Your Guide To Reducing Sugar Intake: The Food Shaman Weighs In

You would be hard pressed to find a person who is not aware of the dangers of too much sugar.  Warnings are given pretty much anywhere you turn and yet, Americans on average consume 153 grams of sugar a day. That is the equivalent of 6 chocolate bars, or more than a quarter pounder made completely out of sugar. That places the U.S. among the world’s top consumers of sugar, at approximately 123 pounds per person per year.

We blame it on our “sweet tooth;” a need to have something sweet to satisfy a misunderstood craving that in actuality more closely resembles an addiction. The diseases associated with too much sugar include tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and various cardiovascular problems. The modern Western diet (MWD) with its emphasis on ultra-processed, highly sweetened, foodstuffs changes our gut bacteria and promotes the development of systemic, chronic, low-level, continuous inflammation. Sugar is a key link in this addictive cycle. Just chugging one 12 ounce soda a day results in about ten teaspoons of sugar; or about an ounce and a half of pure sugar.

Sugar Is Bad For You

Sugar has harmful effects on your metabolism and is a number one contributor to several serious diseases. Here are at least ten good reasons to avoid sugar or at least minimize your daily intake when possible.  The reason we end up eating so much each day is because sugar hides in foods where we don’t expect it to be.

Seemingly healthy meals like flavored oatmeal contain high levels of sugar, as do canned sauces and granola bars. Opt for unflavored oatmeal and add fruit or make your own sauces to help cut back.

  • Cavities and periodontal disease: Sugar contains empty calories and provides no real energy, plus contributes to nutrient deficiencies. Additionally, sugar changes the pH in your mouth. This favors pathogenic bacteria that thrive on sugar, increasing your risk for cavities and gum disease.
  • Liver overload: Sugar contains fructose, which is found in nature in small amounts in fruits. With increased consumption (like in high fructose corn syrup; HFCS) fructose is stored in the liver as glycogen, which is then converted to fat. This fat gets lodged in the liver and can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and is associated with the development of obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes (T2DM).
  • Insulin resistance: Insulin allows glucose to enter your blood and tells cells to burn glucose instead of fat. Too much glucose causes metabolic dysfunction and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the hallmark of T2DM, and is associated with increased risk of developing obesity and cardiovascular disease.
  • Obesity: Roughly 33% of all sugar consumed is in the form of HFCS. Such rapidly absorbed fructose results in persistent levels of the hormone ghrelin. This is the hunger gremlin that keeps us eating. The hungrier we are, the more we eat, and the more likely we are to store fat and gain weight. Sugar is possibly the number one contributor to obesity in the United States
  • Cancer: High sugar consumption causes elevated insulin levels that are associated with the development of a pro-inflammatory state. Inflammation is a contributor to the risk of developing cancer.
  • Addiction: Sugar causes a massive dopamine release from the brain, making it as addictive as some drugs. In fact, sugar stimulates the same pleasure areas of the brain that respond to heroin and cocaine. The more sweetened food we eat (and sugar is hidden in many foods we wouldn’t ordinarily consider sweet), the stronger the addiction becomes.  This is one reason why cutting back can be so difficult at first. The key is a good plan and sticking with it!

Cutting Sugar Out

Once your body is used to a certain amount of sugar intake, it can be difficult to cut back. It is even possible for you to suffer from withdrawals if you try to drastically cut back on sugar intake.

Below are some tips to help you start reducing your daily intake so that you can get back on track. Once you reduce your sugar intake, your body will have the chance to get healthier.  In no time at all, you will feel better, have more energy, and improve your longevity.

  1. Make a list, check it twice: Keep a food diary of everything you eat within a day. Every time sugar appears, highlight it so you can easily identify where to start cutting back. For example, if you put three or four teaspoons of sugar in your coffee each morning, start cutting back to one or two and eventually, just one. If you have a candy bar as an afternoon snack, replace it with an apple or banana.
  2. Just desserts: If you notice that you just have to have something sweet after dinner, you are not alone. But utilize the concept of patience and portions. Allow at least 20 minutes from diner to dessert, this gives your stomach time to switch on the satiety signal in your brain. Whatever portion you usually serve, try reducing it by 50%. Go for flavor and quality over simply quantity.
  3. An idle mind is the devil's playground: Once you get the snacks and sweet treats reduced, make sure you stay active, either physically or mentally. Research suggests that most people overindulge on sweets not out of hunger, but boredom.
  4. Be sweet: If you are not cutting sugar out as fast as you would like, don’t beat yourself up! Be kind and forgive yourself. Sugar can be enjoyable and becomes something we look forward to so it can be difficult to give up. The key is small changes and remaining consistent. A sweet treat on occasions will then be a nice reward. Keep the destination in mind and keep going; that old Japanese proverb applies here, fall down six times, get up seven!
  5. Source like chef: A great chef is always aware of all the ingredients in any dish. Always check labels when buying foods. Sugar is not always easy to identify and often comes in multiple forms within one single food. You want to avoid high-fructose corn syrup, and be wary of anything ending in ‘ose’ or ‘dextrin’.
  6. Sweet redemption: We all deserve some sweetness in our lives, we don’t have to completely ban sweets. The more natural alternatives usually contain some redeeming factors; trace elements like manganese or magnesium, or beneficial vitamins, antioxidants, and antimicrobials found in foods like maple syrup, honey and molasses. Beware of “naturally sweetened” labeling that refers only to the addition of pure sucrose.

What Is Your Experience?

3/4/2018 8:00:00 AM
Dr. Michael S Fenster
Dr. Mike has appeared as an expert guest on many national radio and television programs; including The Doctors, Fox Business News, and Fox National News and his articles have appeared in The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, Outdoor, Glamour, Shape and more. Also, Dr. Mike currently serves on the Doctor Advisory Board for 1MD.
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