I love sugar. I always have. But when admitted to myself I had eaten chocolate cake every single day for a month, I thought it might be time to start cutting back. I wanted to believe that because it’s not affected my weight it’s not a problem. So I did a bit of research and it wasn’t pretty. Added sugar is considered the single worst ingredient in our modern diet. The good news is if we break the sugar habit here’s what can happen.
Our brains will work better
An animal study by UCLA researchers found sugar can hinder our ability to learn and remember. The rats in the study that were fed a high sugar diet forgot how to get out of a maze while the rats fed a healthier diet found their way out faster. And it’s not just short-term memory that’s affected. Researchers are finding that Alzheimer’s may be linked to a high sugar diet as well.
We’ll have more energy
Sure, sugar gives you that lovely burst of energy, but then you crash and end up feeling more tired than you did before. Our bodies burn through sugar at a rapid pace, so instead of reaching for a candy bar it’s best to go for a combination of protein, healthy carbs and fiber. It will keep us feeling satisfied and energized for longer.
Our skin will look younger
Sugar impacts our skin’s ability to repair itself. Its molecules bond to collagen and elastin – the proteins that keep our skin firm and supple – and makes them weaker. The result is skin that’s less elastic and more prone to wrinkles and sagging. We can’t turn back time, but we can slow down the aging process by cutting back on sugar and eating more antioxidant-rich foods.
We’ll be less likely to get sick
The bad news is that sugar has been linked to a host of chronic diseases – obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and even cancer. It’s easy to think these things only happen to our parent or grandparents, but eating a diet high in sugar puts us on the path to chronic illness.
We’ll be happier
This one is still hard for me to believe, but the research says that women with diets high in sugar and other inflammatory foods, such as red meat and refined grains, have a 41% higher risk of depression than women who ate a less inflammatory diet. Similar results have been found for men. Those consuming 67 grams of sugar or more per day were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression. And the evidence keeps piling up that sugar messes with our mental wellbeing.
How much sugar is OK?
I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced to give this lower sugar thing a try. But how much sugar is reasonable to eat in a day? The guidelines vary widely depending on which organization you ask, but they do agree we’re talking about added sugar, so the kind that’s in desserts, soda, candy, alcohol and many processed foods.
The American Heart Association recommends the maximum amount of added sugar you should eat in a day is only 100 calories for women (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) and 150 calories for men (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons). That’s not much when you consider a Milky Way bar contains 7 teaspoons of sugar, or more than your recommended daily amount.
How to cut back on sugar
Start by cutting out the obvious foods, but also look at labels to see which products have a much higher sugar content than you would think, such as cereals and protein bars. Don’t keep sugar and sugary foods around and if you need something sweet, go for a piece of fruit. Eating whole, unprocessed foods is one of the best ways to avoid added sugars.
Cutting back on sugar won’t be easy if you’re a sugar addict like me, but it’s one of the single most important things we can do for better health now and in the long-term.
Cyd Casados is a freelance health and wellness writer.