The Truth about Sugar
Years ago, following my book launch, I was browsing the produce section of my local grocery when I bumped into a woman I knew. We’ll call her Jane. As Jane cornered me in the bulk foods aisle, she clearly had a burning question she’d been waiting to ask. She briefly congratulated me on my book, then got right down to business.
“I know it’s important to avoid excess sugar, but that’s just granulated white sugar, right?”
I could tell the answer I was preparing to give was not the one she was looking for. I tried approaching it gently “Unfortunately, sugar is sugar” I explained. Your body doesn’t differentiate between raw or refined”.
“What about honey or agave?” She asked hopefully.
Concerned about crushing this poor woman’s future dessert dreams, I attempted to steer the conversation to a sugar alternative I use for adding sweetness without the blood sugar imbalance; stevia.
“Yes, honey too, and agave”. I said remorsefully, “But here, try this as a healthy substitute” I said brightly pointing to a bottle of stevia on the shelf before heading for the checkout aisle.
I realized later that my advice probably made no different whatsoever to Jane’s future sugar consumption habits.
Why? Jane clearly wasn’t ready to give up sugar entirely, and while stevia is great with certain foods, it doesn’t work with everything, so the unanointed often become discouraged and end up joining the ranks of self-proclaimed stevia haters without giving the sweetener a fair shake.
And even if Jane happened to love stevia, would that mean she had to give up her favorite sugary treats anyway? That sounds like a depressing option, and probably not one most people would jump on unless they absolutely had to.
In hindsight, here’s what I should have said to Jane:
No matter what name it’s under, sugar is sugar, and it can negatively affect your body in ways science is just beginning to fully understand. The latest research is linking excess sugar to cognitive impairment*, and we all know the associations with weight gain and diet-related disease, since these issues have become a growing health epidemic.
Assuming Jane was still with me, I could have explained that while most of us are consuming amounts far beyond the daily recommended allowance, there are some simple shifts you can make to your diet that will make a big difference.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to 6 tsps (25 g) for women, 9 tsps (38 g) for men. Yet, the average American consumes 19.5 teaspoons (82 grams) every day. That translates into about 66 pounds of added sugar consumed each year, per person.
Sugary drinks, including juices, smoothies and coffee drinks make up the greatest source of sugar in most American diets.
At that point I could have invited Jane to rethink her drinking habits, since it’s there are so many healthier, low or sugar-free substitutes that still taste great.
Personally, it took me years to get my sugar consumption habits under control. I’ve learned since then that starting small and adapting to each new step before trying to do it all is far more effective long-term than attempting a complete overhaul.
So if, like Jane, you’re concerned about reducing sugar consumption, but don’t want to go cold turkey or introduce a complicated sugar gram counting plan, here are my simple shifts for rethinking your drink and reducing your sugar consumption significantly, without reducing your nutritional intake.
- Read the label! If your drink contains more than 5 grams of sugar per serving, look for a smart substitute. Remember, 1 teaspoon is equivalent to 4 grams of sugar. so sweeten your coffee yourself if you need to, and plan accordingly!
- Go for whole fruits vs. fruit juices. Juice is very high in sugar, and without the fiber, it’s a direct dump straight to your blood steam. Apple juice, for example, contains nearly as much sugar as a can of Coke. Since the nutritional value is otherwise negligible, dilute juice drinks with ¼ juice, ¾ water, and add a sprinkle of stevia to sweeten to taste. Enjoy a whole orange or apple to add much-needed fiber and all the nutrients of a glass of juice to your diet, without the excess sugar.
- Beware of smoothies or bottled “energy drinks”. Usually the added sugar outweighs any nutritional benefits, and the crash you may experience afterwards creates an energy imbalance that leaves you craving more. Substitute herbal teas containing ingredients like reishi, l-theanine and yes, even a boost of caffeine to give you that much needed energy boost without the crash afterwards, saving money and excess packaging in the process!
Ah, the beauty of hindsight, and this one was 5 full years in the making. The truth about sugar is that reducing your intake is hard to do, but almost always a necessary step toward optimal wellness. So start small and sensibly, as you reinvent your health and energy profile, one simple shift at a time.