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Transform Your Favorites Into Low-Sugar Impact Foods

02/25/2015 03:34 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015
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News flash: Most Americans eat too much salt, saturated fat, and sugar. Just as bad, we don't eat enough vegetables, fruit, fish, and other healthy foods.

So concluded the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's recent report. Among their recommendations included reducing sugar intake to about 12 teaspoons a day.

That amount still seems too high, though it becomes a step in the right direction when you consider, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar daily, and adolescents upwards of 34 teaspoons.

Much of this added sugar comes from so-called healthy sources. Hyman says a serving of Prego tomato sauce contains more sugar than a serving of Oreo cookies, and that sweetened yogurts can have more sugar than a can of soda.

Altogether, Hyman says Americans eat 152 pounds of sugar and 146 pounds of flour that convert to sugar every year.

Cutting added sugar intake by one-half or more, as the panel suggested, doesn't require Herculean efforts. With these five simple lateral shifts, or healthier swaps, you'll see nearly any favorite food can become transformed into a low-sugar impact food:

1. Swap cow's milk for unsweetened nut milks. According to Corrie Pikul, research shows "our bodies get worse at processing lactose, the natural milk sugar, as we age, and that some people are more prone to the condition." Lactose aside, growth hormones, antibiotics, and yes, pus cells make dairy a no-go for most people. Dairy-free unsweetened nut milks provide satisfaction without sugar impact. More stores now carry unsweetened almond, coconut, cashew, and other nut milks. Cow's milk is so 1999!

2. Swap wheat wraps for rice or Romaine wraps. Dr. David Permutter argues wheat increases blood sugar more than table sugar. Ditto for wheat wraps and whatever other "whole grain goodness" concoctions line your grocer's shelves. Rice wraps provide the chewy satisfaction of a wheat wrap without the gluten or high-sugar impact. Even better, switch to a Romaine or cabbage leaf as your wrap. Throw in some turkey and sliced avocado for a super-portable, low-sugar impact lunch in just minutes.

3. Swap white rice for quinoa. Cardiovascular research scientist James DiNicolantonio of St. Luke's Hospital notes white rice is among the culprits that "result in weight gain because they spike blood sugar, which causes insulin levels to rise. This leads to a sudden drop in blood sugar, prompting the person to crave still more carbohydrates." Some might dismiss it as an overhyped superfood, but quinoa's got a lot going for it white rice doesn't: impressive amounts of protein, fiber, nutrients, and a delicious nutty flavor.

4. Swap pasta noodles for spaghetti squash or quinoa pasta. Pasta -- yes, even the so-called wheat varieties -- ultimately provide a big sugar surge. Spaghetti squash creates a delicious, guilt-free, low-sugar impact alternative. "Don't be fooled by its customary squash-like outward appearance: Once cooked, it turns into little pasta-shaped strands of squash (hence, the name)," writes Julie R. Thomson. "It's this divine noodle quality that makes spaghetti squash recipes just a little more fun than other squash dishes." Got to have the real thing? Quinoa pasta makes a lower-glycemic swap without pasta's sugar impact or gluten.

5. Swap your dessert for dark chocolate and almond butter. Going low-sugar impact doesn't mean deprivation. Trade that big slab of chocolate cake or whatever your favorite sugary concoction might be for a little 85 percent or higher cacao dark chocolate with no-sugar-added almond butter for a decadent, no-guilt dessert. Both of these are dose-dependent foods, so easy does it. "Just don't use this as permission to scarf down that five-pound bag of candy just yet," writes Renee Jacques, noting most studies "involve small amounts of certain types of chocolate, not the often heavily processed bars loaded with sugar and fat."

What lateral shift would you add here to transform a favorite into a low-sugar impact food? Share yours below.