more sugar than is ideal. However, this product contains both dairy sugar AND fruit sugar. Reading the ingredient list, I noticed "evaporated cane juice" as an ingredient, and that is a sugar alias. Knowing how much sugar should be there based on the container size, knowing that there is a little fruit, seeing that the sugar is relatively low on the ingredient list; I conclude that this yogurt is an ok option for my shopping cart.
I also stick with products that I can read all the ingredients.
4. I'm wary of chemical sweeteners.
I steer clear. The truth is, they may be totally fine. Bu they haven't been around long enough for us to really know what the long-term effects are. The same can be said about a lot of things: birth control, laser eye surgery, reality tv... The logic flow of my brain has me thinking that if its a chemical, I don't want to ingest it. My body isn't deriving anything good from it, so why would I even bother? My intuition tells me that its something that should avoid, so I usually do. From time to time I'll have a few sips of a Coke Zero or when I'm out I'll order a Jack and Diet Coke, but its not something I'll ever buy to have in the house.
5. I raid the freezer section.
I make a lot of smoothies and I stock up on frozen fruit from the freezer section. I like to keep stocked on fruit and sometimes frozen veg. And frozen pizza; because sometimes, you just need a pizza.
Coming up next, I'll lay out how I cut my sugar intake!
Does anyone have any tips or tricks you use while shopping?