Everybody knows that sugar is not good and should be consumed only in moderation. For most people, that means avoiding sweets and sugary snacks. However, sugar exists in more foods that you may initially think. The number of American processed foods that contain hidden sugars is absolutely insane. And foods that are typically believed to be well-balanced like cereals, yogurt, peanut butter and protein bars often contain a lot of added sugars making them significantly less healthy.
It’s important to mention that there is a huge difference between natural and added sugars. Natural sugar is ok and found in lots of fruits and vegetables. Because fruits and vegetables contain so many nutrients, the sugar content is completely fine. Added sugars, on the other hand, are bad and found in a lot of processed foods. Since these foods are not nutrient dense like fruits and vegetables, added sugar is a lot harder on the body.
Companies add sugar mostly to make foods taste better and motivate consumers to continue purchasing their product. Because humans are naturally drawn to sweet and fatty foods for evolutionary reasons, companies can take advantage of that in order to sell more. In the American food industry, which is built on large corporations and sales, that means that companies take every possible opportunity to make their product more appealing to the public.
The American Heart Association recommends that the maximum amount of added sugar that should be consumed in a day is 37.5 grams, or 9 teaspoons, for men and 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, for women. And for total sugar, including both added and natural, it is recommended to stay below 45 grams. Contrary to those values, the average total daily intake was 76.7 grams in 2008, which is way over that daily limit.
It has been proven that sugar is a dangerous and potentially addictive substance, especially when consumed in large amounts. Some claim that it is as addictive as drugs like cocaine and opioids, however this is widely debated among scientists.
The reason that the parallels in sugar and hard drugs are drawn initially is because they both affect the reward center of the brain. And over time when consuming large amounts of sugar, the body is going to crave even more and establish an addictive never-ending cycle of sugar dependency. On the other hand, scientists who do not agree with the correlation between sugar and hard drugs often mention that drugs absolutely take over the reward center in the brain, making everything go out of whack, something sugar does not do. Nevertheless, it is clear that no matter how addictive sugar can be exactly, excess consumption puts the human body in a state that is nearly dependent on it.
In the United States, however, it is extremely hard to avoid added sugars. Americans are one of the busiest and most overworked groups of people in the world. After a long day of work or school, the last thing most people want to do is cook a healthy meal, especially when there are so many easy and cheap fast food and processed options, which unfortunately contain a lot of added sugars.
In the past week, I decided to become more aware of the foods I was putting in my body and cutting out any foods that contain added sugar. That obviously started with avoiding sweets at all costs. But the number of other foods I had to eliminate was a lot more than I initially thought. Items that you would never guess had added sugar in them like bread and crackers or chips had to go. This left me going for foods in their original, whole, unprocessed form. Things like eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, plain yogurt, chicken, and occasionally the rare grain product that didn’t contain added sugar.
I can honestly say that even by the third day of quitting sugar, there was a huge difference in my energy levels. My mind also felt a lot clearer and I was way more motivated to get things done. This just goes to show how bad sugar actually is for our bodies.
Prior to doing this mini challenge, I just accepted my tired and sluggish feeling self as normal. I now know that is nowhere near being true and doing things as simple as restricting sugar intake can significantly increase your mood.