There are many diet and health advice tips out there. It’s hard to keep track of what’s a fad or fading… If there’s ONE thing that you decide to focus on, make it about reducing your sugar intake! Added sugars are a silent killer, surreptitiously hiding in many foods and likely contributing to many areas of inflammation, distress and weight gain for you. Consuming naturally occurring sugars is essential to a well-balanced diet and the body relies on these energy sources throughout the day. Added sugars, however, don’t get used in the same fashion, which leads to body dysfunction.
Let’s start with why excess sugar wreaks so much havoc on the body. First, sugar addiction is real! When consuming excess sugar, the brain responds by releasing dopamine, delivering a euphoric feeling which begs us to eat MORE sugar. Second, the body can only process enough sugar to support regular function. When sugar intake exceeds the amount needed, the remaining sugars get moved into fat cells for storage. Between meals, the body draws on this stored sugar for continual energy, yet most of that stored sugar never actually gets used again due to overeating or continual new sugar supply. This results in the stored sugar remaining stagnant, which contributes to weight gain.
In a healthy diet, consisting of lean proteins, daily servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 rich fats, the tolerable amount of added sugar is 6 teaspoons (24 grams) per day for women and children and 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men. The average American diet usually contains roughly 19-35 teaspoons (76-140 grams) of added sugar PER DAY! Whoa! Some obvious sources are candy, cookies, sweetened cereals, soda. But, even when following a healthier diet, a lot of extra sugar comes from unsuspecting added sugars in coffee drinks, sports drinks, condiments, yogurt, instant oatmeal, sauces and milks or cheeses (even plant-based products).
Stopping sugar cold turkey is a BAD idea! When reducing added sugars, it is common to experience withdrawal symptoms synonymous with weaning off other addictive substances. Sugar withdrawal causes people to feel more easily agitated, have higher anxiety, experience moodiness, have intense cravings and practice compulsive eating. The first week is the hardest of getting through these symptoms, though when sugars are slowly reduced over 4-6 weeks, these symptoms are significantly minimized.
Ways to reduce sugar intake:
· Know your current sugar consumption. Understanding the amount of added sugar in your current diet is important when setting goals for reducing sugars. An example would be targeting a 25% reduction over 4-6 weeks. Then perhaps aim for a 50% total reduction over the next 1-3 months. The body is miraculous at letting you know the right balance – listen to how you feel.
· Read labels! Know which sugars are natural (fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars) versus added sugars (high fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, cane syrup, cane sugar, fruit concentrate, glucose, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, honey, agave nectar) – avoid or reduce any added sugar foods.
· Know the portion size. Many containers are actually 2-4+ portions, thus potentially increasing the amount of consumed sugars if eating more than the stated portion size.
· Convert to natural sugar sources. When you need a tasty, sweet bite, consider berries (lowest glycemic index/sugar load of all fruits), roasted butternut squash, shaved coconut, steamed carrots and baked sweet potatoes. Cinnamon also makes a wonderful seasoning which imparts a sense of sweetness.
· Skip pre-made sauces or mixes. Preparing dressings, marinades, baking recipes, marinaras and breads from scratch allows you to know the ingredients used and then reduce or eliminate added sugars in your recipes.
· Try healthier sugars. Sugar elimination is a daunting prospect. Converting to using these ‘healthier’ sugars in moderation also helps to increase overall health and wellness. Honey, agave, monk fruit, stevia, full fat coconut milk and 70%+ dark chocolate are excellent alternatives.
I urge you, right now, before going onto your next life task, to explore just 3 of the items you regularly eat and look at how much added sugar they contain. Go ahead, take a look! Having an awareness of your daily sugar consumption is crucial to improving your health and making decisions which support your long-term wellness. Knowing your starting point helps to identify places where you can reduce sugars over time, knowing you can indulge for special occasions and return to a lower-sugar regular diet. Taking this important step towards your health will have you feeling less foggy, more radiant, better rested and more energetic throughout your day!
Institute for Integrative Nutrition – I Quit Sugar, by Sarah Wilson - http://www.sarahwilson.com/