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Sugar is public enemy number one in nutrition these days, and while we never want you to completely vilify one food or nutrient, there is something to this trend. We don’t actually need more sugar than what is naturally found in whole foods, so cutting back on all the extra sugar is not a bad idea.
Whether you decide to go all the way, taking out all added sugars, or just reduce your intake, you’ll get some benefits. You will also struggle a little, as sugar can truly mess with your brain and act like an addictive substance.
Find out more about what it means to cut out sugar, why to consider doing it, and ways you or your client can make this diet change healthfully and with minimal suffering.
The evidence against sugar just keeps piling up, from obesity to chronic health conditions. There are many reasons to cut back on sugar, especially added sugar. Doing so can trigger weight loss, reduce the risk of getting sick, and generally help you feel better.Less Sugar, Lose Weight
Cutting back on sugar can help with weight loss because you’re cutting out calories. Of course, if you replace the sugar with an equivalent amount of calories from other foods, you won’t lose any weight. But generally, if you reduce sugar in your foods, your overall calorie intake will decrease, and that means weight loss.
There are 16 calories in one teaspoon of sugar. So let’s say your typical breakfast is oatmeal with a few raisins, some pieces of apple, a small handful of walnuts, and a couple teaspoons of brown sugar. Take out that sugar and the calorie count of your breakfast goes down by 32. That adds up day by day, especially when you’re taking sugar out of other meals and snacks as well.Reduced Risk of Diabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses
Research from scientists backs up the idea that eating too much sugar isn’t good for health. One obvious reason is that excessive sugar consumption can lead to weight gain, even obesity. And there are many chronic illnesses that carrying extra weight puts you at risk for, particularly type 2 diabetes.
But it’s not all about weight. Even people who are fit and at a healthy weight can be at increased risk for chronic illnesses from eating too much sugar over the long-term. Excessive sugar in the diet has been shown in studies to increase the risk for1:
Extra sugar is also linked with a higher risk of certain types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and accelerated aging. The evidence for these is not as strong but still compelling.Cutting out Sugar Makes You Feel Better
If you take a cold-turkey approach to giving up added sugar you may not feel great immediately. In fact, you may even feel sluggish, irritable, and hungry. But, once you’re over the hump and your body has adjusted, eating less sugar can make you feel much better. People have reported a number of ways in which a low-sugar diet improved their quality of life:
Everyone’s experience will be different, but expect to have some good results after a week or two with less sugar in your diet.
Sugar is not inherently bad, which is important to understand. But, our modern diets have become loaded with more sugar than we can ever hope to use. To understand what’s damaging and acceptable when it comes to sugar in food, we have to distinguish between two main types:
The American Heart Association recommends that men eat no more than nine teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugars per day. The limit for women is six teaspoons (25 grams). This isn’t a lot. For men it amounts to just 150 calories and for women 100.
To limit your added sugars, aim to eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods. Not all processed and packaged foods have added sugars, but many do. You’ll find it in surprising places, like bread and salad dressing. This is why you must read labels, and teach your clients to do it.
Right now, food labels do not have to include grams of added sugar, but that will change soon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made changes to nutrition label requirements that go into effect January 2020 for larger companies and 2021 for smaller companies.3
The new requirements include added sugars. Many manufacturers have already made the change, though, so look out for it on your food labels under total sugars. It will tell you the number of grams of added sugar included in that total.
Read any online confessional about cutting out sugar, and you’ll read a scary story about cravings so bad you want to bury your face in a cake. It is likely that you will have some serious sugar cravings when you start to cut back, but it’s important to realize that once you get through a week or two, those cravings really will lessen and almost completely disappear.
As you plan to go through a sugar cleanse, one of the smartest things you can do is simply get it out of the house. Not having sugar on hand goes a long way toward successfully avoiding giving into cravings. Of course this won’t always works, so you’ll need some other strategies too.
For instance, your plan should include some prepared alternatives to reaching for something sugary. Have fresh fruit ready to go; enlist a short mindfulness or breathing exercise you can use in the moment to get sugar out of your mind; take a brisk, five-minute walk when cravings strike; have your favorite herbal tea ready to go as an alternative. Just stopping for a few minutes, and distracting yourself with something else, is enough to prevent you from giving in to a craving.
Finally, you’re most likely to give in to those cravings when you’re hungry. So don’t let it happen. At least for the first two weeks of going sugar-free, plan to eat several small meals a day. Load up on protein, fiber, and healthy fats to keep you full between meals.
Once you start looking for it, you will realize that sugar is everywhere. As you start reading labels on foods and find out the truth, the idea of cutting back can become overwhelming. This is especially true for your clients who may have limited to no experience with really analyzing the foods they eat. Here are some simple hacks both you and your clients can use to make quick and easy changes for less sugar: