We’ve all heard it hundreds of times: sugar is bad for you. But that doesn’t keep up from scarfing down that 5th (or 10th!) piece of Halloween candy or reaching for a piece of pie after dinner. And while the occasional sweet treat isn’t going to kill you, the problem is that for most of us, these treats aren’t occasional at all. The average American eats nearly a half pound of sweeteners a day – 150 pounds a year – reports Elson Hass, M.D., author of The New Detox Diet. Not only are we including cookies, candy bars, and sodas in our daily diets, but sugars and sweeteners are hidden in dozens of other common foods, including salad dressings and lunch meats. Many of us even rely on regular doses of sugar to provide a quick energy boost.
Health risks of sugar
So what’s the big deal? Aside from a little tooth decay, is all that sugar really going to hurt us? Actually, yes. While some effects of too much sugar are obvious – obesity and diabetes, for starters – others are far more insidious. For instance, cancer: overconsumption of sugar has been linked to several forms of cancer, including colon, breast, prostate, kidney, and pancreas.
Sugar reduces the ability of white blood cells to fight bacteria, making us more susceptible to illness. High sugar intake is also linked to heart disease, premature aging, menstrual irregularities, PMS, mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
Children and sugar
Infants and children are particularly susceptible to the effects of sugar. Sugar consumption in children has been linked to learning problems, hyperactivity, moodiness, and inappropriate behavior. Even a single intake of sugar can trigger a decrease in academic performance and an increase in behavior problems. And a lifelong pattern of eating sweets can lead to a lifetime of battling digestive problems, fatigue, overweight, and more serious health problems.
Reducing sugar intake
To decrease the amount of sugar in your diet, eat foods that are lower on the glycemic index. The sugars in low GI foods are absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly, providing a prolonged source of energy without crashes or mood swings. A glycemic index of 55 or below is considered low. Choose foods like leafy greens, whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and nut butters. A diet of primarily whole foods will also help you avoid the hunger cravings that come with a diet high in sugar. Foods that are white – white bread, pasta, potatoes – tend to have a higher GI.
Learn more about the glycemic index on the World’s Healthiest Foods.
How to reduce sugar in your diet:
- Read labels. Avoid foods with ingredients such as sucrose, dextrose, barley malt, caramel, carob syrup, dextran, fructose, fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, maltodextrin, or corn syrup.
- Drink plenty of water and herbal tea every day. Eliminate sodas, fruity drinks, and sports drinks.
- If you have kids, pack their lunches. School lunches often contain high GI foods such as French fries or French toast sticks.
- Disassociate sweets from the idea of treats and rewards. Instead of rewarding good grades with a trip to the ice cream shop, allow your children to plan a fun family activity or have a friend spend the night.
- Learn to respond to stress and other emotions in ways that don’t involve food. Exercise, take a bath, write in a journal, or talk to a friend instead of reaching for the cake.
- Develop birthday and holiday rituals that don’t revolve around cake and ice cream.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”