Sugar is responsible for the chronic inflammation that leads to many diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Dietary patterns high in refined sugar may cause an activation of the innate immune system, most likely by an excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines associated with a reduced production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
Kicking the sugar habit is a smart choice; however, there are many loopholes to watch out for. Product labels have a way of making us believe we are making a healthy food decision when the opposite is true. When giving up sugar, try not to make these seven mistakes, your health will thank you for it.
1) Switching to diet soda.
Don’t let the work ‘diet’ fool you. Soda of any kind should be avoided. Diet soda in particular is loaded with artificial sweeteners, which has been shown to cause weight gain along with a host of other health issues, including digestive upset. A long-term prospective study of 1,203 children in England found that artificially-sweetened beverage consumption at ages 5 and 7 was correlated both with baseline BMI and fat mass at age 9 (Brown et al, 2010).
Along with weight gain, diet soda can contribute to diabetes and metabolic syndrome. A recent study showed that the daily consumption of diet soda was associated with a 36 percent greater relative risk of incident metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent greater relative risk of incident type 2 diabetes compared with non-consumption (Nettleton et al).
2) Only eating foods labeled ‘sugar free.’
Many times, when a product label says ‘sugar free,’ it is loaded with artificial sugars. The same rule applies to ‘no sugar added’ or ‘naturally sweetened.’ A good rule of thumb is to look at ingredients, not package labeling. Avoid anything with added artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose and acesulfame-K, or anything with the word ‘syrup.’ A sweet taste, such as in foods containing artificial sweeteners, induces an insulin response, which causes blood sugar to be stored in tissues. However, because blood sugar does not increase with artificial sweeteners, there is hypoglycemia and increased food intake, thus promoting weight gain and the need to eat more.
3) Only eating foods labeled ‘light’ or ‘fat-free.’
When a manufacturer takes the fat out of a product, something else needs to be added to make it tasty enough for you to you want to eat it. In most cases, sugar takes the place of fat. This is great for the product maker because sugar and fat act as a preservative, which increases shelf life of their product. But it’s bad for consumers who aren’t on to their swap.
Also, because ‘light’ products are low in fat and high in sugar, they do not contain enough substance to fill you up. Therefore, you could eat several servings of a product and not be full. Choose whole fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, which will fill you up without pumping your veins full of artificial sugars.
4) Overdoing it on fruit.
Healthy eating is a balance. True, fruit is a good substitute for processed sugar, but too much of a good thing is bad. Fruit is high in fructose, which does not seem to have any side-effects when used in reasonable amounts. However, it has been reported that the administration of fructose in large amounts induces hyperlipidemia.
5) Completely eliminating sugar all at once.
Cold turkey is usually not the way to handle a sugar addiction. Just like medication, sugar is best eliminated from the body when weaned from over time, especially if there are high amounts of sugar in your body currently. Symptoms of sugar withdrawals include headaches, mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, and eventually, the uncontrollable need to consume a large amount of sugar. Start by gradually reducing the amount of sugar you eat. Then, incorporate smarter food choices into place, such as an apple instead of your daily sugary coffee.
6) Falling for hidden sugars.
Sugar can be hidden under names that don’t sound like sugar at all. We all know to avoid high-fructose corn syrup, but what about barley malt? Or beet sugar? Or agave syrup? Chances are it will be stored in your body as most sugar is: as fat. Your best option is to go for foods that have no ingredients, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
7) Falling for sneaky sugars.
Sneaky sugars like to hide in products that you think wouldn’t contain sugar, such as condiments like ketchup, pickles, dressings, and sauces. Some restaurants like to hide their sugar, too. When in doubt, ask for a list of ingredients so you can see for yourself what is in your food. Some vitamin waters and sports drinks may hide their sugars. To avoid accidentally consuming a sugary beverage, stick with water. Don’t like it plain? Try these recipes here to make your water more delicious, naturally.
Brown, R., De Banate, M., & Rother, K. (2010). Artificial Sweeteners: A Systematic Review Of Metabolic Effects In Youth. International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, 305-312.
Nettleton, J., Lutsey, P., Wang, Y., Lima, J., Michos, E., & Jacobs, D. (n.d.). Diet Soda Intake And Risk Of Incident Metabolic Syndrome And Type 2 Diabetes In The Multi-Ethnic Study Of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care, 688-694.