Carbs are bad! 

Go Keto! 

Don’t eat sugar! 

Sugar is evil!

We’ve all heard things like this before, right? But what is the deal with sugar anyway? Is it really that bad? Afterall, it’s in almost every food we eat!

Let me ask you, what does metabolic syndrome, fatty liver, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, gout and abdominal fat all have in common (other than being preventable and even reversible?) They all have a common denominator and that is SUGAR. And it’s not just any sugar. It’s primarily processed sugar. For the sake of keeping things clear, I will be referring to processed sugar when I say “sugar” unless otherwise noted .

I’m sure you knew that I would eventually hit on the big “sugar” topic! Honestly, part of me wanted to start off my first blog with it but then I realized, while reducing sugar is SUPER important, so is consuming a variety of loads of vegetables, berries and fruits which is why I started off with the Traffic Light Eating system. (Missed it? It’s the blog entry from May 2nd.) What we include in our diets is just as important as what we leave out so I started with the basics. I touched on sugar a bit when the processed red foods came up so now I am coming back around. Just as important as adding in 7-13 servings of a wide variety of vegetables and fruits every day to set your foundational nutrition, what we put INTO the body, it is equally important to leave processed sugar OUT as much as possible. 

I’m certainly not going to disrespect you by telling you that too much sugar is bad. We all know this. We’ve known this for years, yet we still eat it. Is the sweet part of life, right? Isn’t that what we tell ourselves? We deserve a treat. And we do. Even though treats look, feel and taste different for all of us, let’s face it, often treats involve sweets or alcohol and if it’s more than an occasional indulgence, it’s harming you in the long run like the conditions first mentioned and probably short-term too with irritability, moodiness, depression, anxiety and weight gain.

What is sugar aka carbs?

Carbohydrates or sugars are the primary food for the brain. We need them. But they aren’t all created equal. Sugars are either simple (usually in processed foods) or complex and are usually found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables and grains. Complex sugars are considered helpful carbs because they usually have fiber. So while they are also sugars, they HELP the body have sustained energy, willpower, and better bowel movements. Fiber also feeds the good gut microbes. So if you are taking probiotics but not eating fiber from the good stuff like fruits, vegetables, beans and some grains, you’re pretty much wasting your money and good probiotic supplements that are potent, aren’t cheap! So while soluble and insoluble fiber is a type of sugar, it doesn’t affect your body like a simple sugar and can actually help to slow down absorption of sugar from the intestines and contribute to stabilized blood sugar and stabilized moods. Soluble fiber can also lower cholesterol by carrying dietary cholesterol out of the body.

If you already know all this and it’s all sounding a bit too basic for you, no problem! Thanks for reading this far! Just skip to the bottom and click on the link to watch Dr. Robert Lustig take a deeper dive in “Sugar, the Bitter Truth.” I think what he shares will be an eye opener. I know it was for me!

What IS processed sugar and where does it show up?

Simple sugars (usually processed sugars) flood your body with sugar, fast and furious, leading to an energy spike and then the inevitable crash unless of course you are addicted. If so, then you’re likely eating more sugar before bottoming out. (Curious if you are addicted? See the checklist below.) Simple sugars will not be found in a helpful food and will usually be considered a RED food.  Almost every processed food will have SOME kind of sugar added to it and often, it’s more than you may think! Even frozen and pre-made entrees, side dishes, pretzels, pasta sauce, hamburger buns, bread, Gatorade, Powerade, peanut butter filled crackers, “granola” or “breakfast bars” have sugar added. And yes, all of these are usually RED foods too! If you don’t know what I am talking about when I refer to red foods, click here ➡️Traffic Light Eating to get a FREE poster and learn more about red, yellow and green foods to help guide your choices. 

There are SO MANY names for processed sugar found in ingredients. Don’t be fooled! Some of the most common to know and avoid are sugar, (obviously!) high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn syrup, sucrose and dextrose. 

WHY should I rethink sugar? 

If the chronic health conditions first listed aren’t enough, consider how sugar is affecting you immediately.  Short-term, it seriously drains your energy. We want to secure LONG-TERM energy and LONG-TERM health, right? Sugar also leads to unstable blood sugar levels and low will power. You will be more likely to reach for that sugary donut for your mid morning pump up when you just don’t think you can make it another hour to lunch. Sugar also zaps the immune system and can make us feel anxious, depressed and irritable. If weight gain is an issue, the first and most simple thing to examine is your sugar intake. Also, if you can’t go 1 day without processed sugar, you are likely addicted. 

What can I do to limit sugar?

The biggest action step is to read labels of everything you buy. Yes, this can get tedious but the more you do, the more aware you become of just how much sugar you are consuming in just one day but even just one meal or snack! Just looking at the carbohydrates won’t be enough because as I mentioned, fiber is included in the carb count. Specifically look at the ingredients list. If sugar is anywhere near the first few ingredients, drop it like a hot potato! If sugar shows up later in the list, consider what else you’ve eaten that day that already had sugar in it and if there is something else you can eat instead. 

Craving a soda? Try something carbonated that does not have sugar like Perrier or San Pellegrino that naturally contains important minerals we NEED or even LeCroix or sparkling water. If you don’t like the plain taste, you can always add in fresh squeezed lemon, grapefruit, lime or chunks of fresh or frozen peaches, orange slices, raspberries, strawberries or blueberries (whatever you enjoy!) to infuse a fruity flavor then eat the fruit when you’re done. You’ll also be getting a “raw and fresh” into your day! It may not seem like a lot but the small and simple steps that add up in the long run especially when you do them consistently. Remember, consistency is the key to building up habits for long-term progress. 

What about “SUGAR FREE” alternatives?

While most, but not all sugar free options will not spike your blood sugar, consider that you are just adding more unhelpful “foods” which are actually chemicals for your body to process. Saccharin (Sweet’N Low), Aspartame (NutraSweet), Acesulfame potassium (Sunett), Neotame (Newtame), Advantame, Sucralose (Splenda), and Equal are the most popular sugar free, non-food options. Because these sugar free options can alter brain chemistry, digestive enzymes and your natural gut balance they are best avoided all together. Some can even cause migraines and are carcinogenic. They are not just not helpful foods, they aren’t foods at all!. Trust me, sugar free will not set you free. 

How do you know if you are addicted?

  • Do you need a midmorning or afternoon “bump” of sugar from candy, a soda or both?
  • Do you crave bread, cheeses, milk or alcohol, especially sweet ones?
  • Do you feel depressed an hour or two later and reach for more sugar?
  • Do you start your day with sugar in your coffee, toast, juice and/or other carbs?

If you can relate to any of these, you’re probably addicted and cold turkey is the fastest (albeit uncomfortable) way to go. There’s no weaning off of sugar. The 10 day monthly detox I do is a great way to kick the sugar habit. You get more benefits from the SHRED10 too like doubling your energy, losing bloating and brain fog, but getting off sugar is a big part of it. Click here SHRED10 for more info on the SHRED10 to see if it’s a good fit for you. 

If you want to go into more depth, need more reasons to be mindful of sugar intake or just like to geek out on research, charts and health topics in general, I dare you to watch this. The first time I heard it was years ago yet the information is more necessary now than ever. Dr. Robert Lustig is an endocrinologist and researcher who focuses on childhood obesity and diabetes. He is also an author of several books. Dr. Lustig Sugar: The Bitter Truth