Added Sugar: Made Simple
When we talk about sugar, we are talking about a substance that is 1) addictive and 2) toxic to our system. Sugar alters the signals in our body in a destructive way, triggers our fat storing hormones & it taxes our livers. (Our livers have enough to filter & deal with in our current environment!)
If you look at almost ANY diet plan, no matter what the angle, the one single thing that gets restricted across the board is added sugar. Why? Well, because as it turns out (contrary to popular belief) fat does not make us fat, sugar does. If you’re interested in digging deeper into the topic, there’s a link at the very bottom of this page.
For the rest of us, to make it simple, all you really need to know for now is that sugar increases insulin production in your body and insulin is the key hormone that triggers fat storage. It also is related to a host of chronic health issues.
When we talk about sugar, we will refer to two types – added sugar (any sugar added to a food) and natural sugar (sugars found in whole foods, like an apple).
Sugar: American Heart Association – Not-to-Exceed Recommendations
A statement released by the American Heart Association (AHA) on Aug 24, 2009 states we should reduce “added sugar” in our diet to NO MORE than 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men. (That is NO MORE than about 24 grams for women and 32 grams for men.)
Added Sugar: Where to Find It
Most added sugars will be found in processed foods (anything with an ingredients list) or food that is prepared for you when you eat out. That’s why I am so gung-ho on whole foods and cooking at home. It gets a lot easier to know what is in your food when you prepare it yourself (and it tastes a lot better, too).
Here is a list of added sugars to watch out for when reading labels. This list is from the USDA website. It hits all the ones you would likely come across:
fruit juice concentrates
high-fructose corn syrup
The Challenge: It’s Everywhere!
The main problem with sugar is that it is everything.
It is in the obvious places like: soda, ice-cream, candy, baked goods and, yes, possibly even your Starbucks. But, it is also in less obvious places like bread, ketchup, salad dressings, yogurt, granola bars, health food cereals.
Once you start looking at labels, you’ll be amazed at how much sugar is slipping through your fingertips (and probably your lips).
Basically, anything that is not in the produce or meat section of the grocery store probably has added sugar.
What is happening right now is most of us are getting a little sugar here and there throughout the day (without even knowing it) and most of that time that alone takes you right to the AHA not to exceed number and then you think – “I can have one small treat or a fancy coffee drink” and that just blows your numbers through the roof.
So, why is sugar in everything?
There are a lots of reasons, but to sum it up quickly, the reason it is in everything is because it is cheap, it makes the food taste good, and there is growing evidence it can be considered as addicting as drugs (yet, it is totally legal)! Can you imagine if you owned a company that sold food and you were allowed to put an addictive drug in it – without limit – that makes it taste good? Do you think you would add a little to all of your products, even though they did not need it? Hey, if you are in business for profit, you would be stupid not to.
I have talked to many people that come to the United States from other countries and they ALL say the same thing – food in the U.S. is so sweet. The funny thing is, they adapt to it very quickly. They become addicted, too. I could write volumes on the politics around this, but that’s a whole other topic.
The problem is that our foods have been contaminated with a substance that (when consumed too much over time) plays a key role in making us overweight, causes chronic diseases (no one will dispute these two items), and that is gathering mounting evidence indicating it’s addicting.
How to Reduce Added Sugar: The Strategy
First, it’s important to know where sugar hides. Just look at anything you eat that has a label or that has nutrition facts available online and:
- Read the nutrition label. IF you see sugar shows anything more than 0 grams, THEN:
- Look at the ingredients list and if you see one of the above mentioned items, it counts as an added sugar.
Your goal is to keep the daily total of added sugars below 24 grams for women and 32 grams for men.
This is what we call Level 1 of your added sugar goal. (Remember, this is just the maximum recommended by the AHA if your goal is to reduce some health risks. We would consider this a ‘not to exceed’ number.)
Now, if your goal is to lose weight, you may want to go to the next level, which is to reduce your added sugar intake to somewhere between 0-15 grams per day.
(I know what you are saying. That is impossible! Well, if you eat processed and prepared foods it may well be, but if you are eating a whole foods diet, it’s not.)
What to Do?
If we want to have a diet that supports our health, we need to limit our added sugar significantly.
Just so you know, I generally do not recommend anything to any one of my clients that I have not tried myself. I have done self experimentation and I have worked with a variety of clients (including athletes that were already lean to begin with) and I have seen people’s body composition change significantly by making this one simple change in their diet.
Don’t think of limiting sugar as a punishment – as if you’re all alone here. Think of it as leading the way. The fact is, everyone is going to have to make this change & reduce their sugar intake at some point, if they do not want to suffer from chronic diseases. It is similar to cigarettes. Before we figured out that cigarettes were bad for our health, it was a very common to smoke – even doctors did it. Now, it is general knowledge that cigarettes are bad for our health. (Of course, we still see people that smoke. It will be the same thing for sugar; people will still eat too much of it.)
But, you’re not interested in doing something that you know damages your health. That’s why you’re here and, now that you know a little more about how sugar works in your body and where it shows up in your food, you can begin to make changes.
If you are consuming more than the AHA’s recommended amount of sugar, you are most likely addicted. It generally takes about 21 days to break an addiction. The good news is, once you are off of added sugar you will not miss it.
I know this was a lot of information for a simple action – reduce added sugar in your diet. But this is a very important one and it is the first step you will need to take if you want to lose weight or if you want to be healthier because it’s messing up your body’s signals and you won’t be able to figure out the best diet and food for your body until you get that cleared up.
So, let’s put the information to work.
- Following my suggestions above, review all the food that you consume and make sure first of all that you are under the AHA’s recommendation of 24 grams for women and 32 grams for men.
- If you are trying to lose weight, then reduce your added sugar to less than 15 grams per day.
- Extra Credit – Watch this lecture called Sugar: The Bitter Truth by Dr. Robert Lustig. This video is about 80 minutes, but worth your time if you want the details on why sugar (fructose) is a problem to the human body and a little bit of the history and politics of it all.