Eliminating Added Sugar

Eliminating Added Sugar
Real, Artificial, and Everything in Between

One of the most popular topics I discuss with my clients when helping them reach their goals is eliminating added sugar from their diets. I believe that eating added sugar is one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to losing weight and reaching health goals.  While eliminating sugar from the diet is very difficult, I can confidently say that it always ends with happy clients who are glad to be rid of the toxin they were addicted to.

First, let’s define added sugar.  Added sugar is exactly what it sounds like, sugar that has been added to foods. I am not talking about fruit, which has naturally occurring sugars, but rather foods and beverages that have been sweetened in some way.  If you check the nutrition label, some of the names for sugar that may be hiding there are: sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, HFCS, barley malt, brown rice syrup, agave, honey, cane sugar, fruit juice, glucose, maltodextrin, dextrose, muscovado, beet sugar, cane juice, evaporated cane juice, invert sugar, and the list goes on and on.  These sweeteners have been refined and incorporated into the product to help sweeten and enhance the taste.

We all know that we should reduce the amount of added sugar in our diet, but do we really know why it’s important to do away with the sweet stuff?  Here are a few reasons why:

  • Excess calories eaten are stored as fat- so you gain weight.
  • Added sugars are “empty calories”, they are not a good source of nutrients and offer little to know nutritional value, other than carbohydrates.
  • It is addictive: on a brain scan of people eating sugar, the same reward centers of the brain light up for sugar as they do for drugs, such as cocaine.
  • Eating excess added sugars has been linked to medical conditions such as inflammation, arthritis, headaches, acne, cancer, metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, fatigue, and so many more.
  • Refined, added sugars have been chemically processed, many forms are no longer in their natural state and they have been artificially altered in some way.
  • Eating excess sugar can lead to diabetes and insulin resistance.

Eating excess sugar, combined with being overweight, can significantly increase your risk of diabetes and insulin resistance.  Let’s dive into that a little bit further, shall we?

When we eat added sugar, the level of sugar in our blood (aka blood sugar) goes up.  Our pancreas then pumps out insulin to help our cells take up the sugar so that our blood sugar levels go down.  If we continually eat a lot of sugar and continually have elevated blood sugar levels a few things happen next- Extra calories we have been eating are stored as fat (gain weight).  The message that insulin sends to the body is to “store fat” making it difficult to lose weight (gain weight).  Having excess body fat and continually elevated blood sugars makes our cells resistant to the message insulin is sending to take up the sugar from the blood, so blood sugars stay elevated (resulting in diabetes and insulin resistance).  The next level is that the pancreas has to work really hard to pump out enough insulin to bring our blood sugar levels down.  When it can’t keep up with the demand it eventually tires out and stops producing insulin (resulting in diabetes and insulin dependence.  So, the biggest take away: Sugar does not just make us gain weight, it also makes us sick.

How much sugar is too much?  When talking about nutritional needs, you need exactly 0 grams of added sugars every day to meet nutritional needs.  That’s right, you can live (happily) without any added, refined sugars.  While our bodies do need sugar in some forms (also known as carbohydrates), we can meet those needs through other naturally occurring sources, like fruit and whole grains, rather than sugar added to our foods and drinks.

While we do not need added sugars in our diets, as Americans, we are consuming much more than necessary every day.  The average American consumes approximately 85-95g of sugar per day or 22 tsps.  That equates to about 66 lbs per person per year, yikes!  The World Health Organization recently recommended that we keep added sugar intake to less than 10% of daily calories, but ideally- less than 5% of daily calorie intake.  So, for a 2000 calorie diet, 10% of those calories would break down to 50g (or 12.5 tsp) per day, and 5% of those calories would break down to 25g (or 6 tsp) per day.  If you are trying to stick to the more conservative option of 25g/day, you can easily get that in your flavored yogurt and/or coffee at breakfast.  Added sugars are hiding every.  The biggest culprits are beverages, prepackaged foods, cookies, candy, baked goods, desserts, breakfast cereals, and flavored yogurts.

Another important topic to discuss when talking about added sugars is artificial sweeteners.  Artificial sweeteners are thought to be better for you because they lack calories and do not raise blood sugars.  However, studies have recently shown that the use of artificial sweeteners does in fact have an effect on blood sugars, increase sugar cravings, and has been linked to greater incidence of dementia and stroke.  They have also been linked to gut and immune system disturbances.  Why?  Because they are artificial, as in not real, not food.  Our bodies do not recognize artificial sweeteners as food, treat them as toxins, and as they are broken down in our systems they can reek havoc.  Some of the names to look for on a nutrition label or the next time you are sweetening your coffee are saccharin (Sweet n Low), sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal), acesulfame K/potassium (Sunnett, Sweet One).  Your best bet when it comes to artificial sweeteners- stay away!

So, let’s get real.  Eliminating all added sugars from our diets is hard.  It is highly addictive, we crave it, it seems to be in almost everything, and well, it just tastes good.  How do we break the habit and rid sugar from our lives completely?  Here are my top 5 tips to help eliminate sugar from your diet:

  • Don’t buy it. If you don’t put it in your shopping cart and bring it into your house, it won’t be there to tempt you.  Create a clean, healthy environment free from temptations.  You’ll have much more willpower in the grocery store when you are sticking to your shopping list than you will at 9pm when that sugar craving is real!  Come up with a distraction ahead of time, like reading or going for a walk, to help you through those initial cravings.
  • Don’t be fooled by the fake stuff. Switching to artificial sweeteners and “sugar free” versions of foods will only increase your sugar craving because they are sweeter than sugar and they trick your body into thinking it is getting sugar, but it never is, so it constantly asks for more sugar.
  • Feed your body nutrients instead. When you’re craving something sweet, try a piece of fruit.  Fill the void of added sugar with real food such as fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein.  These will fill you up, fuel your body and help curb the cravings.
  • Beware of hidden sugars and always check the nutrition label. Don’t drink your calories and sugar, check your condiments, stay away from cookies, cakes and ice cream, don’t add it to your coffee and tea, go for plain yogurt instead of flavored.
  • If you don’t eat it, your body will stop craving it.  Once you make it through those cravings, they will go away, believe me, I’ve been there!  Be careful though, if you introduce sugar back in, your body will likely crave it again, been there too.  So stay strong and remember, every time you make a healthy choice, you are one step closer to reaching your goals!