Did you know that nearly half of all adults in the US say they are trying to quit sugar?
With a 2017 study linking sugar and cancer (at least in headlines – no causal relationship has been established) and an ongoing vilification of carbohydrates, it’s no surprise we’re trying to quit sugar at a higher rate than ever before. And for good reason. According to a 15-year study that researched the correlation between added sugar and heart disease, participants who consumed more than 25% more of their daily calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than those whose diets included less than 10% from sugar. This pattern held true regardless of age, sex, physical activity level, or BMI. So if you’ve ever considered quitting or cutting back on your sugar intake, try out the 5 steps below.
So how does sugar contribute to heart disease?
Though the study wasn’t able to identify any one direct cause, we know that ingesting large amounts of sugar increases blood pressure, and that a high-sugar diet can cause the liver to pump more harmful fats into the bloodstream. Both of these factors put you at risk of cardiovascular problems.
But it’s not just what sugar’s giving to you; it’s what it’s not giving.
When you’re ingesting a ton of calories that don’t come with any trace of fibre, vitamins, minerals, or any other nutrients, you’re taking up caloric space where you could be serving yourself some real nourishment–so quit it!
This has led many researchers, including the Harvard Health Blog to ask if the relationship between heart disease and sugar exists simply because our addiction to sugar is preventing us from eating healthy foods instead.
Where does added sugar hide?
Unsurprisingly, large quantities of sugar live in sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, baked goods, and candy (you knew this).
But you’d be surprised by how much sugar is added to products that have a fairly healthy reputation. Try checking out the labels of things like: yogurt, granola, salad dressings, protein powders, jarred pasta sauce, smoothies, bread, soup, peanut butter, and instant oatmeal. These products often pack in a ton of added sugar (you might gasp). We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, fresh, whole foods are the way to go!
But how do you quit sugar?
Eliminate sugary drinks. If straight water seems cruel and boring, try lemon with seltzer water, or unsweetened tea, coffee or nut milk–homemade almond milk, anyone?
Replace sugary snacks with alternatives filled with protein and fibre. Swap muffins, cookies, candy, etc. for veggies and hummus, nuts, hard boiled eggs, or fruit if you’re really feeling a sweet craving.
Reduce simple carbs. Simple carbs (white flour) act exactly like sugar in the body, and they’re so easy to swap for more satisfying healthy options. You know you should be swapping whole grain bread and flour already, but consider healthier pasta options (like spelt, soba or spiralized veggies!), and start getting real about the other places simple carbs are hiding in your diet–crackers, pizza pockets, and baked goods, we’re looking at you.
Find the hidden sugars in your fridge and pantry, and deal with them. Consider also that sugar goes by different aliases (sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose and more). Identify where sugar is getting in when it doesn’t need to be (hint: alcohol is a huge one), and make the appropriate changes. The extent of how completely you want to quit sugar is up to you, but I would recommend at least switching up the products where you didn’t think sugar existed–salad dressing isn’t dessert.
Stay committed, but be realistic. As you begin to kick your sugar habit, you’ll slowly begin to feel fewer cravings. Use this period of coming off sugar to help you learn about your own sugar habits, and which situations trigger your cravings (for example, I know that when I approach the movie theatre concession, it’s go time). But also be realistic about how strict you’d like to be. Better to indulge in something sweet every now and then than to swear off the stuff only to have a sugar tantrum and find yourself rummaging through the fruit loop box like a crazy person.
Whether sugar does have a direct causal effect on our heart and general health, or if simply eating empty calories in place of nutritious ones is what’s making us vulnerable, it doesn’t present sugar in a good light either way you spin it. Have you considered quitting sugar? Have you got any sugar-reducing tricks up your sleeve? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!