March is month to consider a more nutritional diet

Going Sugar Free

Last month, Minneapolis Star-Tribune journalist Erica Pearson invited readers to join her in a 28-day Sugar-Free Challenge. Nearly 3,000 people took her up on the Challenge via a Facebook group devoted to going sugar-free in February, where they shared successes, barriers, research, recipes, and even pounds lost. What’s next for them?

As the month-long challenge ended, Pearson reflected on her personal experience going sugar-free and what participants might do now that the Challenge was ending. She described her new appreciation for the natural flavor and sweetness of many whole foods, and how her kids are enjoying fruit instead of candy as a sweet treat. She also had experts weigh-in, so to speak, with advice for participants going forward.

March is National Nutrition Month. Most of us could be eating better, and we already know the basics: more whole foods, fewer processed foods, less sugar, smaller portion sizes, plenty of vegetables. Changing our eating habits is hard! The bits of wisdom shared in the Star-Tribune article go beyond sugar, and we think they are worthwhile sharing here.

University of Minnesota’s Dr. Samar Malaeb suggests two simple goals to start: focus on the first meal of the day and try to avoid sugary drinks. We love this advice.

For most Americans, drinks are the single biggest source of added sugar, so avoid sweetened beverages and you’ve just kicked a ton of sugar out of your diet. Quick healthy choices abound for breakfast and make-ahead or grab and go options make it easy to start your day right. Think hard-boiled eggs, overnight oats, avocado toast on whole-wheat bread, fresh fruit and plain yogurt make breakfast an easy win.

Trainer Leslie Branham recommends “collecting healthy habits,” one at a time. We may try many different strategies for healthier eating, and she suggests that when you find something that seems to be working for you, write it down, keep it up, and soon it will just be the way you do it. That becomes your new normal, and you are ready to add another change. Success breeds success.

“It’s what you do every day that makes a difference,” is her other piece of advice. Swap the daily soda for a seltzer and the sugar you avoid adds up to pounds saved in a year. The once-in-awhile piece of birthday cake adds up to maybe a cup.

Pearson herself offers what may be the most powerful and practical advice: “Whenever you can, substitute a healthier treat or meal for a not-so-great-for-you food …Swap a banana and almonds for that doughnut. Or a couple soft-boiled eggs for the sugary flavored yogurt.

“Every time you choose the healthier option,” she says, “it’s a win.” Give it a try — starting today.

CHQ 250 is an initiative of the Chautauqua Health Action Team (CHAT), encouraging you to take action to be one of at least 250 strokes, heart attacks, or related deaths prevented in Chautauqua County in the coming year. This column is written by CHAT members to share information to help you to do your part to live a life free of stroke or heart disease; it is not intended to replace advice provided by your healthcare team. Please direct questions or comments to: