According to a recent report from the University of North Carolina, the average American takes in 300 calories from added sugar every day. In fact, about 20% of the population exceeds 700 calories of added sugar on a daily basis! That equals an entire cup of sugar! Sadly for most of us, it is all too easy to do. Many of our foods are packed with sugar.
“Not only are we getting added sugar from obvious places like cakes, candy, and soda, but it’s also coming from healthier-sounding packaged products like salad dressing, pasta sauce, and yogurt,” says Elyse Powell, one of the report’s coauthors and a doctoral researcher at UNC. (In this study, “added sugar” means the super-processed sweet stuff you’d add to a batch of cookies, not the natural sugars found in whole fruits, vegetables, and plain milk.)
Basically, the UNC report tells us that most us should probably cut back on sugar. The American Heart Association says that women should consume 6 teaspoons or less of added sugar per day. That equals about 25 grams or 100 calories’ worth of sugar if you are checking food labels.
Cutting back on sugar is pretty hard. People who consume a lot of sugar actually show addiction style withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, and restlessness. And of course, many people have pretty strong cravings for sugar when they are trying to eliminate from their diet.
On the other hand, some really great things happen when you reduce your sugar intake and some of them are pretty surprising. Here is a list of benefits you might not have known about when you cut back on sugar.
- Your heart will be so happy with you!
When you reduce your sugar intake, your risk of dying from heart trouble will drop drastically (threefold in fact) according to research from James J. DiNicolantonio, PharmD, a cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke’s Mid-Atlantic Heart Institute in Kansas City, MO. “Added sugar chronically raises insulin levels, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood pressure and heart rate,” DiNicolantonio explains. “Within a few weeks’ time, you might expect to see a 10% decrease in LDL cholesterol and a 20 to 30% decrease in triglycerides.” Your BP would head in the right direction, too, he says.
- Your skin will clear up.
Are you all grown up but still dealing with zits? Sugar could be the culprit. Systemic inflammation is a known acne trigger and sugar is inflammatory. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when non-soda-drinkers consumed one 12-ounce can a day for 3 weeks, their inflammation levels rose by 87%. Try giving up soda and other kinds of sweetened drinks and you may be able to say “good bye” to those unsightly breakouts.
- You’ll avoid diabetes.
When you eat added sugar it promotes the buildup of fatty deposits around your liver. These deposits contribute to insulin resistance and undermine the work done by your pancreas, which normally stalls the production of insulin, says Robert Lustig, MD, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. A study by Lustig of sugar consumption in 175 different nations, found that eating 150 calories of added sugar is 11 times more likely to contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. 150 calories from protein or fat does not increase the risk of diabetes. So instead of a sugary granola bar, grab a handful of nuts instead.
- You will feel like smiling more.
We often turn to foods that are high in sugar when we need comfort or a quick burst of energy so it is normal to be a bit grumpy when you give up that sugar. But, that temporary crankiness is worth it. Once your cravings have gone away, you will feel better than ever. A study at Columbia University found that women who eat a diet high in refined grains and added sugars are more likely to suffer from mood swings, anxiety, and irritability.
- You will sleep better at night.
Sugar gives you a high but you will also experience a corresponding crash. A sugar crash will give you midday sluggishness and make it hard for you to keep your eyes open. Added sugar has also been found to trigger the release of the hormone cortisol, which interferes with sleep. By giving up added sugar, you will find yourself more awake and alert during the daytime and sleeping better at night.
- Your memory will improve.
If you feel like you’re always forgetting things and brain feels foggy, then sugar might be the culprit. An animal study at UCLA drew the conclusion that a diet high in added sugar hinders learning and memory. Eating a lot of sugar over time may actually damage communication among your brain’s cells, the study shows. So if you would like to be sharper, try to stay away from the cookies and doughnuts.
- You’ll finally drop those extra 10 pounds.
Cutting back on sugar will help you reduce your calorie intake. By replacing a candy bar with an apple, you will still consume calories but not as many. If you reduce your sugar consumption by only 200 calories a day you could lose about 10 pounds in 5 to 6 months. How sweet is that??