Depending on who you talk to, sugar is either the root of all evil, the next nicotine, or okay, as long as you counter it with physical activity. Of course the message that sugar is okay most often comes from the food industry, which likes to add lots of sugar (plus salt and fat) to foods to hook us, as reported in The New York Times. Foods that contain these ingredients are addictive, "craveable" and keep us going back for more. Considering that most people have a natural propensity for sweets, it's no wonder the food industry's cardinal rule is: "When in doubt, add sugar."
Sugar comes in many forms with a variety of names including sucrose, honey, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, and cane sugar. But even the seemingly healthy agave nectar, coconut sugar, coconut palm sugar, and evaporated cane juice are just other forms of sugar.
The problem with sugar is that it's linked to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. Sugar and other processed carbs can also be addictive since they activate regions of the brain related to the production of dopamine, causing cravings for more.
- For women, no more than 6 teaspoons (about 25 grams) or 100 calories a day.
- For men, no more than 9 teaspoons (about 37 grams) or 150 calories a day.
Our biggest source of added sugar is sugary drinks. But we also get it from desserts, fruit drinks, candy, and ready-to-eat cereals.
- 16-ounce Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino--11¾ teaspoons
- 20-ounce Coca-Cola--16¼ teaspoons.
- Panda Express 2 entrée meal with Orange Chicken and chow mien--11¾ teaspoons
- California Pizza Kitchen Thai Crunch salad (full)--12 teaspoons
But think about it, would you really add 12 to 16 teaspoons of sugar to a cup of coffee or other drink you prepare at home? Or would you add 12 teaspoons of sugar to a salad or chicken dish for one person? I'm guessing the answer is "no."
In addition to sugar, we also consume a lot of alternative sweeteners, such as Splenda, Equal, Aspartame, and stevia, all of which are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. Both alternative sweeteners and sugar have the potential to change our palates or taste preferences so that super-sweet foods are now normal for us. Then when we eat healthy, naturally sweet foods such as apples, strawberries, or other fruits, they do not taste sweet enough. Unfortunately for us, by adding all these sweeteners to foods and drinks, the food industry could actually be changing the American palate and driving us to consume more sugar.
But there is a solution.
Recently I published the results of a survey demonstrating what happens when participants avoided all sweeteners for two weeks, which I called the "Sugar and Artificial Sweetener Challenge." Here's what I found:
- After cutting out all sugar and alternative sweeteners, 65 percent of participants craved sugar.
- However, cravings went away for 53 percent of participants after just 3 days and for 86 percent after 6 days.
- 95 percent of participants found that sweet foods and drinks tasted sweeter or even too sweet.
- 75 percent found that other foods, such as baby carrots or crackers tasted sweeter.
- And everyone said it would be easier to avoid sugar and other sweeteners after the 2-week challenge.
So the good news is, despite the food industry's attempt to add sugar at every turn and manipulate our taste buds so we consume even more, we can change this by eliminating sugar and alternative sweeteners for two weeks. This can reset the palate, making it easier to consume fewer sweets.
- Do not add any form of sugar (even agave, honey, date sugar, or coconut sugar), or alternative sweeteners (like Splenda or stevia) to any food or drink. Remember, stevia is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
- Avoid all drinks sweetened with sugar, stevia, or artificial sweeteners. This includes sodas and sports, energy, or coffee drinks. Also avoid sweetened alcoholic drinks and fruit juices (even 100-percent juice). Instead, try unsweetened teas, sparkling mineral waters, essence waters, or infused waters without added sweeteners.
- Cut out any foods that contain alternative sweeteners or a lot of added sugar such as cookies, cakes, candy, yogurt, almond milk, cereal, energy bars, or sauces. Read labels on all foods and drinks you consume and choose those with 5 grams or less of added sugar. Plain unsweetened milk and yogurt contain natural sugar, which is fine.
- Limit fresh and dried fruits to 4 to 5 servings a day. One serving is a small piece of fruit, one cup of berries or melon, or 2 tablespoons of dried fruit.
Every time you eat processed, fast, or restaurant foods, you are putting your health, well-being, and palate in the hands of the food industry. You can change that by becoming mindful of how much sugar you are consuming, trying the 2-week challenge to reset your palate, and replacing processed foods with whole foods each day.