With a huge nutritional difference between added and natural sugars, it's important to know how to spot the difference and the effects sugar has on the body. Sugar is a highly addictive substance, not unlike drugs and alcohol. The good news is, cutting back is easier than you may think.
The Sugar Addiction is Real
Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to a multitude of health problems, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance. Added sugars contribute calories, but no essential nutrients. The average American consumes close to 22 tsp of sugar a day - that’s almost four times the amount recommended by the American Heart Association!
Sugar is extremely addictive, acting on the same part of the brain as opiates and amphetamines. Excess sugar intake induces a series of effects similar to those of drugs of abuse. Such effects include euphoric feelings, strong cravings, increased tolerance and uncontrollable bingeing- explaining why this sweet confection is so irresistible!
Sugar in the Diet
When trying to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, it's important to cut back on our sugar intake. Considering it’s addictive nature and the fact that its practically in every food we eat, this is easier said than done. Before we talk about how to accomplish this feat- lets talk about the different types of sugar.
It’s important to note that some foods have naturally occurring sugars—like fruits, vegetables, and milk. The sugars in these foods are not added sugars, and should be included as part of a healthy diet. Just like they sound, added sugars aren’t in foods naturally—they’re added. They include sugars and syrups found in products like sauces, dressings, yogurts and cereals. These sneaky sugars have a list full of alternate names such as dextrose, evaporated cane juice, and invert sugar. (full list of names can be found here!
Natural vs Artificial Sugar
Artificial sweeteners are a frequently misunderstood concept. Their purpose is to provide a similar taste to white sugar while containing a significantly lower number of calories. The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. However, they may not always be the best option.
Things to consider about artificial sweeteners:
They have been linked to increase cravings of high-fat, high calorie foods
They do not affect blood glucose levels but DO act on insulin
Long term, this may cause excessive eating and weight gain
Artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to regulate natural blood sugar. Volatile blood sugar levels may cause metabolic changes in our bodies, leading to conditions such as diabetes. Mentally, the use of artificial sweeteners may lead to larger intake of high-sugar and high-fat foods. Too often we rationalize decisions such as, “I’m drinking a diet soda so it’s OK that I order the extra-large fries”.
Artificial sweeteners may also alter the way normal food tastes to us. Artificially sweetened products are actually much sweeter than natural sugars and table sugar. As a result, high intensity sweeteners may decrease our enjoyment of more-complex but less-sweet foods such as fruits and vegetables.
How to Cut Back
Read the food label: Compare food labels and choose products with the lowest amounts of added sugars. Remember that dairy and fruit products will contain some natural sugars, so it’s important to review the ingredient list to find any added sugars that may be listed.
Add more fruit into your diet: Instead of adding sugar to cereal or oatmeal, try fresh fruit like bananas, cherries or strawberries. Unsweetened dried fruit like raisins or dates are also a great option..
Cut back on the serving: When baking cookies, brownies or cakes, cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. We swear you'll never notice the difference!
Remember, there is room for everything in a healthy diet. Although natural sugars, like fruits, vegetables and milk, should be the bulk of our sugar intake, you can occasionally enjoy the added sugars as well. Moderation is crucial for long-term success!
Gal Shua-Haim is a registered dietitian and recipe developer. She has an all foods fit approach when it comes to nutrition. Her overall goal is to simplify your life in the kitchen by showing you that eating healthy can be easy without compromising taste.