Full disclosure – I spent over 3 years working in a refined sugar plant and I fully understand the process of creating different types of refined sugar. But even after working in the industry I know that the over consumption of sugar is one of the main nutrition battles we all face each and every day.
Consuming too much refined sugar can be harmful to your health. Refined sugar is high in calories and has no nutritional value. Eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain, tooth decay, and an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Refined sugar is often found in so many things that our busy lifestyles push us into eating – processed foods and drinks, such as soda, candy, and baked goods are just a few examples. These types of foods are typically high in calories and low in essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Consuming these foods regularly can lead to overconsumption of sugar and other the other unhealthy ingredients that come with them.
We are bombarded with marketing to consume sugars and most industrial food processors pack the sugar into their foods to keep us coming back for more – its a vicious cycle.
A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine go Down – Mary Poppins
While it’s okay to enjoy sugar in moderation, and as part of a balanced diet, it’s important to limit your intake of refined sugars and opt for more nutritious food options whenever possible. It’s hard! But it is so worth it once you understand the benefits and the costs of not making a change in your refined sugar intake.
Are There Good Sugars?
When it comes to refined sugar vs natural sugar there are several natural sugars that can be a part of a healthy diet. These sugars are found in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, and they often come with other beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Here are a few examples of natural sugars that can be a part of a healthy diet and that are readily available in convenient ways for you to reach out for when you crave something sweet.
Fructose is found naturally in fruits, fructose is a simple sugar that can provide energy and nutrients. When consumed in its whole food form, such as in an apple or a banana, fructose is generally considered healthy.
Lactose which is found naturally in milk and other dairy products, lactose is a disaccharide made up of glucose and galactose. Lactose is a good source of energy and is also important for bone health.
Maltose, this disaccharide is made up of two glucose molecules and is found in small amounts in some whole grains and vegetables. While maltose is not essential for a healthy diet, it can provide some energy and nutrients when consumed in moderation.
It’s important to note that even natural sugars should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Too much of any type of sugar can be a negative when it comes to a healthy nutrient based lifestyle.
Is Sugar Addictive?
There is loads of evidence that points to sugary foods being addictive. Studies have shown that consuming sugar can activate reward centers in the brain and trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This can create a cycle of craving and reward that can lead to overconsumption of sugary foods.
In fact, some studies suggest that sugar can be as addictive as drugs like cocaine and can lead to similar changes in the brain. This may explain why some people find it difficult to cut back on sugar even when they know it’s not good for their health.
Additionally, consuming sugary foods can cause blood sugar levels to spike and then crash, which can lead to feelings of fatigue and hunger, further driving cravings for sugary foods.
It’s important to note that while sugar can be addictive for some people, not everyone experiences the same level of addiction. Additionally, addiction to sugar is not a recognized medical condition, but rather a behavioral pattern that can be modified through changes in diet and lifestyle. Our addiction to sugary foods is one that we can easily overcome if we make the conscious choice to make a change in how and what we consume.
One BIG step in overcoming the addiction is to not let marketing dictate what you eat. The next time you are watching or listening to something or even when you are driving down the road take note of how many ads revolve around “convenient processed foods” – we are being programmed to consume sugars.
When To Reduce Refined Sugar Intake
Reducing your sugar intake can be beneficial for your health at any time, but there are certain times when it may be particularly helpful.
- If you’re trying to lose weight – Excess sugar intake can contribute to weight gain, so reducing your sugar intake may be helpful if you’re trying to lose weight.
- If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes or other chronic diseases – Excessive sugar intake can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. If you have a family history of these conditions, reducing your sugar intake may help lower your risk.
- If you have tooth decay or other dental issues – Sugar can contribute to tooth decay, so reducing your sugar intake may be helpful if you’re experiencing dental issues.
- If you have trouble controlling your blood sugar levels – Consuming too much sugar can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can be particularly problematic for people with diabetes or insulin resistance.
It’s important to note that reducing your sugar intake doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating all sugars from your diet. Instead, aim to reduce your intake of added sugars found in processed foods and beverages, and opt for more whole foods that naturally contain sugars, like fruits and dairy products.
Additionally, gradually reducing your sugar intake over time may be more sustainable than trying to make drastic changes all at once. I started my refined sugar reduction with simply removing it from my morning coffee and from there moved on to not drinking sodas and other refined sugar heavy drinks. Its all a process and its one that you can take at your own pace if you choose to.
Where Are Refined Sugars Found
Refined sugars are found in a wide variety of processed foods and drinks. These added sugars are often used to enhance flavor, texture, and shelf life of these products. Some common sources that we knowingly consume refined sugars include candy, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods.
Sugary drinks like soda, juice, and sports drinks are also major contributors to added sugars in the diet. Processed foods like breakfast cereals, granola bars, and snack foods can also be high in added sugars. Condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce, and salad dressings often contain added sugars as well. These types of foods tend to not stand out when we think of added refined sugar due to having “healthy names” or other ingredients that are marketed as being within the products.
Additionally, some seemingly healthy foods like fruit-flavored yogurt, granola bars and other “healthy” choices can be high in added sugars. In order to reduce your intake of refined sugar, it is extremely important to read labels carefully and choose whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible.
14 Ways To Reduce Your Refined Sugar Intake
Everything in moderation seems to make sense for most things but sometime convenience and schedules make it hard to eat what’s best for us. Every health institute out there has a multitude of ways and why’s when it comes to reducing your sugar intake. Here are my 14 tips on how you can reduce your sugar intake and lean into healthier calories.
- Read labels: Look for added sugars on food labels and choose products with little to no added sugars.
- Cut back on sugary drinks: Sugary drinks like soda, juice, and sports drinks are some of the biggest contributors to added sugars in the diet. Try switching to water or unsweetened beverages.
- Choose whole fruits: Instead of consuming fruit juices or canned fruits packed in syrup, opt for fresh or frozen fruits.
- Swap out sweets for fruit: Instead of reaching for a candy bar or a cookie, satisfy your sweet tooth with a piece of fruit.
- Add flavor with spices: Use spices like cinnamon or nutmeg to add flavor to foods without adding sugar.
- Eat protein with meals: Consuming protein with meals can help reduce cravings for sugary foods.
- Use natural sweeteners: Instead of adding sugar to coffee or tea, try using natural sweeteners like honey or stevia.
- Choose low-sugar breakfast options: Breakfast foods like cereal and yogurt can be high in sugar. Look for low-sugar options or opt for a protein-rich breakfast like eggs.
- Plan ahead: Pack healthy snacks like nuts, fruits, and veggies to avoid reaching for sugary snacks when hunger strikes.
- Cut back on processed foods: Processed foods like packaged snacks, desserts, and frozen meals are often high in added sugars.
- Choose whole grains: Choose whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread instead of refined grains like white rice or white bread.
- Make homemade sauces and dressings: Many store-bought sauces and dressings are high in added sugars. Try making your own at home with natural ingredients.
- Watch out for hidden sugars: Sugar can be found in many unexpected places like condiments, salad dressings, and sauces.
- Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can lead to increased cravings for sugary foods, so aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Now Is The Time
After a lifetime of being programmed to want and need refined sugar it will be a challenge to reduce your sugar intake but it will be one of the best challenges that you can take on when it comes to your health. Start slow and see how you can gain momentum in reducing your sugar intake and before you know it the craving will be gone and you will be another step forward in creating a nutrition based healthy lifestyle.