It’s no great secret: you lose weight when you eat less sugar.
Everyone from your grandma to your 8-year-old son understands that laying off the soda, cookies, cakes, candy, and donuts encourages weight loss, but that’s not the only reason to take it easy on sugar.
During your weight loss journey, you’ll be working to makeover your eating habits, and there’s a lot to be said for developing healthy practices that will benefit you in the long term.
So, here are 10 reasons why “eat less sugar” should make the list of permanent changes!
The State of Sugar
Go back about 20 years, and it was a food’s fat or carb content that concerned the average American.
Now, however, many health-conscientious consumers stress about a different line on the nutrition label: added sugar. And with good reason.
Added sugars are hidden, empty calories contained in hundreds of everyday foods, from instant oatmeal to flavored yogurt to salad dressings to sandwich bread.
With all of the hidden sources of sweetener, it’s a little less surprising that a recent NCHS report estimated that the average American consumes 110-160 CUPS of added sugar each year! However, it’s not the hidden sugars that spell disaster for most people – it’s the over-consumption of sweet treats and drinks.
The primary sources of added sugar in the American diet are:
- Soda, sports drinks, fruit drinks & energy drinks
- Cakes, cookies & pies
- Ice cream, flavored yogurt & flavored milk
- Sweetened cereals, oatmeal, and pastries
Eating too much added sugar has been linked with a myriad of adverse health consequences, but that doesn’t mean you should swear off sugar entirely.
Added Sugar vs. Natural-Occurring Sugar
Not all sugars are created equal. There are two main types of sugar in your food:
- Added sugars, and
- Naturally-occurring sugars.
The former is best avoided, while the latter serves a valuable purpose as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Here’s the difference:
Added sugars are, as the name suggests, sugars and sweeteners that are added during production or preparation. These sugars are not naturally contained in the food but instead added to enhance flavor or texture.
These sweeteners can be natural (e.g., sugar or honey) or chemical (e.g., high fructose corn syrup). Regardless of the source of the sweetness, added sugars add little-to-no nutritional value.
Calories from added sugars are considered “empty calories” because they are devoid of any nutritional value on top of the additional calories.
On the other hand, naturally-occurring sugars are present in various healthy foods, including fruit and dairy products.
As a result, some unprepared foods (like a raw banana) and unsweetened foods (like plain yogurt) list several grams of sugar per serving on their nutrition label.
Don’t worry – there’s no need to avoid these naturally-occurring sugars. Simple sugars are the primary source of quick fuel for the body they help keep your brain and body powered throughout the day.
For that reason, it’s beneficial to include some healthy, naturally-occurring sugars in your diet.
The difference between naturally-occurring sugars and added sugars is that foods and drinks high in natural sugars (like fruit and milk) also contain lots of vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients that benefit your overall health.
These sugars are NOT “empty calories.”
Make an effort to swap added sugars for natural sugars to get the most reward from your food.
How much sugar should you have a day?
Added sugars aren’t helpful or nutritious, but they do make food taste better. So, how much sugar should you have a day?
Experts agree that consuming a small amount of added sugar equating to about half of your daily discretionary calories is okay.
Your “discretionary calories” are the 10% of your daily intake that nutrition and medical experts accept can, and will, come from less-than-nutritious sources.
These calories are set aside for unhealthy fats (like saturated fat), nutrient-poor beverages (like soda or alcohol), or sweets.
The 10% rule means you have 200 discretionary calories if you’re following 2000 calories, 150 calories if you’re eating 1500 calories per day, etc.
So, if half of your discretionary calories can be spent on added sugars, that means that you get this many calories of added sugar per day:
- 60 calories of a 1200-calorie diet
- 75 calories of a 1500-calorie diet
- 90 calories of an 1800-calorie diet
- 100 calories for a 2000-calorie diet
- … and so on
If you’re wondering how to convert the grams on a nutrition label to calories: sugars have 4 calories per gram.
That means that someone who’s following a 1500-calorie diet and only gets 75 calories of added sugar needs to stick to under 19g of added sugar all day.
How much is 1 gram of sugar?
Curious what 1 gram of sugar looks like on a plate or in a spoon? A quarter teaspoon (1/4 tsp) of sugar equals one gram of the sweet stuff.
That means if you’re looking to limit sugar intake, a couple of teaspoons of honey or sugar in your morning oatmeal takes up almost half of your daily budget. It adds up quickly!
YOUR Daily Grams of Sugar
Tally up your added sugar intake for an entire day and see how you do.
If you go way over the recommended limit (as determined by your total caloric intake), don’t worry – most of us do! That’s why reducing added sugar in foods has become such a public health concern in recent years.
Still, cutting sugar is difficult, even for the most determined among us. Many researchers have written about the addictive properties of sweeteners (both physical and emotional) and how difficult it can be to quit.
Eat Less Sugar, Lose Weight, Feel Better!
You know added sugars aren’t exactly a health food, but still lack the motivation to kick the habit? Here are 10 reasons why you should eat less added sugar:
1. More Weight Loss
The added weight loss is the first and most obvious benefit of cutting sugar!
Added sugars add hundreds of extra calories to everyday foods, so cutting down on these empty calories is an easy way to eat less without sacrificing nutrition.
Relatedly, if you eat more whole foods and fewer added sugars, there’s more room in your daily calorie budget for nutrient-rich, beneficial foods that better your health in the long run!
2. Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Recent studies have shown that people who eat (and drink) more added sugar have a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
There’s also evidence that too much of the sweet stuff can increase blood pressure and worsen your lipid profile. More specifically, too much added sugar may decrease good cholesterol (HDL) while increasing bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides.
So, if you’re worried about protecting your heart’s health, cutting added sugars out of your everyday diet is a great place to start!
3. Improved Mood
You’ve probably noticed that sugar affects your mood, but did you know that too much added sugar is associated with an increased risk of depression?
In a study of over 260,000 older adults, researchers found that people who drank 4 or more sweetened beverages (soda, sweet tea, etc.) per day were more likely to report depression than non-drinkers.
Interestingly, the same study reports that frequent consumption of artificial sweeteners (e.g., in diet drinks) further increases the risk of depression.
This is an argument for minimizing both the real and the artificial sweeteners in your everyday diet.
4. Younger-Looking Skin
Eating too much added sugar increases chronic inflammation and promotes glycation. In the short term, this worsens acne, blemishes, and puffiness.
In the long term, this makes your skin less elastic and duller – two characteristics that make you look older.
So, if you want clearer, younger skin (and who doesn’t?), your complexion is yet another reason to cut back on added sugars.
5. Lower Risk of Some Cancers
This is by far the most debated benefit on this list. Some studies have linked excess sugar consumption – especially high fructose corn syrup consumption – to increased incidence or recurrence of certain cancers (e.g., colon, pancreatic, and breast cancer).
Other research, however, has shown absolutely NO correlation between sugar intake and cancer risk.
The one fact that most experts agree on is that eating too much added sugar leads to weight gain, which can eventually lead to obesity. Obesity, independent of sugar consumption, is linked to a higher risk of cancer.
6. Healthier Teeth
Did you grow up with your mom telling you that eating too much candy was going to make your teeth fall out? Turns out she had a point.
Eating and drinking too much simple sugar leads to higher rates of dental decay (cavities) and gum disease. This is because bacteria loves to feed on sugar, so simple sugars provide the perfect fuel for these unwelcome visitors. The overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth can also contribute to bad breath.
All of this is made worse by the fact that many super-sweet foods, like candy, get stuck in your teeth, and the acids used to carbonate drinks (like soda) further dental decay.
To protect your teeth and keep your breath fresh, limit added sugar consumption – both in quantity and in frequency.
7. Fewer Cravings
If you’ve ever felt addicted to sugar, this benefit may resonate with you. Eating too much sugar is linked with more cravings.
This may be related to the fact that added sugars spike blood sugar, which is nearly inevitably followed by a crash in blood sugar.
Even though you just ate, your body thinks you need to eat again because the hormones signal that your fuel is low.
To avoid these ups and downs in blood sugar, leaving you reaching for constant afternoon and bedtime snacks, choose meals with plenty of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
These three elements will help regulate blood sugar and keep you satisfied for hours to come.
8. Better Eyesight
Eating many foods with a high glycemic index is associated with an increased incidence of age-related eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. AMD remains the leading cause of vision loss in older Americans.
Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly food or drink spikes your blood sugar. Foods with a higher glycemic index affect your blood sugar more dramatically. So, foods full of refined grains and/or added sugar typically have a very high glycemic index.
Of the participants in this study, those whose lifelong diets ranked the highest on the glycemic index were most likely to show signs of disease in at least one eye. To protect your eyes, choose low-glycemic foods like whole grains, legumes, and vegetables instead.
9. Lower Risk of Diabetes
This may be the most touted benefit of eating fewer sweets.
Contrary to popular belief, eating too much sugar is not directly linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Some studies have linked frequently sweetened beverages (e.g., soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, etc.) consumption with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, but the most concrete link has to do with weight gain.
Consistent consumption of foods and drinks high in added sugars leads to weight gain, and type 2 diabetes is a lifestyle disease that is more common if you’re overweight or obese. So, eat less sugar & lose weight to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
10. Stronger Immune System
Last but certainly not least, eating less added sugar may help strengthen your immune system. This is for two main reasons:
1) Added sugars propagate a chronic inflammatory response that inhibits the proper functioning of your immune system and hinders your ability to fight off infection.
2) Natural foods that contain little or no added sugars provide antioxidants that strengthen your immune system. If you can re-assign those discretionary calories to berries, green leafy vegetables, pecans, or even dark chocolate, you’ll reap more health benefits from your food.
What do you think about these benefits? Are you trying to eat less sugar? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!