Finding a healthy balance in life requires a constant juggling of attention. Some months are focused on mindfulness and eating green things, while other months are dominated by an increase of yoga and the attempt at intermittent fasting. Sugar is something that we all know isn’t great for us, especially when it comes in the form of “added sugar,” especially when we get too much of it. And yet most of us probably haven’t thought about our sugar intake for a while.
For reference, the American Heart Association says that 6 teaspoons of sugar (25 grams) is plenty for women in a single day, and 9 teaspoons (38 grams) is plenty for men in a day.
Consider this article a checkup. How’s your sugar game? Getting too much of it in places you could be avoiding it? Let’s start by looking at the ways that sugar can harm your body, mind, and mood. Then we’ll look at some ways that you can consider reducing sugar consumption in your diet.
How Can Sugar Harm Your Body?
Obviously, synthetic and processed sugars can harm your body. Added sugar is really bad for us. But steering toward the natural sugar isn’t always good for us either. Too much sugar, even natural sugar, can be bad for our bodies.
Sugar kicks dopamine into your brain. Kale doesn’t. When you opt for sugary snacks in the afternoon, you start training your brain to expect them. You’ll start craving more sugary, nutrient-vacant foods instead of the nutrient-dense snacks. Which means that once you start choosing sugary snacks it becomes much more difficult to choose anything else.
More than the dopamine reaction, people are generally aware that sugar gives you a momentary high before crashing you later. Sugar can contribute to more unpredictable mood swings because it distorts your dopamine levels, burning more now and draining you later.
Combine this with the stuff that we’ve seen on how dopamine affects your brain, and it is best in the long run to limit sugar consumption. If you start consuming sugar in the afternoons your body will crave it and make you grumpy when you don’t deliver.
Sugar can cause inflammation which ages your skin quicker and causes additional joint pain. This inflammation has also been linked to face clarity and acne. For example, one study found that a higher glycemic index contributed to worse levels of acne. Another study found that diet certainly plays a role in acne. A further study found that “[f]at, sugar, and fast food” contributes to acne.
Heart and Blood
If there’s too much added sugar in your body, it increases your resistance to insulin. This means that over time, eating too much sugar hurts your liver’s ability to synthesize sugar into energy. This can lead to full type 2 diabetes, but it can also simply reduce your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. The extra insulin in your bloodstream can also decrease your body’s circulatory system which stresses your heart. Eating less sugar can help lower blood pressure.
While sugar doesn’t cause weight gain, it does bring extra calories. Since sugar hits your body with dopamine and your body wants more dopamine, sugar is a great incentive for your body to overeat. It’s also a great incentive for your body to keep eating during times where you wouldn’t normally eat. And of course, eating more can contribute to weight gain.
Ways to Reduce Sugar Intake
Don’t Drink Sugar
Choose sparkling water instead of soda, and go for water instead of high-sugar juice. Pay attention to those drink labels. The easiest way to lower your sugar intake is to stop drinking soda altogether, although you should also watch out for sports drinks that include absurd amounts of added sugar.
Also, a lot of people love dropping sugar into their coffee or tea. This is another way to consume absurd amounts of sugar without paying attention to it. Coffee and tea are both super good for you, and can be a part of a healthy diet. But once you’re sweetening them, this tilts the scale away from the healthy side. If you can’t develop a taste for bitter coffee and robust tea flavors, then at least use non-dairy creamers which don’t contain sugars.
Check those Bars
Granola and date bars are all the rage. But even these tasty, protein and natural ingredients packed treats can have a bunch of sugar in them. Look for the bars that brag about only having a few ingredients and then double check the back to make sure that they’re delivering on those promises.
Cut Out Certain Snacks
Snacking is great. Most foods designated as “snack foods” are not. Learn to ditch the sugary snacks and opt for healthier options when you’re actually hungry. These can be things that are naturally sweet like apples
Learn to Spot It
Sugar isn’t always listed in the ingredients in such simple terms. Certain foods really want to avoid being labeled with added sugar, and so will use different names. Here’s some things to look out for:
Corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, or corn sweetener
Invert or malt sugar
Fructose, glucose, dextrose, sucrose (and other sugar syrup molecules that end in an “-ose”
Check Products that aren’t Sweet
We associate sugar with sweet flavorings, and so we don’t generally think about the added sugar that comes in products ranging from nut butter to pasta sauce. Check the things that you buy everyday to see how much sugar they contain. It might surprise you.
Find Sugar in Other Ways
Reducing your sugar intake doesn’t mean that you have to consign your diet to nothing but whole grains and savory snacks. There are other ways to get sweet things into your diet without overloading on added sugar. Try picking fresh fruit for a snack. Apples, kiwi, bananas, and peaches are all great ways to get a sweet rush. But they also pack in a ton of vitamins and fibers.
Additionally, consider taking up baking! Added sugar itself isn’t a terrible thing, it just helps to control the amount. Baking your own scones, cinnamon rolls, and other sweet treats will let you dial in a creative recipe without overdoing the sugar.
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