You’ve heard it over and over again: cut down on sugar, avoid foods with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, if sugar were invented today, it would be illegal because it’s so bad for you (OK, I’m paraphrasing here, but I do remember hearing that one). If you have taken these health warnings seriously and viewed them as something more than a challenge of your will-power, you’re not alone. According to a new study, Americans are getting better at reducing sugar—but still not good enough.
From 2000 to 2008, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that we have gone from consuming roughly 3.5 ounces of sugar a day (25 teaspoons) to 2.7 ounces a day (19 teaspoons). That’s the good news. The bad news is the American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons a day for women and nine for men. That’s problematic for most of us, particularly for anyone who consumes soda.
One can of Coke contains approximately nine teaspoons of sugar—an amount that has most of us exceeding our quota for the day. That explains why soda is the biggest contributor to added sugar in the American diet. Not surprisingly, this is followed by cake, cookies, sports drinks, candy and gum.
So are we supposed to succumb to a diet of water, fresh fruits, veggies, lean protein and whole grains each day? Ideally, yes, but realistically, no. Some sugar is still OK, and can actually act like comfort food, boosting your mental health. Besides, a life without any is harder than it appears.
As an experiment, I tried giving up sugar entirely from my diet for a month (this did not include foods with natural sugar like fruit). After the first few days, the physical cravings (like headaches) went away, but the psychological ones were much tougher to deal with. I often felt obsessed with finding something sugary at certain points in the day—especially following a meal when I had conditioned myself to almost always have something sweet. Kitchen cabinets were scoured for a possible Hershey Kiss that fell out of the bag or even chocolate chips on the baking shelf. I would call my husband begging him to bring home something—anything—with chocolate in it. I even tried sugar-free ice cream bars to help curb those cravings, but given my lactose intolerance, they were not an entirely good choice, either. In the end (when I wasn’t acting like a batshit crazy person), I discovered how satisfying a juicy, ripe mango or peach can be after dinner. That seemed to settle those urges down. Although I do keep eying that chocolate-chocolate cake every time I go to the grocery store. (Why do they have to put the bakery in a place where you are forced to walk by it?)
How about you? Would you be able to give up sugar from your diet?