Whether you’re looking to lose weight or improve your health in the long term, cutting refined sugar out of your diet is a great place to start. By reducing your reliance on sugar, you’ll feel healthier and lessen your risk of some severe health issues.
What is refined sugar?
Alina Petre, a registered dietitian writing for Healthline, explains refined sugar is highly processed sugar extracted from natural sources. The most common example is table sugar, which is extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. Another well-known refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, is created from corn. These products are used to sweeten foods like soda and candy.
Refined sugar is different from natural sugar, which is what you find in fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. Whereas refined sugars are essentially what Petre calls empty calories — meaning they provide no nutritional benefits — natural sugar tends to appear in food rich with other nutrients like fiber and protein.
Though they are also extracted from sources, honey and maple syrup are both examples of natural sugars. Petre notes both offer more nutritional value than refined sugar, but consuming too much of either can create the same problems you’ll see from over-indulging in refined sugars.
Why cut refined sugar?
Consuming too much refined sugar can lead to both short-term and long-term health issues. The Mayo Clinic cautions consumption of added sugars is linked to poor nutrition and weight gain. Over-consuming refined sugar can also increase triglyceride levels in your blood, which increases your risk for heart disease. Petre also notes links between refined sugar consumption and type 2 diabetes.
Read the labels and know your limits
The Mayo Clinic says one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce your refined sugar consumption is familiarizing yourself with nutritional labels. Packaged foods will tell you not only how much sugar they contain, but how much refined sugar. Non-packaged foods won’t have nutritional labels, but you can use a calorie-counting app like MyFitnessPal to see generic values for produce, meat products, and so on.
To maximize your understanding of this, you should also know how many calories you should consume in a given day and how to balance them. According to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. The American Heart Association goes a step further, recommending that you absolutely limit added sugars at 100-150 calories per day.
Toss the sauce
Once you’ve gotten yourself into the habit of checking food labels, take a gander the next time you pick up ketchup for your fries, barbecue sauce for your chicken, or pasta sauce for your spaghetti. Notice how high the added sugar count is compared to other nutrients? These and other condiments can easily drag down the nutritional quality of your food if you use too much.
Fortunately for flavor-lovers, there are plenty of alternatives to sugar-heavy sauces. Alexandra Rowles and SaVanna Shoemaker of Healthline say you can look for condiments labeled as having no added sugar. You can also use this as an opportunity to expand your palate and try other condiments and seasonings, including mustard, vinegar, herbs, and citrus. Be aware, however, that condiments like mayonnaise and pesto are high in fat and should be used in moderation.
Say so long to soda
Sometimes, a frosty can of soda just hits the spot after a meeting or an afternoon out in the yard. But sometimes should be the operative term, because soda is a major source of refined sugars.
There are plenty of alternatives to sugary, calorie-dense beverages that should hit the spot. You can always opt for diet sodas, though you will also want to drink those in moderation due to their use of sugar-free sweeteners. Coffee and tea are great ways to get a boost of energy and a nice dose of flavor.
When it comes to hydration, the American Heart Association’s editorial staff agrees there is nothing better than water. If you like the bubbliness of soda, sparkling water gives you the same sensation and is even available with natural flavors to add a bit of punch.
As with all dietary changes, keep in mind it’s a sprint rather than a marathon. Talk to your primary care doctor or a registered dietitian and learn what you can do to overcome your sugar cravings and live a healthier life today and tomorrow.