You hit up the gym, spin class or yoga multiple times a week. You're a card-carrying flexitarian. And you would never even consider smoking. Because, after all, regular exercise, a plant-based diet and not smoking are the three leading ways to protect yourself from chronic conditions like heart disease, right?
Of course. So what's that one measly can of soda a day -- your afternoon treat -- really going to do?
Quite a bit, according to many leading health organizations. This month, the World Health Organization proposed draft guidelines recommending we limit our intake of added sugar to less than 5 percent of total calories in order to reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases. That amounts to no more than two-thirds of a 12-ounce can of regular soda each day for anyone eating an average 2,000 calorie a day diet. And a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that consuming the sugar in that entire can of soda (about 9 teaspoons, or 38 grams) daily is enough to increase your risk of death from a cardiac event by a third regardless of whether or not you have any other risk factors.
If that news just stopped your heart for a second, don't fear. The good news is that, unlike smoking, there's likely no need to give up sugar altogether (although some experts suggest that may be an appropriate strategy for those with a genuine food addiction).
At The Monday Campaigns, a non-profit founded on research demonstrating that Monday is the day people are most open to health changes, we advocate for introducing small, sustainable healthy habits each Monday. With the connection between sugar and health back in the news, this Monday is an excellent day to take a look at your sugar habits and introduce a couple of healthy changes. If soda is your vice, try one of the following strategies:
Think about how many sodas you consume in a week. This week, resolve to reduce that number by one and next Monday, cut out an additional bottle or can. Repeat, until you're down to a single soda a week and can mentally categorize the treat as what it actually is: dessert.
If regular H2O won't cut it to replace your daily soda, try ice water with lemon, unsweetened tea, or mixing a small serving of no-sugar-added juice with seltzer.
Over the weekend or on Monday morning, pick up a week's worth of whole fruit to keep on hand as your first line of defense when a craving for a product with added sugar hits. Fruit is much lower in sugar than most processed products and it's neatly packaged with fiber to help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you feeling full.
Use Monday as the day to discuss creating an environment supportive of these changes with those around you. Talk to your partner about not keeping soda in the house, or ask your office to only stock mini sodas (7.5 ounces) and plenty of fruit in the break room.
The consensus from leading organizations seems to be that we should limit added sugar to around 25 grams daily, or perhaps slightly higher depending on gender and body size (the American Heart Association recommends that women stay under 25 grams per day while men may consume less than 38 grams). So with soda out of the way, you'll still have room in your diet for a teaspoon or two of sugar in your coffee, an afternoon granola bar and the occasional slice of birthday cake. I'll certainly toast a glass of unsweetened tea to that!