The average adult eats way more sugar than she needs to. No, we’re not talking fresh fruits and vegetables. We’re talking about refined, processed and added sugar. We’re eating way too much of that, and everyone would benefit by cutting back on sugar.
But some people take it one step further and go completely sugar-free. Is this too extreme, and is it even healthy?
What is the sugar-free diet?
A sugar-free diet is when you give up all added forms of sugar. This eliminates a lot of the processed and prepared food we eat.
The sugar-free diet doesn’t cut out all fruits and vegetables, but it does restrict produce high in naturally occurring sugar.
The down low on sugar
Sugar is a carbohydrate, and there are many different types of it. There’s glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose. Many of these sugars naturally occur in food. For example, lactose is the sugar found in dairy products. Fructose is sugar found in fruit.
Glucose is a simple sugar and no matter what kind of carbohydrate you eat, the body always breaks carbs into their simplest form: glucose molecules.
But the sugar-free diet isn’t a call against the natural sugars within fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. Instead, it’s a diet that cuts out the added, processed sugar we eat on a daily basis.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the average adult gets 15 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. If you’re not sure what that looks like in real life, it’s roughly 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day.
Where is all this added sugar coming from? The most common foods with added sugars are soft drinks, cakes, pies, chocolate, fruit drinks, desserts, etc. But it doesn’t end there.
Sugar is a common ingredient in condiments, bread, canned goods, cereals, and so much more. In short, sugar is everywhere, and all of this sugar is causing a lot of harm.
Negative health effects of sugar
The idea of giving up your favorite processed foods might not seem worth it. But once you know some of sugar’s negative health effects, you might be more than happy to quit processed sugar.
#1: High blood pressure and cardiovascular problems
Research suggests that added sugars increase blood pressure even more than sodium. Study authors say, “Evidence suggests that sugars in general and fructose, in particular, may contribute to overall cardiovascular risk through a variety of mechanisms.”
#2: Weight gain and obesity
We now know that sugar-sweetened beverages are positively related to weight gain both in adults and in children.
A diet high in added, processed sugars can contribute to “the development of a chronic low-grade inflammatory state.” And since inflammation is the root cause of all diseases, it would serve us well to limit sugar – a key contributor to this problem.
#4: Leaky gut
Excess added sugar can increase gut permeability, making it easier for undigested food to move from the gut into the bloodstream.
Sweet treats might be tasty now, but the consequences might not be worth it in the long run. There are studies that demonstrate that a diet high in sugar can place you at greater risk for cancer.
Studies show that both refined carbohydrates and sweetened beverages contribute to the epidemic of type 2 diabetes.
#7: Skin issues
Last, but certainly not least, sugar makes your insulin levels go up. These regular ups and downs in insulin can contribute to inflammation, and therefore, a breakdown of collagen.
In a nutshell, a diet high in added sugars can make skin look old, wrinkled and not as smooth as you want.
Is it healthy to cut out all sugar from your diet?
Since sugar is discussed with so many negative health effects, like cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and faster aging, it certainly seems like a good idea to cut sugar out of your diet.
But is this an extreme approach? Well, it depends on what sugar you cut out of your diet.
By removing processed, refined sugar, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor. No one needs these types of sugar. They’re relatively new in the history of humanity, and we did just fine without them.
This doesn’t mean that all sugar is bad though. Some carbs are perfectly fine when they come from whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Sugars you can’t eat on a sugar-free diet
The best way to follow a sugar-free diet is to read food labels. Sugar has lots of different names, and you want to get familiar with these terms so you can avoid them completely:
- Agave syrup
- Apple juice concentrate
- Beet sugar
- Brown sugar
- Cane sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Corn syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Grape juice concentrate
- High fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Maple syrup
- Rice syrup
- Sweet’N Low*
*These are artificial sugars, but you should still avoid them. They can make your body think it’s having real sugar and that can increase sugar cravings and just make it harder for you to maintain a sugar-free diet.
Avoid these foods on the sugar-free diet
- Any food product with the sugars listed above
- Simple carbs like white flour, white pasta, white rice, etc.
- All sweetened beverages
- Dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and milk
- High glycemic fruits like bananas, pineapple, mangoes, and grapes
- High glycemic vegetables like white potatoes and root vegetables
Enjoy these foods on the sugar-free diet
- Whole grains
- Meat, such as beef, turkey, chicken, etc.
- All vegetables (with the exception of high glycemic veggies)
- Low glycemic fruits, such as blueberries, raspberries, grapefruits, pears, etc.
- All nuts and seeds
- All spices
- Beverages, like water, tea, and unsweetened nut milk
The sugar-free diet is a very big lifestyle change, especially if your diet usually has a lot of processed and refined sugars and carbs.
But you may find that once you get used to this new lifestyle, you will enjoy many health benefits, like weight loss, improved energy, clearer skin, lower inflammation and so much more.