It looks so pure and it tastes so good. And yet, sugar has gotten a pretty bad rap lately – with words like toxic, poison, and deadly being used to describe it. Meanwhile, a wave of sugar-free challenges has surfaced online, encouraging people to go one week, one month, or even a lifetime without this sweet substance.
Why all the hate for something so undeniably delicious?
First, we’ll say this: Sugar isn’t inherently evil. Your body uses it for survival and as a source of energy for everyday activities. You can also find sugar in some genuinely healthy foods, like fruit. But the reality is, most people eat way too much of it. The average American consumes nearly 20 teaspoons of sugar per day, way more than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends.* (WHO guidelines suggest a maximum of 9 teaspoons per day for men, 6 per day for women, and 3 to 6 for children, depending on their age and caloric needs).
So what is all this extra sugar doing to us, and why should we cut back on it? Here are five reasons to rethink your sugar infatuation:
1. You want to lose weight.
Maybe just a few pounds, maybe something more ambitious. To get there, you’ll need to pay closer attention to what you eat. Unfortunately, sugary foods don’t fall into the “binge-as-much-as-you-like” category if you’re trying to get lean. As mentioned, your body uses some sugar in the form of energy, but anything above and beyond what it actually needs gets stored as fat. When you reach for that hot fudge sundae or other sugary treat, the glucose levels in your bloodstream increase. This causes your pancrease to release insulin. Higher levels of insulin, in turn, cause your body to store more food calories as fat. This usually lands wherever you tend to store extra weight – whether it be your hips, thighs, butt, or waistline. Once these regions are full, the fatty acids begin to spill over into your organs, like the heart and liver.
What makes things tricky is that high-sugar foods don’t just reside in the candy or ice cream aisles of your grocery store. “Simple” or refined carbohydrates (which get broken down into sugar) come in the form of white bread, white rice, baked potatoes, pretzels, corn chips, fruit juice, and a whole list of other everyday foods. By switching to “complex” carbohydrates – like sweet potatoes, yams, oatmeal, beans, and apples – you can help prevent your insulin levels from spiking and keep your body in a healthy fat-burning mode.
2. You want to enjoy smaller portions.
Let’s face it; eating the amount we should be eating is hard. When the restaurant server places a whopping plate of pasta in front of you – enough to feed you and your family for a week – it takes sheer willpower to hold back from eating it all in one sitting. Why? Because not only does that pasta taste delicious, it contains a lot of sugar. High-sugar foods sabotage your body’s natural appetite suppression hormones, which tell your brain, “Hey, I think I’m full now … I should probably stop eating.” Your brain doesn’t hear the message, and you continue on your merry way. If it’s early in the day, you might get the chance to expend all those extra calories through exercise or normal activity. However, if you’re eating all this pasta in the evening, it’ll be harder to work it off. Those extra calories end up stored as fat, the exact opposite of what you want if you’re trying to get fit.
3. You want to stay full after eating.
So you’ve cleared that big plate of pasta, and are sure you won’t need to eat for hours. But a mere 60 minutes later, your stomach is already rumbling again. What gives?
When you eat a carbohydrate and sugar-based meal, you’re missing out on nutrition from protein, fiber, and healthy fats that help you stay full. All that sugar might satisfy you in the moment, but the feeling is fleeting. In fact, some foods (like donuts and the other high-carb culprits mentioned earlier) can make you feel hungrier after you eat them.
The best way to feel satisfied and stay full after eating is to balance your snack or meal with some quality protein (either in whole-food form or supplements). The protein will help offset the effects of the sugar, so that your blood sugar levels stay in check. You’ll be less susceptible to those “I’ve-just-gotta-grab-junk-food-NOW” cravings in between meals, putting you in a better place to reach your fitness goals.
4. You want to kick your sugar addiction.
Some people call or text a friend when they’re emotional … You grab a tub of ice cream. We’ve all been there. The thing about sugar is that it’s highly addictive. The more you eat, the more you want it! To stop sugar cravings in their tracks, you have to consciously cut some of it from your diet. By replacing those foods with healthier alternatives, you’ll retrain your body and brain to be content without it.
At this point, you might be thinking that artificial sweeteners are a great stand-in for sugar. Not so much. While artificially sweetened foods might momentarily fix your sweet craving, they also play a cruel trick on your body. It thinks it’s getting proper fuel, when really, it’s not. Your body then goes into search mode for something else, leading you to grab a sugar-filled snack – the very thing you were trying to avoid in the first place!
5. You want more energy.
Do you often find yourself feeling tired and sluggish? If so, do you instantly gravitate towards the vending machine for a quick pick-me-up? Seems like a good idea. After all, it’s quick, convenient, and tasty. Unfortunately, any boost in energy you receive is short-lived and void of wholesome nutrition.
Reaching for sugar to counteract fatigue only leads to a vicious cycle of energy highs and lows. One minute you’re up, the next you’re crashing! For more balanced energy levels, reduce sugar from your diet and give your body a couple days to adjust. You’ll feel far more energized and alert by snacking on foods that don’t spike your blood sugar – like veggies, nuts, and lean protein. As a bonus, your mood will likely improve too. Like those energy ups and downs, too much sugar can send you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Skip the sugar blues and stick with the good stuff.
This doesn’t have to be the end of your relationship with sugar. Just take a healthy step back from it to create some distance. Reducing your sugar intake might seem daunting at first, but it will set you up for sweet success.
Spot the Sugar
Hidden sugars can lurk in some of your favorite foods, under the guise of a different name. As you read nutritional labels, keep an eye out for these sugar synonyms: sucrose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, arabinose, ribose, xylose, deoxyribose, and lactose.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.