Have you ever tried to wean yourself completely off sugar? I have, and it’s not pretty. The withdrawal symptoms are intense. At times it literally feels like you have the flu – aches, chills, fevers, and on top of ALL THAT, an insatiable craving for the sweet stuff.
You’re certainly not the only sugar fiend though. The average American is consuming 3 pounds of sugar in a single week. If that’s not a sobering enough thought, let me break it down a little more. That’s 130 pounds of sugar each year. It’s 3,550 pounds in an average lifetime – enough to fill an industrial sized dumpster.
How Sugar Has Changed Our Diet
The amazing thing is that this is all relatively new. Back in 1822, the average person consumed 45 grams of sugar every 5 days. That’s about the amount included in one can of soda. Now, in a 5 day span the average person consumes 765 grams of sugar. I’ll do the math for you – that’s 16 times more than it used to be!
The problem is that food manufacturers are adding sugar to almost everything we consume. In fact, nearly 75% of all packaged foods in the supermarket contain some added sugar. And it’s not just cake and cookies! Even savory foods like bread and pasta sauce have added sugars. Really. It’s ridiculous but go look in your pantry and fridge right now and I bet you’ll be appalled.
Is Sugar That Bad?
Hopefully you agree that that sounds like a LOT of sugar – but is it really so harmful to us? In a word, yes.
Sugar is an empty calorie – meaning while it’s full of calories, it’s not providing any nutrients to go along with them. There are no proteins, healthy fats, vitamins or minerals in sugar. It can cause you to feel (briefly) full or take the place of other, more nutrient dense foods you may eat. The sugar epidemic in our country is also contributing to nutrient deficiencies.
Excessive sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance as well. When we eat something with sugar, the pancreas releases insulin to remove that sugar from our bloodstream by making it available to our cells. Overtime, the cells become resistant to the excess insulin released to deal with the excess sugar, so the pancreas needs to make even more insulin to keep up. However, there is only so much insulin the pancreas is able to produce. If this cycle continues, a person could find themselves diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.
Sugar also causes massive dopamine releases in the brain, leading to addiction. Similar to the way a body would react to cocaine, the “high” received from sugar intake is great. However, the crash comes after, leading to more sugar intake to get back to the high. Overtime, your body becomes accustomed to sugar, leading you to seek out greater quantities or more sugar dense foods. It’s a difficult cycle to break.
Types of Sugar
You should be convinced by now that added and refined sugar is bad stuff. But you may be wondering if there are any kinds of sugar that are better for you. Let’s break down the sugars you most commonly find.
- Refined White Sugar: this sugar is completely stripped of any nutritional value. It’s pure empty calories. Refined white sugar is also mainly made from GMO sugar beets. It’s best to avoid at all costs.
- Brown Sugar: some people think that because it’s brown, it’s better for you, similar to wheat flour being better than white flour. However, brown sugar is simply refined white sugar with molasses added for color. Don’t be fooled!
- Evaporated Cane Juice: although this sugar is taking one tiny (like, miniscule) step in the right direction towards less refinement, it should still be avoided. Evaporated cane juice is made from sugar cane instead of the more common sugar beets. Since it isn’t fully refined, it does retain a few nutrients from the sugar cane, but not many.
- Raw Organic Cane Sugar: taking another step in the right direction, this sugar retains a bit of the amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from the sugar cane. And because it’s organic, you’ll be avoiding the GMOs and pesticides found in traditional white sugar. It’s still not a huge source of nutrients so use it sparingly.
By Any Other Name
The tricky thing is that food manufacturers aren’t making it easy to tell if the food you’re eating has hidden sugar in it. There are currently 61 different names that sugar could be listed under. Ready? Deep breath…
Agave nectar, Barbados sugar, Barley malt, Barley malt syrup, Beet sugar, Brown sugar, Buttered syrup, Cane juice, Cane juice crystals, Cane sugar, Caramel, Carob syrup, Castor sugar, Coconut palm sugar, Coconut sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, Corn sweetener, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Date sugar, Dehydrated cane juice, Demerara sugar, Dextrin, Dextrose, Evaporated cane juice, Free-flowing brown sugars, Fructose, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Glucose, Glucose solids, Golden sugar, Golden syrup, Grape sugar, HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup), Honey, Icing sugar, Invert sugar, Malt syrup, Maltodextrin, Maltol, Maltose, Mannose, Maple syrup, Molasses, Muscovado, Palm sugar, Panocha, Powdered sugar, Raw sugar, Refiner’s syrup, Rice syrup, Saccharose, Sorghum Syrup, Sucrose, Sugar (granulated), Sweet Sorghum, Syrup, Treacle, Turbinado sugar, Yellow sugar
While some are pretty obvious, there are plenty listed that I would have no idea were sugar. I mean, treacle? Panocha?! Manufacturers are counting on the fact that we don’t know and won’t research to find out what that even is.
Now that you’re all depressed thinking you can never eat anything again, let me give you a bit of hope. Should we be avoiding added sugars? Yes. But do I acknowledge that sometimes you just need something a little sweet? Heck YES!
Enter honey. When you need a spoonful of something to sweeten your tea, a better option for your baked goods, or a touch of sweetness in your morning oatmeal, reach for honey instead of refined sugar.
Honey supports your immune system and helps fight off harmful bacteria. While white sugar has zero nutrients, honey has protein, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Honey is also lower on the glycemic index than white sugar, lessening the “crash” you feel after eating something loaded with refined sugars. If you’re using locally harvested honey, it can even help with seasonal allergies.
So what now? It may be tempting to empty your fridge and pantry and start from scratch, but research shows, those sorts of drastic changes don’t last. Instead, do a couple things in the coming week.
- Inform Yourself: Pick 5 items you regularly eat. Compare their ingredients to the list of hidden sugars above to see how they stack up.
- Make A Small Change: Pick 1 item that had hidden sugar in it that shouldn’t and find a better option at the grocery store.
That’s it! Repeat this challenge every week and slowly (and sustainably) your fridge and pantry will be cleaned up.