It’s time to talk about sugar.
Added sugar can be found in almost everything we buy at the store – from peanut butter to pasta sauce to pre-packaged snacks.
Many people rely on processed food to get through their day, but with processed foods come added sugars.
Do I Need To Stop Eating Sugar?
When you eat a diet high in added sugars, you’re essentially consuming empty calories. Sugar has no nutritional value and no vitamins or minerals.
There are also many health risks that come along with a diet high in added sugars.
Added Sugar Versus Natural Sugar
One thing to pay attention to is whether you are consuming natural sugar or added sugar. There is a big difference between the two.
Natural sugar is found in fruit and other fresh food. These are healthy foods that also contain water, fiber and micronutrients.
It is absolutely OK to consume natural sugars in these types of foods.
However, if you’re eating something that is processed and pre-packaged, it likely contains added sugars. Sugar is added to 74% of packaged foods, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
You can check the label to confirm. The most common added sugars are high fructose corn syrup or regular sugar.
Beware though – there are at least 61 different names for sugar on food labels:
- Agave nectar
- Barbados sugar
- Barley malt or barley malt syrup
- Beet sugar
- Brown sugar
- Buttered syrup
- Cane juice, cane juice crystals or cane sugar
- Carob syrup
- Castor sugar
- Coconut palm sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Confectioner's sugar
- Corn sweetener, corn syrup or corn syrup solids
- Date sugar
- Dehydrated cane juice
- Demerara sugar
- Dextrin or dextrose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Free-flowing brown sugars
- Fruit juice or fruit juice concentrate
- Glucose or glucose solids
- Golden sugar or golden syrup
- Grape sugar
- HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)
- Icing sugar
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Maltol or maltose
- Maple syrup
- Palm sugar
- Powdered sugar
- Raw sugar
- Refiner's syrup
- Rice syrup
- Sorghum Syrup or Sweet Sorghum
- Sugar (granulated)
- Turbinado sugar
- Yellow sugar
How Much Sugar Is OK?
Unfortunately, nutrition labels don’t provide much guidance when it comes to how much sugar a person should consume every day.
The American Heart Association recommends…
- 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women
- 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day for men
- 3-6 teaspoons per day for children (this varies on age and caloric needs)
13 Reasons To Cut Out Added Sugar
Now that you know that sugar is in more than half of packaged foods sold at your grocery store, let’s talk about 13 health risks and negative side effects of too much added sugar in your diet.
Note: These aren’t all of the reasons you might want to consider reducing your sugar intake.
- Weight Gain
- Increased Heart Disease Risk
- Increased Cancer Risk
- Depression and Mood
- Skin Aging
- Cellular Aging
- Fatty Liver
- Brain Fog
- Immune System Health
1. Weight Gain
Added sugar is thought to be one of the main reasons that obesity rates are rising across the country and the world.
There are a few reasons for that:
- Makes You Hungrier
- Increases Belly Fat
- Leads To Fat Cell Overdrive
Added Sugar Makes You Hungrier
Fructose, a type of simple sugar, can be found in many sugar-sweetened drinks like sodas, juices and sweet tea. And when you eat fructose, you will feel hungrier and want more food.
(Note: Glucose, which is a natural sugar found in mostly starchy foods, doesn’t make your body feel increasingly hungry like fructose does.)
Added Sugar Increases Belly Fat
Added sugar spikes your blood sugar, which then triggers your body to produce more insulin.
Over time, increased insulin production will encourage fat to accumulate in your belly area. These fat cells are the most dangerous, because they generate hormones that lead to inflammation.
Increased inflammation can contribute to chronic disease and cancer.
Added Sugar Leads To Fat Cell Overdrive
When you eat a lot of sugar, you increase your insulin levels. Increased insulin levels don’t just add more belly fat – they also put your fat cells into overdrive.
Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of overdrive you want in your cells.
2. Increased Heart Disease Risk
Research shows that diets that are high in added sugars lead to an increased risk for heart disease.
High-sugar diets tend to lead to …
- High triglycerides
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
All of these are risk factors for heart disease.
If you are consuming a lot of added sugar, you are more likely to develop acne.
The added sugars lead to more androgen production, oil production and inflammation.
Processed foods with added sugars – high-glycemic foods – raise your blood sugar more rapidly than foods with a lower glycemic index. Studies have shown that high-glycemic diets have a higher risk of developing acne.
Obesity is a huge risk factor for diabetes – and oftentimes, added sugars lead to obesity.
However, there’s more to it than that. As we mentioned above, when you consume foods high in added sugars, your insulin levels increase.
Prolonged high-sugar diets will cause your body to become resistant to insulin, which will increase blood sugar levels.
5. Increased Cancer Risk
There are a few risk factors directly related to sugar that make a person more likely to develop certain cancers, including:
- Increased Inflammation
- Insulin Resistance
Studies have shown that some specific cancers are more likely to develop due to high sugar diets. Research is still ongoing into the connection between cancer and added sugar.
6. Depression and Mood
Eat better, feel better, right?
Studies show that consumption of a lot of processed foods – most of which are high in added sugar – is associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety.
This has to do with …
- Blood Sugar Swings
- Neurotransmitter Dysregulation
Sugar might perk you up temporarily, but it makes it harder for your body to produce the chemicals it needs, such as dopamine.
7. Skin Aging
Wrinkles are a natural part of the aging process. However, regardless of your age, poor food choices can make
Sugar creates molecules, known as advanced glycation endproducts or AGEs, in your body that attack collagen and elastin. Those are the proteins that keep your skin looking smooth and firm.
When collagen and elastin are damaged, the skin begins to sag and wrinkles form.
8. Cellular Aging
High-sugar diets have been found to lead to accelerated telomere shortening, which leads to increased cellular aging.
Telomeres are found at the end of chromosomes. Basically, they are protectors for your genetic information. As you age, telomeres shorten on their own, which causes cells to age, too.
Studies have shown that people who consume a lot of added sugars will see their telomeres shorten faster. That leads to increased cellular aging.
You might drink a sweetened beverage to perk you up when you’re feeling fatigued. Unfortunately, foods high in added sugar spike your blood sugar, and what comes up must come down.
Constant blood sugar swings lead to major fluctuations in energy levels.
To keep your energy levels more stable over time, choose foods that are low in added sugar but rich in fiber, and pair carbs with protein or fat.
10. Fatty Liver
High intake of added sugar, specifically fructose, makes you more likely to develop fatty liver.
Glucose and other types of sugar are used by cells throughout the body, but fructose is almost exclusively broken down by the liver. The liver turns fructose into energy or glycogen, but it can only store so much glycogen.
The excess glycogen is turned into fat, which leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
11. Brain Fog
Some studies have shown that sugar can compromise mental functions.
Sugar leads to brain fog, which makes it harder for you to focus and remember. It also increases stress, which gives you a shorter attention span and limits your cognitive abilities.
Not only does sugar make you feel less energized over time – but it’s also directly related to getting a good night’s sleep.
After eating sugar, you’re more likely to toss and turn all night and more likely to wake up hungry or craving a midnight snack.
13. Immune System Health
Sugar leads to increased inflammation, which has a ton of nasty side effects.
One of the most important systems impacted by inflammation, though, is the immune system.
Increased sugar intake leads to your body struggling to fight off infections, even something as simple as the common cold.
Sugar makes it hard for phagocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that eat harmful bacteria, to do their job.
How To Eat Less Sugar
Now that you know what comes with high-sugar diets, you’re probably wondering how to cut sugar from your diet entirely or at least reduce how much you consume.
It can be hard to eliminate sugar entirely, because the body does experience cravings. But there are a few ways you can start to reduce your sugar intake right away.
- Eat A Better Breakfast
- Choose Better Beverages
- Avoid Low-Fat Products
- Eat More Protein
- Choose Healthier Snacks
- Be Aware Of Your Mood
- Shop Better
Eat A Better Breakfast
Wondering where all that sugar you’re consuming is coming from?
A lucky guess – it’s probably your breakfast.
Granola, yogurt and even that healthy high-fiber cereal all tend to have added sugars. Even if you think you’re choosing a healthy breakfast, you might not be.
Instead of reaching for a sweet breakfast, consider a more protein-packed meal, like avocado toast or a hardboiled egg.
Choose Better Beverages
If you’re used to sweetening your coffee or ordering a highly sweet drink at your favorite coffee shop, you may want to rethink that. One gourmet coffee can have up to 30 grams of sugar per cup.
Instead, choose black coffee or another unsweetened alternative.
As far as juices and smoothies, even your healthy beverages might be packed with sugar. A single piece of fruit can have 15 grams of sugar, so one smoothie might equal a full day’s worth of sugar. And don’t even get us started on sugary beverages like soda or sweet tea.
Whenever possible, opt for water.
Avoid Low-Fat Products
If a product says “low fat,” you might want to check the label. Most of the time, a “low-fat” item is low in fat but high in sugar.
The worst part is that the fat that was replaced by sugar is actually better for you than the sugar and will help you feel full longer.
Eat More Protein
Protein helps you feel fuller longer by reducing ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone that gives you the false sense that you need to eat… even when your body isn’t hungry.
If you fill your meals with healthy, lean proteins and starchy vegetables, you will feel fuller longer and be less likely to crave sugar halfway through your day.
On a restrictive diet and counting calories? The first thing you’ll crave is sugar, so make sure you’re filling up on protein to stay full.
Choose Healthier Snacks
Snacks are full of added sugar, especially if they’re pre-packaged.
Make sure you read the labels. Even the snacks you think are healthy, like trail mix, can be packed with added sugar, and low-fat or reduced-fat snacks can be packed with sugar, too.
Instead of a processed, pre-packaged snack, try something high in protein and nutrients but low in sugar.
Be Aware Of Your Mood
There are many reasons you might start to crave sugar, so be aware of it.
If you’re hormonal, feeling emotional or feeling nostalgic, you might feel an instinctual, hard-to-kick craving for sugar. Know when you’re craving sugar because you’re feeling sad or stressed.
It’s OK to give into your cravings sometimes. We all do it. However, it’s important to know your cravings for what they are and not let them run your life.
Part of the problem with added sugar is that it’s everywhere.
Go ahead and nix these items from your grocery list as much as you can:
- Soft Drinks
- Fruit Juice
- Candy and Sweets
- Baked Goods
- Canned Fruits in Syrup
- Low-Fat or Diet Foods
- Dried Fruits
- Processed Foods
Is It Safe To Stop Eating Sugar?
Some researchers say our bodies need sugar and some say that we should limit sugar as much as possible.
However, most nutrition experts agree that added sugars should be limited as much as possible for optimum health.
You don’t have to stop eating sugar completely if you don’t want to or you aren’t ready.
What’s important is that you’re aware of the sugar you’re consuming and what products you buy that contain it. You also need to control your cravings and balance your sugar intake with other healthy foods.