What you eat is a critical part of any wellness journey (in addition to consistent physical activity) and can help you achieve goals such as weight loss or avoid chronic illnesses and medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. While we all know about eating fruits and veggies and lean proteins to stay healthy, it’s just as important to think about what not to eat. And one of the biggest saboteurs of a healthy lifestyle is sugar.
Unfortunately, sugar is often a sneaky ingredient that shows up in food we don’t typically associate it with (think pasta sauce or ketchup) and we can get stuck in a cycle of sugar highs and lows.
So how can we be more aware of how sugar affects our body and break the cycle? Keep reading!
How Sugar Affects Our Bodies
Not all sugar is bad, and where it comes from can determine how much (if any) you should consume. For example, sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, which include grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. So if you’re consuming whole, nutritious foods that contain natural sugar, that can be part of a healthy diet as your body digests these sugars slowly, allowing your glucose levels to remain steady.
The slippery slope is when we eat foods that contain added sugars. These are sugars that food manufacturers add for taste or extended shelf life. Soda, fruit drinks, cookies, and candy are just a few examples of this type of sugar, in addition to bread, soups, and cured meats. The proliferation of added sugars in so much of our food results in an over-consumption of sugar.
But what’s so wrong with that? The truth of the matter is these sugars can wreak havoc on our bodies, leading to a number of illnesses and medical conditions, such as:
- A greater risk of heart disease
- Increased blood pressure
- Chronic inflammation
- Fatty liver disease
Sugar also spikes our blood sugar, leading to the hyperactivity of the sugar high, followed by the dreaded crash where we feel sluggish and low-energy.
Embrace the Low Sugar Life
Given the myriad of negative health effects from sugar, we’d all do well to significantly decrease our sugar intake. But how much is too much? Well, considering sugar is not a required nutrient for our body, the jury is still out on a firm number, although the American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories and men no more than 150 calories of added sugar per day. We can look to this as a guardrail and embrace a low sugar lifestyle by reducing the amount of added sugar we consume.
The primary goal of a low sugar diet is to maintain a healthy glucose level in the body, but it comes with additional benefits such as weight loss and a reduced risk of chronic diseases. The low sugar lifestyle calls for avoiding added sugars and foods that are high in carbohydrates, which break down into sugar in the body. One of the best ways to reduce your added sugar intake is to read food labels carefully and look for those hidden sugars.
Additionally, having a general understanding of what foods to eat, and which foods to avoid, can help make the low sugar lifestyle easier to maintain.
Food you can eat on a low sugar diet:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fruit (especially citrus fruits and berries)
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
- Fatty fish
- Lean proteins
- Herbs and spices
Food to avoid on a low sugar diet:
- Sugary drinks
- White bread or flour
- Refined sugars (packaged cereals and cookies)
- Alcohol (in excess)
- Packaged snack food such as chips and pretzels
It can also be helpful to know the different names that added sugars go by when reading food labels so you can avoid them or cut back. These include:
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- Brown sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Corn sweetener
- Ingredients that end with “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
- Malt sugar
Change Comes with Challenge
Reducing added sugar from our diet, especially if we’ve been over consuming it, can be a challenging task. You may initially find yourself craving those sugary foods and drinks, feeling sluggish and tired, and even experiencing headaches. But as is the case with most things in life, change doesn’t happen without challenge. Keep your overall goal in mind – whether it’s dropping a few pounds or embarking on a healthier lifestyle – to keep you going.
And if you need extra support, Forge can help. We offer customized nutrition and fitness coaching to develop plans to help you reach your goals. Reach out to us today and see how we can help.