Sugar is one of the top reasons people put on weight and then struggle to lose it. It's highly addictive, detrimental to your health and fat loss efforts. Sugar sneaks into our diet in "healthy" and "natural" packaged foods. Sugar contains no nutrients making it easy to overeat. When you eat sugar, it raises insulin levels which is the hormone that makes you store fat.
The Top 5 Places Sugar Hides in Your Diet
You know sugar is in candy, cookies, ice cream, dessert, etc. You may be surprised to discover sugar is hidden in almost every single food item that comes in a package. Granola parfaits, "healthy" breakfast cereals, lattes, orange juice (but it comes from oranges and has Vitamin C, right?), salad topped with candied walnuts, dried cranberries and raspberry vinaigrette dressing, sushi, sweet and sour chicken, etc. Here are the top places to check how much sugar is sneaking into your diet.
- Coffee, Energy Drinks, Sports Drinks, Sweetened Teas
Coffee brewed from flavored beans contains no added calories or sugar. Coffee flavored with sugar-laden syrups (i.e. frappuccinos, lattes), is full of unnecessary calories. Sports drinks are loaded with sugar, and unless you're a high-performing athlete, you don't need anything other than water. To avoid unnecessary calories, order coffee and tea without sweeteners and check the label of any bottled beverages.
- Alcoholic Beverages
Drinks mixed with juice or soda, wine coolers, and cocktails with liqueurs can pack hundreds of calories, while their high sugar content are often the culprit of a bad hangover. While beer is low in sugar, it contains a higher amount of carbohydrates. "Light" beers will be your best option calorie-wise, but unfortunately this means sacrificing in flavor. Going out for drinks should be enjoyable, so what can you drink? Here are some tasty & refreshing alternatives:
-Naturally flavored seltzer or sparkling water with a lime wedge
-Wine (dry red or dry white)
-A clear spirit (high quality gin, vodka, tequila, whisky, or rum) mixed with club soda and flavored with citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit) and herbs (mint, basil, thyme). Order a "skinny" margarita with just tequila and fresh lime juice on the rocks.
- Dressings, Condiments & Sauces
Ketchup, BBQ Sauce, relish, honey mustard, raspberry vinaigrette, French dressing, teriyaki sauce, etc. Beware of "low fat" dressings as manufacturers will typically add sugar for flavor. Try making your own dressings at home with a vinegar, olive oil and lemon juice. For condiments, mustard and hot sauce will be your best options. Just be mindful of serving sizes as the sodium content can quickly add up.
- Cereals, Granola, Nutrition Bars
Organic? Check. Gluten-free? Check. Low fat? Check. About to throw into your shopping cart? Hold up. It's amazing how many energy bars and cereals are acclaimed "health foods" but have zero nutrition benefits and are loaded with sugar. Here are the 2 rules I follow: a) sugar is not listed as one of the first 3 ingredients and b) there is 5g or less sugar per serving. Most granola bars, dried fruit (i.e. raisins, trail mix) are also mostly sugar.
The unconscious habitual snacking when you're low on energy and willpower in the afternoon or after dinner. Office birthday cakes, the frozen yogurt bar, mini candy bars, cookies, etc. The calories in these innocent treats can add up fast and trap you in a cycle of always craving sweets. Arm yourself in the afternoon with a high-protein and fiber-rich snack like Greek yogurt or an apple with a handful of raw almonds. To learn exactly how to blast your cravings, read this post.
Why is sugar so bad?
Sugar is dangerous to your health and is linked to numerous symptoms and life-threatening diseases. Eliminating added sugar from your diet is one of the best things you can do to improve your health and body composition.
- Cardiovascular disease, liver disease, cancer, arthritis, and gout
- Type 2 diabetes
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Pro-inflammatory response in the body speeding up the aging process causing wrinkles, joint pain, and cell degeneration
- Makes the body unable to lose fat
- Sub-optimal brain function
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Depletion of vitamins and minerals
FAQ on Sugar
All your top questions on sugar answered.
What do I say to someone offering me sweets?
Someone says: "You’re so healthy. Just have one piece of cake" or "You workout, you can afford a slice of cake".
The first step is to set strong goals and identify exactly what you want. Whether it's to feel more confident in your clothes or have more energy, these are goals that will help you stick to your values. I have a huge sweet tooth. When I worked in a corporate office, there was cake almost every week for someone’s birthday. Then on the weekends I'd be tempted with more sugar at weddings, parties, restaurants etc. I could quickly become bloated and low on energy.
Here is what I say politely: "No thanks, I'm not in the mood" or "I just ate lunch, thanks anyway" or even easier "No thank you, I can't, I'm so full". Then just focus on enjoying the conversation and happy because you made the right decision for your health and your goals.
What about honey, maple syrup, and agave?
Honey and maple syrup have many health benefits when compared to regular table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. They still have a high sugar content so only consume in moderate amounts. I don't recommend agave at all, it's a highly processed sweetener with no nutritional value. Your best option for a sweetener is a minimally processed version of stevia which has zero calories.
What about sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal) and other sugar-free sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners contain dangerous chemicals making them worse than actual sugar. They have been linked to serious health problems including a heightened risk of cancer.
What about fruit?
Fruit is loaded with highly beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals. While fruit still contains sugar, its higher fiber content slows the insulin response. Enjoy up to two servings of fruit per day. If your goal is weight loss, focus on low sugar fruits like raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.
But what if I really love cake, cookies, ice cream?
I do too, but if I have an occasional cookie, donut, etc. I find myself in a loop of needing some form of sugar every day. The solution is to break the cycle and go at least 3 days without sugar. Some people need a week without refined sugar before they stop craving it. I choose to save desserts for very special occasions and make sure it's something I really enjoy (i.e. ice cream cake on my birthday, ricotta donuts with vanilla ice cream at my favorite restaurant). I also like to share a dessert with friends. All you really need is a few amazing bites of a quality dessert. Less is more.
What about "healthy desserts"?
Vegan cookies, gluten-free cake, paleo brownies. I went through a phase of baking all these "healthy" treats. I would easily polish off an entire batch within 2 days. Even "guilt-free" desserts can lead to binge eating. They also leave you craving sweets regularly. If you really want something sweet just have the real thing in moderation. Eventually your taste buds will change and a bowl of fresh fruit will be just as satisfying.