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Nutrition

Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

How Giving Up Refined Sugar Changes Your Health

The truth about sugar cannot be sugarcoated, as too much of it leads to some not-so-sweet health outcomes. We share how giving it up changes your health and just how to do so!

How Giving Up Refined Sugar Changes Your Health


"How giving up refined sugar changed my brain or life" is a provoking, yet common headline.

The truth about sugar truly cannot be sugarcoated. Diets rich in sugar have been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.

But first, let's get this settled:

We are not exactly talking about natural sugars sourced from fresh fruits, veggies, and other nourishing whole foods. Instead, we are highlighting the refined and added sugars often found in packaged and processed foods.

The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates Americans eat an astonishing average of 80 grams per day. To put this number in perspective, the AHA recommends males should consume no more than 38 grams of added sugar daily. Women should limit themselves to 25 grams.

The recommendations are not based on arbitrary numbers, but rather in hopes to improve overall health. From weight management to brain health, discover the benefits of cutting out sugar and how to successfully do so.

What Happens When You Give Up Refined Sugar

Initial and long-term changes can occur when giving up refined sugar. Health experts are mostly divided when it comes to the addictive properties of sugar.

However, eliminating the sweet stuff can lead to withdrawal symptoms. These may include:

• Sugar cravings
• Changes in sleep patterns
• Mood changes
• Digestive issues
• Flu-like symptoms

The long-term benefits of reducing excess sugar far outweigh these initial side effects. These include weight management, disease prevention, skin health, and mental clarity.

Weight Loss & Management

One might experience natural weight loss when limiting sugar, as it is a source of empty calories.

Filling the diet with more wholesome foods in place of sugar can naturally help one manage and lose weight, too.

Disease Prevention

High-sugar diets are linked to obesity, which increases the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Cutting back sugar can lower these risks and improve physical and overall health.

Skin Health

Too much sugar can cause glycation, a process in which sugar mixes with protein and fat to form molecules. The process can damage collagen and elastin of the skin and promote aging.

While turning back the hands of time is impossible, giving up sugar may improve skin health and slow down aging.

Mental Clarity & Stamina

Sugar can naturally lead to that so-called "sugar rush" and supply quick energy. Unfortunately, those energy levels drop just as quickly as they spike.

Limiting sugary foods can help keep energy stable and lead to a clearer mind.

How to Manage Sugar Cravings & Limit Sugar Intake

Reducing and giving up sugar benefits overall health, though it may be challenging to do so. Fortunately, there are steps one can take to reduce or eliminate sugar intake.

Recognize True Signs of Hunger

Hunger and cravings are often used in a similar fashion, though there are definite and important distinctions between the two.

Hunger is a physical need for food. It results in a growling stomach, headache, and loss of energy. Hunger is often not exclusive to one food, and people likely feel satisfied after eating.

Cravings are mostly a mental desire and driven by negative emotions and boredom. They also tend to be comfort food-specific, including products rich in sugar.

So before raiding the kitchen amidst an intense sugar craving, truly ask yourself and scale the question, "Am I hungry?" If truly hungry, manage it with a balanced meal or snack rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fat. The combination of nutrients helps manage energy and blood sugar levels while keeping hunger at bay for hours to come.

If experiencing a craving, react with a plan B for stress and boredom.

Devise a Plan B for Stress & Boredom

Again, cravings are often driven by emotions and boredom. So check-in with how you are feeling and take note if a craving surfaced. Doing so is helpful for managing cravings in the future.

There are many positive tactics to avoid feeding into a sugar craving if emotional or bored, including:

• Practicing deep breathing or meditating
• Listening to your favorite band or song
• Calling a family member or friend
• Taking the dog on a walk
• Stepping outside in nature
• Working on a project

Rethink Artificial Sweeteners

Gave up sugar? Turning to artificial sweeteners and sugar-free products may seem a healthier choice. However, doing so can actually backfire.

Though the two are vastly different in chemical structure, artificial sweeteners may trick the body into believing sugar is present. The body releases insulin when it senses sugar, which may encourage fat storing and weight gain.

The consequences of artificial sweeteners may be psychological as well. For instance, when drinking diet over regular soda, you tell yourself you saved on calories and justify an extra pizza slice. In reality, a slice of pizza can supply hundreds of calories while a regular soda may supply about 150 calories.

This phenomenon suggests people may overeat when they believe they are saving them by switching to diet or sugar-free products.

Practice Intuitive Eating

The practice of mindful and intuitive eating entails tuning into the body's hunger and satiety cues. This is primarily in hopes to heighten food appreciation and reduce the risk of overeating.

Start the practice by bringing your awareness to the entire body prior to eating. Use the senses to enjoy the food at hand and recognize feelings throughout the entire dining experience.

Further rid all distractions, including sitting down without electronics. Truly focus most attention on the meal and members who may also be surrounding the dining table.

Reconstruct the Pantry

Reconstructing the pantry with wholesome foods lowers the risk of binging on innutritious, packaged foods loaded with sugar. Likewise learn to appreciate wholesome foods, even combatting a sweet tooth with nutritious fruits.

And while a cookie can be enjoyed every now and then, it is important to know your own food triggers. If reaching for one cookie turns into devouring the whole package, avoid bringing them into the house. Or, consider purchasing an individual portion.

Identify Hidden Sugar Sources

Along with reducing more obvious sugar sources such as soda and sweet pastries, be cautious of hidden sugar. Check on the ingredient list for commonly added sugar aliases, including:

• Syrups, including high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup
• Any word ending in -ose such as fructose, maltose, and sucrose;
• All "natural sugars," which include agave, honey, and maple syrup
• Fruit juice and juice concentrates

Even assumed "healthy" foods can be laden in added sugar, including whole-grain cereal, yogurt, and tomato sauce. While their face value may seem harmless, you may have added unnoticed, unnecessary sugar to your diet.

Sleep

Sleep deprivation can increase appetite and intensify cravings. Inadequate sleep can lead to feelings of depression, only to increase the risk of emotional eating.

Stave off these risks by sleeping seven to nine hours on a nightly basis. If struggling to sleep, consult with a sleep specialist while trying to maintain a regular sleeping pattern.

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on February 25, 2020. Updated on February 25, 2020.

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