It’s no secret that sugar is bad for you. Consuming a lot of sugar regularly can lead to conditions like obesity, heart problems, and diabetes. Some studies, such as this one have even tied sugar consumption to causing or maintaining cancer. Researchers in that study found that a cell’s metabolism of sugar could contribute to the cell becoming cancerous. Conversely, reducing sugar intake could cause reversion (i.e. cancer cells resorting back to healthy cells). Some professionals or industries would disagree, but you cannot deny the multitude of studies showing the evils of sugar. Even anecdotal evidence exists of people who look and feel much better after eliminating sugar. Clearer skin, increased energy, better moods, and weight loss are just a few of their stated benefits. You don’t need science to tell you the benefits if you can see and feel it!
Don’t trust the food industry.
Unfortunately, most food manufacturers are motivated by money. They know sugar improves flavor and is, most importantly, addictive to keep you buying their products. They are not concerned with keeping or making you healthy. That’s why you have to watch out for your own health. By doing so, your spending (or lack thereof) can influence the food industry to cater to your wants. When studies gave high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) a bad reputation, many people avoided products with it. Many food manufacturers responded by eliminating HFCS in their products and proudly advertising it. If consumers stopped buying products with so much sugar, food companies will listen. Until that becomes the norm, however, we need to monitor what we are buying and eating more carefully.
Pay attention to what you’re actually eating.
A lot of people don’t even realize how much sugar they eat. They don’t read labels or may rely on misleading product packaging. Products routinely tout being “light,” “healthy,” “organic,” “fat-free” or something else to suggest being good for you. However, the nutrition labels will often reveal unhealthy ingredients, such as excessive sugar. (We will discuss other unhealthy ingredients in a future article.) You may think you’re eating healthy “fat-free” dressing or “light” yogurt, but the nutrition label will reveal several grams of sugar per serving. Servings size matters, too. You’re often consuming more than the stated serving size per sitting, meaning even more sugar. Reading the nutrition label and ingredients on foods will show just how many foods contain sugar, sometimes in surprising foods like beef jerky or dried seaweed.
Also be mindful of the different names under which sugar can appear on ingredient lists. For instance, sugar may be listed as corn syrup, maltose, maltodextrin, cane sugar, etc. So, just because you don’t see the word “sugar” in the ingredients list doesn’t mean it’s not in the food product.
Even when eating out, know that the foods probably have sugar, whether in condiments, breads, sauces, or drinks. Drinks are notoriously a big source of sugar for Americans, whether from soda or juice. Even juices with no sugar added contain a lot of sugar from the fruits themselves. Just look at the nutrition labels and be amazed at how much is in an 8 ounce serving (and remember, most people will drink more than the listed serving size!). Fortunately, I rarely crave drinks besides my usual choices of water or hot tea. If you regularly drink soda or juice, consider how much sugar you’ll eliminate daily by eliminating these drinks.
Eliminating sugar is not hard.
Do you think cutting out sugar is too hard? It’s not. You may initially crave your sugary foods when your body is trying to withdraw from the addiction, but I promise your taste buds will adjust. Studies like this one have shown people prefer less sweet foods after reducing sugar. In that study, after a month of eating less sugar, participants thought foods tasted sweeter than they used to. That means you can be satisfied with less sugar in your diet. I used to eat Jif and Skippy peanut butters all the time. Ditto with flavored oatmeal and yogurt. After eliminating the sweetened versions, I couldn’t stand them anymore. They taste way too sweet to me now. I prefer less sweet versions that I make myself. I buy plain versions of foods (e.g. plain yogurt) and simply add my own flavor. For instance, I add almond or vanilla extract and maple syrup to yogurt. (If you want to avoid “sugars” completely, you can use stevia drops.) If I’m feeling fruity, I will blend in fruit or a low-/no-sugar preserve. With any product, I’ve been able to either make my own or find a brand with better ingredients, even if the latter is pricier. You can do the same, and eventually, you will crave the same. At least you will know you’re eating less sugar and enjoying your food just as much.
Avoid artificial sweeteners.
One note of caution: I am not a fan of artificial sugar substitutes such as saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), and sucralose (Splenda). I would rather consume a small amount of cane sugar or other natural sweetener than these artificial substitutes. Why? Studies have shown artificial substitutes can produce adverse health effects like increased weight gain and obesity, cancer, heart disease, and mental issues. Some industries will dispute these studies, but we will address that subject in another article. For now, I suggest researching the issue if you are interested, and avoiding studies funded by interested parties (e.g. Splenda).
If you want a sugar substitute, I am most comfortable with stevia. Stevia is derived from a plant instead of chemicals concocted in a lab. I prefer liquid stevia drops over granulated form. If you use granulated, be mindful that some brands will mix it with other ingredients like dextrose or erythritol. Just remember that a little bit of stevia goes a long way in the flavor department, so be conservative with the amount you use.
If you don’t regularly read nutrition and ingredient labels, and you regularly buy prepared or packaged food products, then you are probably consuming too much sugar. Although you may be used to it, your body is simply addicted to that level of sugar. I promise if you withdraw and actively reduce your sugar intake, your body and taste buds will adjust. You will crave less sugar to find foods satisfying and find your current foods too sweet. Studies have shown this phenomenon to occur. You are no exception. Make the change and improve your health. (You may find it helpful to read our article on starting a new diet to prepare yourself for the change if you want to cut down on your sugar intake!)
Since this article doesn’t go into the nitty gritty of why sugar is bad for you, here’s a nifty article with neat graphics if you want to read more about reasons to avoid sugar: