Why Lowering Sugar Intake is Difficult but Also Important
Reducing the amount of sugar you consume every day can be difficult. To help you reset your cravings for the sweet stuff, we’ve partnered with Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Andrea Donsky to give you her personal step-by-step advice on how to easily reduce your daily intake of sugar, and establish healthy habits for a lifetime.
“Sugar is addictive.” “Sugar is bad for you.” “You need to give up sugar completely to feel healthy and fabulous.” Which one of these statements is NOT true? If you said the third one, you’re right—and you’re probably relieved! After all, we all like sweet things, right?
However, the first two statements are true, which means you are faced with a dilemma. How can you beat the bad effects of sugar and sugar addiction—and still keep some sweetness in your life?
First of all, don’t let the word “addiction” scare you. Sure, reducing your sugar intake isn’t a piece of cake (pun intended). That’s because eating a lot of sugar affects the chemistry in the part of your brain that is hard-wired for emotional control. In fact, a study in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews noted that “intermittent access to sugar can lead to behavioral and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of a substance of abuse,” such as heroin and cocaine.
The good news is that you can take steps to pull the plug on that wiring and learn to enjoy sugar in small amounts. In the beginning, cutting down on your sugar intake can be a bit of a challenge, but it can be exciting and educational at the same time.
For example, an important part of shaking the sugar habit is to read labels and know how much added sugar is in the foods you choose for yourself and your family. Be prepared to be shocked! Many foods and beverages, including those that claim to be healthy, contain so much sugar, even one serving will put you over the amount of sugar recommended daily (more about that later). For now, you should know that the FDA recommends consuming no more than 50 grams (12.5 teaspoons) of added sugar daily.
Why is it important to lower the amount of sugar in your diet? Because the physical, mental, and emotional health benefits are even sweeter—and life saving. Reducing sugar intake can:
- Help keep your intestinal tract (gut) in balance. Too much sugar promotes the growth and spread of bad bacteria, which leaves you vulnerable to development of inflammation and various diseases such as diabetes, celiac disease, and gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. Since the brain and gut are connected via the brain-gut axis, it’s critical to keep the “highway” fairly clear of sugar.
- Improve your mood. Being addicted to sugar can feel like riding a rollercoaster when it comes to your feelings and emotions. Once you step off that ride, your mood will improve. High sugar intake can worsen feelings of anxiety and increase the risk of depression.
- Clear your mind. You’ll feel more alert, better able to concentrate, and help preserve your memory once you shed the extra sugar from your body and brain.
- Enhance your sense of taste. Similar to smoking, high intake of sugar can dull your sense of taste. After a few months of limiting your sugar intake, you will begin to appreciate the natural flavors of foods again…or perhaps even for the first time. You will even start to crave healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, instead of sugar!
- Help you feel energized. Although it’s true that sugar can provide a brief spike in energy, chronic high intake of sugar results in systemic inflammation, which slows your body and mind down. Therefore, cutting back on sugar and relieving your body of that stress will help keep your energy levels high and even.
- Reduce your urge for sugar. Once you bid adieu to your sugar addiction, you won’t feel the anxiety and “urge” for candy, sugary beverages, or other sugar fixes. When these stressful situations are no longer a part of your life, you will achieve a more balanced state of being.
Counting Sugar Grams is not Enough
If you are ready to significantly reduce your intake of sugar, we encourage you go for it! However, reading labels and counting how many grams of added sugar you consume each day is simply not enough. You also need to consider the type of sugar you are consuming, and what other nutrients foods contain to counterbalance it.
For example, high-fructose corn syrup, used in thousands of conventional products, is metabolized differently in our bodies than other forms of sugar, and has been linked to increased belly fat, heart disease and insulin resistance. The good news is that many companies are phasing this type of sugar out due to consumer demand, however it is still used so be sure to read labels carefully to avoid it.
Naturally, you want to get the most bang for your (sweetness) buck, and that means the foods and beverages you choose should be as nutritious as possible. It comes down to choices. For example, one 12-ounce can of soda has between 33-50 grams of sugar and is full of empty calories—therefore no nutrients! Instead, choose a food that provides essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, and make it non-GMO if possible! This choice will help you stay fuller longer, provide lasting energy, and keep your blood sugar regulated so you don’t crave sugary foods.
Another thing to consider when limiting sugar intake is the glycemic index. Although this index is commonly used by people who have diabetes, it also can be a guide for anyone who wants to watch their sugar intake.
The glycemic index is a ranking of foods based on how they impact (raise) blood sugar (glucose) levels. The lower the ranking, the less the food affects sugar levels and generally, the more healthy or nutritious the item is.
For example, foods that rank in the low range (55 or lower) include 100 percent whole wheat or pumpernickel bread, steel-cut or rolled oatmeal, barley, legumes, most fruits, and non-starchy vegetables. These foods cause blood sugar levels to rise less than foods in the medium (56-69) or high (70+) categories. Some of the foods in the latter category include white breads and white pasta.
As a general rule, fiber and fat content in a food tend to lower the glycemic index value, while the more processed or cooked the food is, the higher the index. If you consume a food that is high on the glycemic index, eating something with it that is low on the index can help balance the effect on blood glucose levels.
Lowering your sugar intake and getting out from under the control of sugar can be empowering and rewarding. Once you do, you will better appreciate the flavors and sweetness of wholesome foods.