A sugar-free diet is actually the sweetest thing for your health!
Sugar is becoming the biggest dietary enemy we face today. If you have a sweet tooth and love to eat sugary treats and beverages, be aware that too much sugar is not so sweet for your health. The naturally occurring sugars in fruits are fine, especially if you do not have any pre-existing issues like diabetes and eat them in moderation. The problem starts when you consume more than the recommended amount of sugar added to our food. Even though the World Health Organization, (WHO) has a recommended daily intake of sugar, which is 6 teaspoons (25grams), I personally believe we don’t need any added sugar in our system for optimal health.
What are the Detrimental Effects of Sugar?
Added sugar is one of the worst ingredients in the modern diet. It provides empty calories with no added nutrients and leads to many health issues. The major sources of added sugars are found in what I like to call CRAP food – Chemically, Refined, Artificial and Processed foods and drinks like regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, candies, muffins, cakes, cookies, pies, etc.
- Eating more sugar can lead to energy slumps, leaving you exhausted and irritable. Sugar gets broken down very quickly and causes a spike in blood sugar levels. During this time, the brain stops producing orexin, the neuropeptide responsible for feeling alert. Excess dietary sugar affects the brain, nerves, digestive system and muscles. If the body is not receiving proper nutrition, it results in fatigue and tiredness.
- If you consume excess sugar, it will show on your waist, hips, thighs and face. Quitting sugar can help you finally lose some of the extra pounds and prevent health problems that come with being overweight.
- Sugar intake is likely a leading cause of diabetes. Excess sugar intake leads to a build-up of fatty deposits around the liver, which contributes over time to insulin resistance by affecting the functioning of the pancreas.
- High sugar intake and poor oral health go hand in hand. When high sugar intake is combined with poor oral hygiene, the results can be disastrous. Certain bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugars and create acids. These acids can destroy the tooth enamel, which is the shiny, protective outer layer of the tooth. This in turn can lead to cavities and tooth decay.
- Cutting back on sugar can help maintain blood sugar levels and also increase the level of serotonin within the brain, promoting a healthy and consistent sleep pattern. Eating sugary foods causes blood sugar spikes, which leads to adrenal exhaustion. This affects sleep quality. High sugar leads to large amounts of glucose in the bloodstream, which suppress the activity of orexin neurons in the brain.
- Increased sugar intake raises insulin levels, which in turn activates the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Eventually, this increases the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and other serious coronary conditions.
Harmful Facts About Sugar Consumption
- Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. In the American diet, the top sources are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavoured yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup. As a result, we consume way too much added sugar. Adult men take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to the National Cancer Institute. That’s equal to 384 calories.
- In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.
- It is also important to keep track of sugar you add to your food or beverages. About half of added sugar comes from beverages, including coffee and tea. A study in the May 2017 Public Health found that about two-thirds of coffee drinkers and one-third of tea drinkers put sugar or sugary flavours in their drinks. The researchers also noted that more than 60% of the calories in their beverages came from added sugar.
- A study published online Sept. 3, 2019, by JAMA Internal Medicine looked at more than 450,000 people over a 16-year period and found that those who drank two or more 8-ounce glasses of sugar-sweetened soda a day had a higher risk of dying for any reason than people who drank less than a glass each month. Drinking large amounts of artificially sweetened sodas was also associated with earlier death.
- Consuming too much sugar also can increase chronic inflammation. And higher sugar consumption has also been linked to a higher risk of frailty as we age. A study in the May 2018 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that older adults who consumed more than 36 grams per day of added sugar were more likely to become frail compared with those who consumed less than 15 grams daily.
- Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine demonstrates that sugar has a similar effect on the brain to powerful illegal drugs and that it can be as addictive as cocaine! Furthermore, the research suggests that cutting out sugar can cause cravings, binges, and withdrawal symptoms similar to a drug addict going cold turkey.
Where’s all that Sugar Hiding?
In order to watch your sugar intake, I recommend getting familiar with reading the ingredients on food labels. We can look at the actual grams of sugar in the nutrition facts, but if we are looking at added sugar, not just the naturally occurring sugar in food, the ingredients are where we need to look. Unfortunately, we won’t just see ‘sugar’ in the ingredients all the time.
Important fact to mention is that ingredients are listed by their weight on the ingredients list. So, the first ingredient we see is the one that is most prominent in a food, and the last ingredient will be found in the smallest amount. We must understand that sugar contents might not always be so clear-cut in the ingredients. The ‘syrups’ alone can be one of many different types of syrups. This list just enlists few names but there could be more too.
An important fact to keep in mind when reading nutrition labels:
4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon
What Is Sugar-Free?
While not purposely dubious, food label claims such as ‘sugar-free’, ‘no added sugar’, and unsweetened’ can all be confusing to us. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that no more than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from added sugars, which I don’t agree with this at all unless it’s naturally occurring sugar.
There is a difference between sugar-free, no added sugar, and unsweetened, but which one is better for you?
- Sugar Free
According to the FDA, a food is considered sugar-free if it contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. It’s important to note the actual number of servings in the food because there may still be a small amount of sugar, even with a sugar-free claim. What’s more, sugar-free includes naturally occurring and added sugars, but doesn’t include artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. Common sources of sugar-free on food labels include chewing gum, pancake syrup, fruit preserves, candy, and more.
- No Added Sugar
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits a food label to claim no added sugar if it “contains no sugars added during processing or packing, including ingredients that contain sugar such as juice or dry fruit.” In other words, as long as sugar isn’t added to the food manually, it can carry this claim. This term is not the same as sugar-free, since naturally occurring sugars, artificial sugars, and sugar alcohols may still be present. Look for this claim on foods such as granola, peanut butter, fruit juice, fruit preserves, and more.
If you see this term on a food label, it means the product contains no added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols whatsoever. Again, it doesn’t mean the food is sugar-free, as it may have naturally occurring sugars. Examples of unsweetened food products may include almond milk, coconut milk, apple sauce, iced tea, and more. If you’re looking to avoid artificial sugars or reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet, unsweetened foods are a solid pick.
So, which sugar claim is the best choice? If you ask me? None of them. Whether sugar-free, unsweetened, or no added sugar, it’s important to consider the full nutrition of any food carrying these claims, and ask yourself it’s the right choice for your dietary needs. While unsweetened foods can be a better option, why not get your sweet treat from nutrient-packed, naturally-sweet whole fruits and vegetables?
Take Home Message
Added sugars come from a variety of sources and go by many different names, yet they are all a source of extra calories and are metabolized by the body the same way.
According to Harvard Health the reality is that most added sugars are composed of glucose and fructose in varying ratios. For example, sucrose (common table sugar) is 50% glucose and 50% fructose; the most common form of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which is produced from corn starch through industrial processing contains 45% glucose and 55% fructose; and some types of agave nectar contain up to 90% fructose and 10% glucose.
Glucose and fructose have different metabolic fates, so in theory consuming one over the other could lead to differences in metabolic health. For example, glucose is absorbed from the intestine into the blood and is taken up into muscle, liver, and fat cells in response to the release of insulin from the pancreas. In contrast, fructose is metabolized in the liver and does not increase blood glucose or insulin levels. But since glucose and fructose travel together in the foods and beverages we eat, we need to consider their effects holistically.
Some types of added sugar like honey may also contain micronutrients or other bioactive compounds. But these properties have little benefit when it comes to metabolic health. It is best to limit or avoid all sources of added sugar. For most people, one type of sugar isn’t better than another.
One way to avoid added sugar is to switch it out for other sweeteners. Healthier swaps include raw unfiltered honey, dark amber maple syrup, dates, and you can even add bananas to your baking to sweeten the recipe. You can add whole or frozen fruit to cereal or oatmeal, tea, and yogurt. Also, try antioxidant-rich spices like ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Instead of buying sugar-sweetened beverages, make your own healthier versions. Begin with plain or sparkling water and then add slices of fresh fruit or an ounce or two of 100% fruit juice for flavour.
You can try out my amazing delicious sugar-free recipes and make sure to share the divine guilt free indulgence with friends and family!
Check these guilt free healthy sweet treats Gluten-Free Raspberry Almond Crumble, Black Bean Brownies, Raw Vegan Espresso Cashew Cream Pie, Apple Crumble, Sweet Potato Brownies, Vegan Lemon Cheesecake