Updated: Mar 27, 2022
Dextrose. Corn Syrup. Agave. Fructose. Cane Juice. There are a million names for it, and the food industry takes advantage of that, because it confuses us. However way you say it, it's not actually the little bit of chocolate or occasional slice of cake that are harming you the most- it's the unsuspectingly high amounts of sugar added to everyday foods like peanut butter, pasta sauce, bread, and crackers that we need to be concerned about.
Many Americans rely on quick, processed meals now more than ever. Most of these products often contain copious amounts of added sugar, which then makes up a large portion of their daily calorie intake. It's not just the calories in sugar that you need to be concerned about- here's a few reasons that sugar is toxic, and why you should limit your intake as much as possible.
Is highly addictive
Is directly linked to weight gain
Increases your risk of chronic disease and possibly cancer
High sugar consumption is linked to higher risk for depression
Affects energy levels
...and that's really just scratching the surface. But I'm not here to explain all the ins and outs as why sugar is bad for you, because that's pretty common knowledge. I'm here to tell you what to do about it. As someone who has had a sweet tooth most of my life and allowed my cravings and energy crashes to control me, I am here to tell you it's possible to wean off of sweetness, eliminate cravings, and train your palate to appreciate other tastes: salty, sour, savory, bitter, etc.
How to Limit Your Sugar Intake
Read Your Labels
There is hidden sugar in EVERYTHING. Even presumably healthy, organic products can contain ridiculous amounts of sugar. Some of the most common hiding places for sugar are bread, sauces/condiments/dressings, canned vegetables, and even wine!! (read my blog post on clean wine here).
Let's say you had a friend who was addicted to painkillers and decided to go to rehab to get clean. Let's say the rehab facility made sure he or she didn't have access to any prescription meds while there, but put little bits of painkillers in each of their meals every day. What would happen to your friend? They'd leave rehab and immediately go back to their old ways because they never got clean in the first place. Even if you aren't eating sweets, chances are, you are probably consuming more sugar than you realize in unsuspecting places. Read your labels and opt for products with little to no added sugar.
Buy Plain and Add it Yourself
Let's be realistic here- you can't (and shouldn't) cut sweets out completely. It's not practical and you deserve to treat yourself and enjoy your life. The most important thing to keep in mind is: the biggest problem with sugar is not the sugar you add to your food, but the sugar that food companies are adding to it. Buy cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, and everything else as plain as possible and then add sweeteners or spices yourself. That way you control the portion sizes and don't get accustomed to super sweet foods.
Use Natural Sweeteners
My top natural sweeteners, in this order, are:
Dates: A great whole food sweetener that also comes with a significant amount of fiber to help balance blood sugar. Add it to smoothies or blend it in a food processor and add to baked goods. Whole dates by themselves also make great sweet snacks. Date sugar and date syrup are also good choices. You can find both as most stores these days and on Amazon.
Maple syrup: A low glycemic sap that contains antioxidants and minerals like zinc and manganese. I add it to my oatmeal and it's great in baked goods.
Coconut sugar: Unrefined and low glycemic, it contains some trace minerals. Really great for baked goods; you can do a 1:1 swap for sugar in almost any recipe.
Honey: Local, raw honey is medicinal and delicious. It's an anti-microbial and has antioxidants and minerals. Great for sweetening tea, yogurt, oatmeal, etc.
Monk fruit sweetener and stevia are also better options than sugar- they are not my first choices but better than cane sugar and definitely better options than artificial sweeteners.
Sweeteners to Avoid
Below I've listed a few common sweetener options and why I steer clear of them.
There are 5 that have FDA approval: aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), acesulfame (Sunett, Sweet One), saccharin (Sweet N Low), sucralose (Splenda), and neotame. Avoid these like the plague. Artificial sweeteners have been proven to be carcinogenic in animal studies. They mess up your metabolism, wreck your gut biome, and cause weight gain. Avoid, avoid, avoid! Not sure how else to spell that out for you.
Examples: Erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. These are kind of gray area, but I recommend avoiding them when possible. Sugar alcohols are used mainly by food manufacturers in everything from candy, to cough drops, vitamins and even ice cream. They have significantly lower calories than sugar which is nice, but they cause digestive discomfort in many people. My philosophy with food is that I try to avoid anything that wasn't around 100 years ago and anything made in a lab, which is why I recommend avoiding sugar alcohols.
You might think it's healthy because it's derived from a plant, however, refining and processing it remove any potential health benefits. Agave is almost pure fructose (more than cane sugar), which wreaks havoc on your metabolic health. When consumed in large amounts, it can contribute to insulin resistance, bad cholesterol, and belly fat accumulation.
You can't have your cake and eat it too- no matter what type of sugar/sweetener is in it. At the end of the day- sugar is sugar. Yes, some natural sweeteners are much better for you than other sweeteners, but the real solution is that we need to wean ourselves off sweetness and appreciate all the tastes that food has to offer. To best benefit your long-term health, you should make an effort to cut out all added sugars from your foods, and sweeten certain foods yourself using one of the natural sweeteners listed above.
Attention Wine Drinkers!
Did you know, the average bottle of wine has 16 grams of added sugar? That's as much as a glazed donut! Don't let your nightly glass of vino sneak more sugar into your diet.
Holistic in Houston is partnered exclusively with Scout & Cellar Wines- your source for 100% clean crafted wines delivered right to your door! They are all sugar free, making them paleo and keto-friendly. Shop our store by clicking the photo below!