One of the best things you can do for your health is to reduce your sugar intake. Sometimes it’s best to focus on incorporating healthy ingredients into your meals instead of restricting things but, when it comes to processed sugar, the less you consume, the better.
First, it’s important to note that sugars are found naturally in fruit and vegetables. These sugars are OK, because fruits and vegetables contain other healthy nutrients. Processed sugar, however, has no nutritional value and research has linked it to increased inflammation and chronic disease. It is found in beverages, sweets, and other items like crackers, breads, peanut butter, condiments, soups, and even processed meats — meaning you often consume more than you think.
Researchers associate the consumption of added sugar with weight gain, obesity, tooth decay, and cancer. That’s why choosing whole foods over processed foods and learning to read labels are important steps to take to start minimizing your sugar intake. This guide will walk you through the dangers of eating processed sugar, how to read labels and recognize processed sugars, and steps you can take to start minimizing your processed sugar intake.
The Dangers of Eating Processed Sugar
The National Cancer Institute found that an adult man in the United States consumes an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Such added sugar consumption carries with it many potential consequences for your health. Here are just a few:
Added Sugar Increases Risk of Heart Disease
A recent study found that people who had a diet high in added sugar had a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Other risk factors that increased the likelihood of heart disease, such as chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, and liver disease, were also increased.
Too Much Sugar Creates Tooth Decay, Which Can Lead to Other Problems
You’ve probably heard about sugar rotting your teeth and causing cavities since you were a child. There’s a direct link between sugar and tooth decay. Sugar can lead to gum disease, which is linked with an increased likelihood of cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke. Keep your teeth healthy by brushing as soon as possible after eating.
Added Sugar Increases the Risk of Cancer and Other Diseases
Sugar leads to higher insulin levels, which can influence cancer cell growth and increase the risk of other chronic diseases, research shows. Sugar can cause weight gain, and being overweight can increase your risk for cancer.
There are many health benefits to reducing your sugar intake. Keep reading to learn how to read labels and start avoiding added sugars.
How to Read Labels to Avoid Processed Sugar
These are some of the more common names you may find added sugar hiding under. This list is not exhaustive, but you can Google any ingredients you don’t recognize to make sure they’re not sugar. Here are some of the many names you may see on a label that mean added sugar:
- Corn syrup
- Corn sweetener
- Florida crystals
- Evaporated cane juice
- Malted barley
- Malt sugar
- Raisin syrup
- Rice malt
- Rice syrup solids
- Ribose rice syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- Invert sugar
- Cane sugar
- Syrup sugar ending -ose such as fructose, glucose, galactose, maltose, sucrose, dextrose, pentose, xylose, or lactose
The best way to avoid having to decipher labels is to steer clear of processed foods, so choose whole foods whenever possible. Sugars are present in so many foods, though, that it can be difficult to remove them from your diet. One approach is to learn how to further minimize your sugar intake.
7 Ways to Cut Out Processed Sugar
Cutting out processed sugar is a huge step, but it takes some effort and strategizing. There are several steps you can take to start today. Here are seven ways that you can minimize your added sugar intake.
1. Avoid Fat-Free Snacks; Go for the Full-Fat Options
Fat-free snack options usually have much higher amounts of added sugar to make up for the fat content – and thus flavor – it’s missing. Try fresh or frozen fruit instead of snacking on fat-free sweets if you want something sweet without the added sugar.
2. Swap Sugary Soft Drinks and Juices for Another Beverage
Sugary drinks account for a lot of added sugar consumption. You can reduce your added sugar intake significantly by cutting out soda and sugary juices. Swap soft drinks for flavored waters, seltzers, herbal or fruit teas, or fruit-infused water.
Replace fruit and vegetable juices that have added sugars with homemade juices made from 100% fruits and vegetables. It’s fun, easy, and delicious to make your own juice – and you don’t have to worry about added sugars.
3. Reduce the Amount of Sugar in Your Recipes
You can reduce the amount of sugar used in your recipes in some cases. A suggested reduction is to try reducing the amount by one-third to one-half of the amount called for. You can substitute sugar altogether with sweeter spices such as cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg. Use unsweetened applesauce as a sweetener in place of sugar in equal amounts.
4. Get Creative With Salad Dressings
Avoid processed salad dressings, which may have several different types of sugar. Make your own dressing with olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice.
5. Use Fruit as a Topping
Try topping yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, or cereal with fresh or frozen fruit instead of sugar or sugar-laden jams and syrups. Your tastebuds – and your body – will thank you.
6. Beware of Sugary Sauces
Savory foods may seem like surprising contenders to pack a lot of added sugar, but sauces like ketchup, barbeque, and chili sauce typically have a high amount. Just one tablespoon of ketchup may have as much as one teaspoon of sugar in it. Look for varieties without added sugar when possible, but always read the labels on your own. You can flavor your food without dousing it in sugary sauces by using dried herbs and spices.
7. Eat Whole Foods
Eat foods without a label whenever possible. Whole, unprocessed foods will always be the healthiest option. They won’t have any additives, including processed sugars. Some foods, like breads and cheese, will have to go through a minimal amount of processing. Read labels and avoid those with a lot of added sugar.
Processed sugar may taste great, but it has some not-so-great consequences for your health. You can start minimizing your processed sugar intake today by reading labels and practicing the steps outlined above. Knowledge is power, and you’re now empowered to make amazing changes in your life that your future self will thank you for.
Get Health Advice the Top Naturopathic Doctor in the Washington, D.C., Area
Minimizing your processed sugar intake may seem like a daunting task, but having the right healthcare professional to walk you through it can be a game changer. Dr. Karen Threlkel is a naturopathic doctor with wide-ranging expertise in holistic care who can answer any questions you have about cutting out sugar.