Sugar is naturally present in everything that contains carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, and grains. Natural sugar is essential, though, because it fuels your brain, not to mention that these foods also contain other vital nutrients and minerals that your body needs to function.
The type of sugar that you should avoid is added sugar, which is found in foods like baked goods, candy, yogurts, soda and juice, and other processed foods. Consuming too much added sugar can have several negative effects on your body and brain, such as accelerated weight gain, blood sugar problems which can lead to diabetes, trouble sleeping, irritability, and anxiety.
Now, this isn’t to say that having dessert or occasionally indulging your sweet tooth is a bad thing — cheat days are actually beneficial for successful and maintained weight loss and fitness. The real dangers happen when you consume too much excess sugar regularly. But how much is too much?
The World Health Organization recommends that healthy adult males consume no more than 9 teaspoons (or 37.5g) and adult females consume no more than 6 teaspoons (or 25g) of added sugars each day. For context, a can of coke has 39g and most chocolate bars have around 25-27g of sugar in one bar.
How Can You Consume Less Sugar?
If you are concerned that your sugar intake is too high, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure that you keep your daily intake to within a healthy range:
Ditch the sugary drinks: One of the easiest things you can do to decrease your sugar intake is to swap sugary drinks for water or club soda. If you’re still craving a sweet drink, add some cucumber, orange slices, or strawberry instead.
Beware of “sugar-free” alternatives: It is a common misconception that consuming foods with calorie-free artificial sweeteners is a good substitute for the real thing. However, artificial sweeteners affect the chemistry in your brain and can increase dopamine levels, which make your cravings for real sugar even more intense. If you’re craving something sugary, reach for some fruit or make a treat that substitutes processed sugar for natural sugar, like maple syrup or honey.
Shop wisely: When you’re grocery shopping, make sure that the majority of the food in your cart comes from the perimeter of the store. The middle aisles are where processed, sugary foods like candy, condiments, sodas, and cereals are found.
Avoid hunger with full-fat foods: In the 1970s, the war on fat began when dieticians suggested that consuming too much fat led to obesity and heart disease. To compensate for flavour in these “low-fat” foods, other substitutes like sugar were added. To avoid all these added sugars, eat foods that are rich in healthy fats and protein like avocados, nuts, and cheese. These will keep you feeling fuller for longer, and help you avoid sugar cravings.
Know what’s in the food you’re eating: Always read the label and see how much sugar is in the food you’re buying. Remember, 1 teaspoon of sugar equals approximately 4g, so choosing foods with less than 4g per serving can help keep you within your daily range. Also, look at the ingredients list. If the first two or three ingredients is sugar (or anything that ends in –ose, like dextrose, fructose, sucrose), then it might be best to opt for a healthier option.
Cutting out some of the extra processed sugars you consume can help improve your cardiovascular health, energy levels, mood, and your ability to focus, as well as getting you that much closer to your fitness goals.
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