Sugar is a crystalline carbohydrate that makes foods taste sweet. There are many different types of sugar, including glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose – also known as table sugar.
Some of these sugars, such as glucose, fructose, and lactose, occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, and other foods. But many of the foods we consume contain “added” sugars – sugar that we add to a product ourselves to enhance the flavor or sugar that has been added to a product by a manufacturer.
The most common sources of added sugars include soft drinks, cakes, pies, chocolate, fruit drinks, and desserts. Just a single can of cola can contain up to 7 tsps. of added sugar, while an average-sized chocolate bar can contain up to 6 tsps.
Consumption of sugar has increased 23% in the last 30 years. Not all sugar is bad though. Sugar is naturally found in fruits and dairy products. These are healthy sugars and should be included as part of a healthy diet.
On the other hand, sugar is added to many foods, especially processed foods, to make them taste better. It is hidden in foods that you wouldn’t even think would contain sugar such as salad dressings. It is also added to fat-free foods to make them taste better. Added sugars are the ones that we want to remove most, if not completely, from our diets.
Consuming excess sugar does not offer any benefit since sugar is very low in nutrients that are good for our bodies; so, it is providing empty calories. It would be much better for us to eat nutrient-dense food. Consuming a diet high in excess sugar can significantly decrease the quality of your diet.
When the excess sugar is consumed and is not needed for energy, just like any other extra calories that are eaten, it will turn into fat. Excess sugar can also increase your chances of developing dental cavities by promoting acid production in the mouth.
Is eliminating sugar from our diet healthy?
Carbohydrates, fat, and protein all provide energy from food. Carbohydrates turn into glucose molecules which get released in the blood. This signals insulin to be released. If blood glucose and insulin levels are constantly elevated, the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and elevated blood triglycerides can be increased.
Carbohydrates can range in nutrient density and the amount of how they impact blood glucose levels. Simple carbohydrates are usually classified as sugary beverages, sweets, white bread, white pasta, white rice, etc. These carbohydrates break down quickly and raise blood sugar levels.
Complex carbohydrates are considered foods that provide fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Examples of complex carbs include whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and some fruits.
One of the main differences between simple and complex carbs is their fiber content. The natural fiber amount found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes influences the way the body absorbs carbohydrates. The soluble fiber helps slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
Added sugars have been cited as a contributor to many health problems. Perhaps most strongly, added sugars have been associated with a significant increase in obesity.
The array of studies reporting the negative implications of added sugar led to WHO proposing to revise their added sugar recommendations in 2014. The organization issued a draft guideline stating they would like to halve their recommended daily free sugar intake from 10% to 5%.
“The objective of this guideline is to provide recommendations on the consumption of free sugars to reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases in adults and children,” WHO explained, “with a particular focus on the prevention and control of weight gain and dental caries.”
The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests artificial sweeteners – including saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame – interfere with gut bacteria, increasing the activity of pathways associated with obesity and diabetes.
“Like all sources of calories, sugars can be consumed within a healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle,” Dr. Alison Boyd, director of Sugar Nutrition UK, told. “Sugars can often help to make certain nutritious foods more palatable, which can promote variety in a healthy, balanced diet.”
While sugar can be a part of a healthy diet, Dr. Katz makes an important point that almost all health experts agree with – “we eat too much of it” – which is evident from the aforementioned reports by the CDC.
As a result, eliminating simple carb sources like sugary sweets, beverages, chips, cookies, white bread, etc. does not cut out valuable nutrients from the diet.
By eliminating all carbs, you cut out most of your dietary fiber sources. You also cut out natural sources of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
What happens when you eliminate carbs?
Eating a very low carbohydrate diet can make you feel tired and sluggish. Carbohydrates are an easy fuel source for your body to use. If you don’t get adequate amounts in the diet, your body will break down protein and fat to “rearrange” them to look like carbohydrate units the body can use.
Symptoms from eating a very low carbohydrate diet can include: headaches, problems focusing, feeling tired, bad breath or body odor, and constipation. So, cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates can be a good thing.
Tips for cutting down on sugar
Keeping tabs on how much sugar you’re swallowing is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes. The empty calories from added sugars in desserts, some drinks, and candy can lead to weight gain and spikes in blood glucose levels.
Get started cutting down on sugar with these tips:
When grocery shopping, read the ingredients and nutrition facts of your foods.
Since sugar is added to so many foods, you can’t tell which foods are going to contain sugar just by looking at them. When reading the nutrition label, try to stay away from foods that contain a high amount of sugar. Also, read the ingredient list. So, compare food labels and select the products with the lowest amounts of added sugars
Buy fresh fruits instead of canned fruits.
Often, canned fruits are packed in sugary syrups. You may buy canned fruit thinking that it is a healthy choice because it is fruit. But, if it is packed in a heavy syrup, it contains extra added sugars, not to mention, extra calories. If you still want to buy canned fruit, choose the ones that are packed in water, juice, or light syrup.
Try to reduce the sugar that you use when you are making food at home.
You can do this by looking for recipes that use sugar substitutions. While artificial sweeteners have their negatives, sometimes, especially if you have a health condition that requires you to cut down on sugar, it can be beneficial to use them instead.
Choose to eat foods that are naturally sweet instead.
The fruit has natural sugars in it and makes a great dessert or snack. If you feel that you are craving something sweet, eat a piece of fruit, and wait 15 minutes to see if your craving goes away.
Cut down on the number of sugary beverages you drink.
Beverages containing sugar are a major source of the added sugars that are consumed. You can find sugar in many beverages such as soda, fruit juice, some alcoholic beverages, iced tea, etc. So, replace sugar-sweetened beverages with sugar-free or low-calorie drinks. Water and milk are much better options.
Toss the table sugar (white and brown), syrup, honey, and molasses.
Cut back on the amount of sugar added to things you eat or drink regularly like cereal, pancakes, coffee, or tea.
Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, try fresh fruit (bananas, cherries, or strawberries) or dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, or apricots).
Instead of adding sugar in recipes, use extracts like almond, vanilla, orange, or lemon.
Replace it completely.
Enhance foods with spices instead of sugar. Try ginger, allspice, cinnamon, or nutmeg.
Switch out sugar with unsweetened applesauce in recipes (use equal amounts).
Limit Non-nutritive Sweeteners.
If you are trying to lose weight, a temporary fix to satisfy your sweet tooth may be with non-nutritive sweeteners. But watch out! Make sure that swapping sugary options for non-nutritive sweeteners now doesn’t lead to eating more later.
These are just some of the suggestions on how you can get rid of, or cut down on, the sugar that you consume. Following these suggestions can make a difference.
To sum up, reducing the sugar that you consume can improve the quality of your diet as sugar doesn’t offer any nutritional benefit. It will also decrease or eliminate the negative side effects that sugar provides. However, if you are also eliminating complex carbohydrate foods like vegetables, whole grains, or legumes, you are cutting out many important nutrients from your diet.