If you are thinking about quitting sugar or reducing sugar consumption, it is a terrific idea. There are excellent reasons to stop eating sugar, but let’s first explore those reasons and then understand the information needed to identify sugars. With that knowledge, it is possible to adjust to a healthier lifestyle and become a “sugar-free” person.
The American Heart Association reports that the average American consumes 19 teaspoons of sugar per day, which equals approximately 62 pounds of sugar per year. The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services reports sugar consumption at a much higher figure, saying an average American eats 42.5 teaspoons of sugar per day, which equals approximately 152 pounds of sugar per year!
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting sugar consumption to 10% of daily calories and lowering this level to 5% or less for optimal health. Recommended daily calorie intakes in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are around 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women under 50, and 1,400 for women over 50.
One teaspoon of refined white sugar is four grams, which equals approximately 15 calories. The American Heart Association recommends a daily sugar limit of nine teaspoons for men and six teaspoons for women.
To put this into perspective, a single serving of a 12-ounce regular soda, or a sugar-sweetened beverage such as an iced tea, contains eight teaspoons to 11 teaspoons of sugar. One can of a sugary drink is an entire day’s recommendation. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that U.S. adults consume 145 calories of sugar daily just from sugar-sweetened beverages.
If sugar was only found in things as easily identifiable as a can of soda, it might be easier to limit sugar intake or eliminate sugar from the diet. The problem is that when quitting sugar, it is the most common additive found in almost all processed foods.
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Sugar is in Almost Everything
When quitting sugar, it is surprising to discover how many processed foods contain the ingredient. Many are items that an average consumer may not recognize as something that is sweetened by added sugars.
Sometimes, products marketed as low-fat, lite, or reduced-fat have more sugar than the regular versions. When fat is removed, product taste suffers, so sugar is added to make it taste better.
We all can guess that sugary cereals marketed to children contain a lot of sugar. However, did you know that some of them have three teaspoons in a 34-gram serving? That means that more than one-third of the product is sugar.
Here are surprising things containing sugar with the amount the average amount that the USDA FoodData Central reports that they may include:
Baked Beans: One cup of baked beans contains about five teaspoons of sugar.
Barbecue Sauce: Two tablespoons of barbecue sauce may contain one teaspoon of sugar.
Canned Soup: Premade soup has natural sugars and added sugars that may be a “hidden” sugar that goes by another name, such as barley malt, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, or high fructose corn syrup. They may have more than one, and the amounts add up.
Gourmet Flavored Coffee: A cup of flavored coffee from a coffeehouse may contain up to 11 teaspoons of sugar.
Granola: Granola is seen by many as “healthy” food, but it may contain honey and other sweeteners. Half a cup of granola has up to seven teaspoons of sugar.
Ketchup: One tablespoon of ketchup contains one teaspoon of sugar.
Low-Fat Yogurt: Many health-conscious people like yogurt for its probiotics. However, a cup of yogurt may contain up to 11 teaspoons of sugar. This is more sugar than found in a regular can of soda!
Protein Bars: “Healthy” protein bars may contain up to five teaspoons of sugar. This makes them similar to a regular candy bar.
Smoothies: Commercially-produced smoothies may contain up to 13 teaspoons of sugar in a 16- or 20-ounce serving.
Spaghetti Sauce: Spaghetti sauce contains natural sugars from tomatoes and may also contain added sugar for taste. A 24-ounce can might have up to eight and a half teaspoons of sugar.
Sports Drinks: Sports drinks are loaded with sugar. A 20-ounce bottle may contain nine teaspoons or more of sugar.
Vitaminwater: This “healthy” drink may contain nearly eight teaspoons of sugar.
When trying to stop eating sugar, allow extra time to read ingredients lists on the items while you’re shopping. You will be shocked by how many things contain sugar.
How Addictive is Sugar?
A review of the scientific literature entitled Sugar addiction: is it real? found that in animal studies, consumption of sugars produced drug-like effects that include:
Bingeing: This is the excessive consumption of something.
Craving: This is an intense desire that is a symptom of withdrawal.
Cross-Dependence: This is the ability of one drug to reduce the withdrawal symptoms from stopping another drug’s use.
Cross-Sensitization: This occurs when sensitization to a stimulus is widened to include related stimuli. This increases a specific response to the original and the corresponding stimulus.
Cross-Tolerance: This is a type of drug tolerance that comes from using another drug with similar effects.
Tolerance: Tolerance is the diminished response to taking a substance over time that requires an increased dosage to achieve the same effect.
Withdrawal: Withdrawal is the discomfort experienced upon suddenly stopping the chronic use of a substance.
Additionally, sugars’ ability to trigger the release of natural opioids might be the cause of the addiction, making it difficult to stop eating sugar. Sugar may mimic drug abuse from the point of view of brain neurochemistry and behaviors.
Research published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care into sugar addiction notes that sugar and sweetness induce reward and craving comparable to addictive products.
On a neurobiological level, this may derive from a historical evolutionary pressure to find foods high in sugar and calories when foraging. This could explain why so many people have a challenging time controlling their consumption of foods containing sugar if they are continuously exposed to them, especially if this exposure started early.
In a layperson’s terms, the scientists noted that the rats were first trained to like sugar. When they do not get it for an extended period, its sudden reintroduction caused them to consume large quantities. The scientists think the rats consumed lots of sugar water because they were hungry, not from a craving caused by sugar’s neurochemical effects in the rats’ brains.
Sugar and Health Conditions
Sugar is highly rewarding in terms of taste and caloric input. However, excessive sugar consumption may cause the brain’s neurochemistry to adapt and disassociate eating from caloric requirements. This creates a sugar craving and might be the cause of some compulsive-eating behaviors.
The problem with sugar is more than occasional overeating. According to Frontiers in Bioscience, excessive sugar intake may cause many health problems such as weight gain, inflammatory conditions, and adverse metabolic syndrome. Caloric intake reduction, by reducing sugar intake, usually positively impacts a person’s health.
How to Read Nutrition Labels
The FDA published a guide on how to understand nutrition labels. There are four sections of information on the nutrition label: serving information, calories, nutrients, and % daily value (DV). Serving information is shown in the area at the top of the nutrition label. It shows the number of servings per container and the serving size, expressed American-style measurements, and metric sizes.
It may be easy to be fooled when reading this information because the serving size is only a portion of the contents. A serving size is standardized among brands of products in the same category.
For example, the standard serving size for potato chips is one ounce, equal to about 15 chips. An eight-ounce bag of potato chips contains eight servings of one-ounce each. Confusion may arise if a person thinks the nutrition label gives the information for the bag’s entire contents when the label is only for one-eighth of the bag’s contents.
Why is this important? Potato Chips are Salty, not Sugary, Right?
Although this is true, they are also loaded with refined carbohydrates that are similar to sugars. A single serving of potato chips may have 120 calories, 2 grams of fat, 23 grams of carbohydrate, and 2 grams of sugar. If a person eats a whole bag of chips, this is eight times that amount, equal to 960 calories, 16 grams of fat, 184 grams of carbohydrate, and 16 grams of sugar.
In this example, one bag of chips has a calorie count of nearly half the daily recommended allowance of 2,000 calories.
The calories per serving are listed in a large type font. Be careful to multiply the calorie count times the number of servings if you eat the entire contents of a package. The daily recommended allowance of 2,000 calories is the average, which is important to factor in when reducing or quitting sugar intake.
A specific person’s daily caloric needs depend on their age, gender, height, weight, and physical activity level. You can use a USDA guide to estimate caloric needs.
In this section on the label, you will see the amount of total fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, and protein. Below is a listing of minerals and vitamins in the product. The amounts are given in weight, such as grams (g), milligrams (mg), and micrograms (mcg). There is also a percentage of daily value shown as % DV.
For those concerned about sugar content, pay attention to the total sugars and the added sugars. Total sugars include the natural sugars found in a product and any added sugars. Also, pay attention to the total carbohydrates because these are naturally occurring simple and complex sugars, like flour, starches, and processed grains.
h added sugar.