An average family of four has been making headlines after a year-long challenge to give up sugar in their diet. They eliminated 13 different sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, fruit juice, artificial sweeteners, and several other types of sugar. The goal in this dramatic dietary change was to feel better rather than lose weight, and the Schaub family reported more energy with fewer illnesses after the year had passed. But is this serious shift in eating habits necessary? Sugar has been a part of the human diet for thousands of years, so can it really be that bad? Let’s take a look at the controversy behind sugar and the reality of this sweet staple in our diets.
What’s the problem with sugar?
Sugar can be a perfectly healthy part of your diet when it is eaten in foods where it is naturally present. For example, eating a whole piece of fruit does little to spike your blood sugar even though the fruit contains natural sugars. The reason your body is able to digest and use this sugar is because of the fiber in the fruit that requires more energy for digestion. Drinking a glass of fruit juice, however, leaves you with only the sugar and not the nutrition of whole fruit. When you begin eating too many foods with added sugar, problems such as weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease may arise.
How much is too much?
Almost everyone is aware that too much sugar can be harmful, so it should be eaten in moderation. Unfortunately, there is not a clear idea of what moderation means. Added sugars should not take up more than 10% of your daily caloric intake, but this ratio still requires some math. Therefore, it may be easier to recognize which foods are the worst in terms of sugar content so that you are able to quickly make the right choices when you have snack cravings. You should also note that artificial sweeteners can be just as bad as sugar, so these ideally will count toward your daily sugar intake.
Where can you easily sacrifice sweetener?
The most abundant source of added sugars targeted by nutritionists is soda. Soda defines empty calories, containing 65 grams of sugar in a single 20-ounce bottle. That’s more than 15 teaspoons of sugar, which is more than you will want to consume in a whole day. As an alternative to soda, try adding just a splash of your own homemade syrup (equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil and then cooled) to plain soda water with lemon or lime slices. Think twice before choosing sports drinks or fruit juice, though, as these can be as bad as or even worse than a typical soda.
You may not be ready to give up all sources of added sugar, but you don’t have to in order to get healthy. Swapping out just a few high-sugar foods for healthier alternatives can make a big difference in your health.