After all, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables contain sugar, and they're still good for you. And eating a reasonably sized slice of that ridiculously good red velvet cake can help satisfy your sweet tooth and keep you from bingeing later on.
As it turns out, how the sweet stuff affects your weight has a lot to do with what sugar-laden foods you eat, when you eat them, and what you pair them with, says dietician Georgie Fear, R.D., author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. So instead of forcing yourself through sugar withdrawals, adopt these sane, totally doable strategies to eat the sweet stuff and actually lose weight at the same time.
1. Opt for Natural Sugars Over Added Ones
One type of sugar isn't necessarily better than another, but there's definitely a difference in the foods containing natural or added sugars, says Fear. Case in point: A sugary banana comes with a lot more good-for-you nutrients—and less calories, saturated fat, and trans fat—than a glazed donut. And guess what? One banana actually packs more grams of sugar than that donut. Go figure. What's more, foods that contain natural sugars usually have other nutrients, such as fiber (as is true with bananas), protein, and healthy fats, she says. Keep reading to find out why this is so important—and instead of focusing on the sugar content of those sweet foods, think about the food's overall nutritional value, says Fear.
2. Eat Sugar Alongside Fiber, Protein, and Healthy Fats
"I always tell clients to balance their carb and sugar intake with protein, fiber, and [or] healthy fats,"says Fear. All three of these nutrients slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, which decreases the spike and crash in your blood sugar and your energy levels, she says. That means you won't feel weak, shaky, or hangry 30 minutes after you eat.
And those nasty sugar highs and unavoidable crashes don't just suck at 3 p.m. In the long term, blood-sugar spikes can contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance, and weight gain, says Florida-based nutritionist Jaime Mass, R.D.
Besides keeping your energy levels steady, fiber, protein, and fats all help you feel much more satisfied after eating something super sweet, says Fear. This is especially helpful when your weight-loss game is strong but you suddenly come face to face with cake. By eating a small slice with a belly full of foods rich in those nutrients, it's way easier to stop after one slice, she says.
3. Eat High-Sugar Foods Around Your Workouts
While working out isn't an excuse to shovel cupcakes into your mouth before and after the gym (a girl can only dream), exercise can help your body get rid of that excess sugar, says Mass. Researchers from Syracuse University found that completing a single weight-training session reduced the effects of sugary meals on women's blood-sugar levels by 15 percent for at least 12 hours.
Noshing on sugars from refined carbohydrates, like white bread and pasta, can also give your exercise routine a boost, says Fear. Those added sugars provide energy to help you hit your workouts hard—as you do when you're trying to drop pounds.
4. Keep Sugar Away from Your Coffee
This might be hard to hear, but coffee and donuts are not a match made in heaven. Apparently, the caffeine in your coffee can inhibit your body's ability to process the sugar in your glazed breakfast. In one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Canadian researchers found that when men consumed one to two cups of regular coffee an hour before a sugary meal, their blood sugar shot up 16 percent more than if they had one to two cups of decaffeinated coffee before the meal. The researchers suggest that caffeine causes your body's cells to be less responsive to insulin, causing short-term insulin resistance, says Fear.
5. Load Up On Cinnamon
Whether you're whipping up cookies or oatmeal, sprinkling some cinnamon on sugar-laden foods can help keep food comas and subsequent snacking at bay, says Mass. What's more, a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food concluded that eating cinnamon on any type of food, including sugary ones, helps lower the amount of sugar in your blood after you haven't eaten in a while. And that can help you lose weight because because you'll fend off insulin resistance, which can make you put on extra pounds.