You don’t need me to tell you that sugar isn’t good for you, but it’s nice to hear the numbers every now and then to jolt you back to reality and give you the motivation to decrease your sugar intake.
How much is too much?
First, how much added sugar are you currently eating? You may be surprised to find that the average American consumes about 13lbs of sugar PER MONTH in the form of soda, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other added sugars.1 Your body only NEEDS 2 teaspoons of blood sugar circulating in order to perform its necessary functions. It GETS what it needs in the whole foods that the body eats like vegetables and whole grains.1
The short answer then is that any added sugar is too much. We recommend you keep it below 5% of your calories per day.
What’s so bad about extra sugar?
“Every teaspoon of refined sugar you eat works to throw the body out of balance and compromise its health.” Nancy Appleton, PhD2 Lick the Sugar Habit
It makes sense to me that if my body does not NEED all of the extra sugar that I consume it has to flush it out. That takes valuable time and energy that my body could be using elsewhere. Without going into too much scientific detail, added sugar is takes a real toll on the body. I’m honestly impressed with the body’s resiliency.
“Seductive and sweet, refined sugar is more a drug than it is a food—it is a poison. Aside from quickly adding pounds of fat to our belly, butt and thighs, sugar interferes with many body functions and slowly deleteriously robs us of important nutrients.”1
Table sugar comes from the sugarcane plant, which in its unrefined state is a grassy stalk full of nutrients, minerals and polyphenols. Even the freshly extracted juice from the plant is also nutritious and full of vitamins and enzymes. Through the complex process of refining, the sugarcane juice is stripped of everything valuable. While the raw sugarcane juice contains only 15% sucrose, the finished product white sugar contains 99.8% sucrose.1 White sugar made from beets is done in a similar fashion with a similar end result of no nutrients- empty calories, no fiber, nutrients, enzymes, etc.
- Our body doesn’t need refined sugar. It gets plenty from the other foods that it’s eating.
- You probably aren’t aware of the amount of refined sugar you are consuming—it’s found in almost all packaged foods including high fructose corn syrup.
- Many meats are injected with it to improve color, flavor and texture.
- Over-the counter medications
- Soups, broths, nuts, breading, dressing mixes, condiments, salad dressings.1
- Sugar suppresses your immune response.1
- Contributes to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.3
- Other forms of refined sugar, including white flour, maple syrup, molasses and honey have a similar effect on the body elevating blood sugar levels and diverting the body away from more important functions.
Action Step 1: Eliminate sodas and all sugary drinks, including 100% fruit juices. Drink more water.
**We also talked about sugar in our How Much Sugar is Too Much post. Head over there and grab the infographic to share a little sugar knowledge with your friends.
I recently had a conversation with my neighbor from Spain that went something like this: Neighbor: “I don’t like using the white flour here in America. It just smells like bleach.” Me: “That’s because it really IS bleached.”
Isn’t it amazing that we accept bleached flour as the norm here in America along with so many other highly processed non-food items? Refined carbs like pasta, white bread, juice, white potatoes, and others induce a similar response in our bodies as white sugar. They contain very little nutrients, even when fortified. They are high in calories and are quickly absorbed to the bloodstream. Again, they contribute to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stomach and colon cancer.3
Whole grain foods like brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, etc. are better because they have more nutrients, slower digestion, and more fiber.
“If you want to lose weight, the most important foods to avoid are processed food: condiments, candy, snacks and baked goods…including bagels, pasta and bread.” 3
Even whole grains, when refined, need to be very limited. Not all products labeled “whole grain” are really whole grain.
Action Step 2: Eliminate white flour and most refined carbohydrates. Stop eating processed foods in general.
Fruit-the happy side of sugar
On a more positive note, there is a reason that we have a natural sweet tooth. Our bodies are conditioned to want colorful, sweet foods like fruit, because they are important to our health. Fruits are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. They are delicious and healthy for our bodies. They are “indispensable.”3
I’ve noticed that fruit sometimes get a bad rep, especially in low-carb diet fads. Indeed, individuals with diabetes and similar health problems are counseled not to eat it in excess. Would this really be the case had we avoided refined sugars in the first place? I don’t think so. If you do not suffer from these health problems, try snacking on fruit and not cookies.
Some low-sugar fruits include: kiwi, berries: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, and green apples.
Action Step 3: Replace refined sugars with whole fruit.
It is almost impossible to avoid sugar 100% since it is so prevalent in our culture. In fact, you may want to be the “one cookie girl” who can have a treat every now and then and then get right back on track. You get to decide how far you want to take it, but the important thing is to REDUCE, REDUCE, REDUCE the amount of added sugar you are eating. Eat whole fruits instead.
Some “good” sweeteners
We don’t have time to list all of the sweeteners available on the market in this post. If you choose to eat a little extra sugar, here are some good options that are whole foods, or pretty close.
Raw, Unfiltered Honey
“The other day, someone asked me if honey is a good sweetener. My answer was, ‘It depends.'” – Jonny Bowden, PhD., CNS4
There is a HUGE difference between most store-bought honey and the variety bought from a beekeeper. As usual, the price should give you some indication of it’s nutritional quality. Honey from the bees contains phytochemicals and enzymes available in the pollen collected from the flowers the bees are using. It is rich in nutrients and has many touted health benefits such as cough suppressant and allergy alleviation. 5 Pasteurized and processed honey has fewer nutrients. As the honey is heated at high temperatures in pasteurization, enzymes and phytochemicals are lost. Filtering and straining sifts out many of the naturally-occurring nutrients.
Molasses comes from sugar cane and is a by-product of the refining process. The plant is boiled, sugar removed, molasses removed, etc. Blackstrap molasses comes form the 3rd boil in the process and is the dregs of the pot. It contains the least amount of sugar and the most nutrients of all of it’s sugar byproduct sisters. It’s a good source of iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and in smaller quantities manganese, copper and B-vitamins. There are lots of traditional health remedies and traditions surrounding molasses which have not been verified by scientific experimentation.1 Although molasses is good for you, remember that it is a sugar byproduct and a little bit goes a long way for your health.
- Dee McCaffrey, CDC. The Science of Skinny: Start Understanding your Body’s Chemistry–and Stop Dieting Forever. Da Capo Press; 2012: 47-56.
- Nancy Appleton, PhD, Lick the Sugar Habit. New York: Avery Penguin Putman, 1996: 10-11.
- Fuhrman, Joel, M.D. Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition. Little, Brown and Company; 2011: 38.
- Jonny Bowden, PhD., CNS. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why. Fair Winds Press; 2007: 8, 314-5