Many of us are already trying to avoid sugar, because we know it’s really bad for our health. It’s even been called (by us and others) themost addictive substance in our diets.
But what if you found out that isn’talways the case – what if we told you that most foods contain some amount of natural sugars that might not be harmful, and in many cases, might actuallysupport your health? The truth is, sugar occurs naturally in a number of foods, including all fruits, vegetables, and even in some grains.
We also know that natural foods, especiallyorganic vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fruits are, in large part, really healthy and very important to our health and wellbeing. We also know foods that containadded sugar, such as candy, cookies, soda, etc. have a ton of sugar, and even a little bit of added sugar is harmful to our health.
Here’s where the sugar discussion really gets confusing: there are times you might think you’re eating something healthy because a packaged food you purchased claims to be “low-sugar.” The “low-sugar” label is there to provide a sense of security; a false sense that what you are eating is healthy, when in reality it is anything but healthy.
In fact, in several cases, we are finding that foods claiming to be low-sugar are highly processed and contain additives, preservatives, andartificial sweeteners that act as sugar substitutes – and often these foods are known contributors to a number of really serious health issues, includingdiabetes,weight gain,low energy, andchronic inflammation.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends Americans get less than 10% of their daily calories from sugar; that works out to be 13 teaspoons of sugar a day! Now, if that seems like a lot (and it is), then consider this: currently, Americans, on average, consumenearly 43 teaspoons, or over 1/3 of a pound, of sugar per day. That’s over three times the recommended amount. That’s not just a lot: it’s an absolutely ridiculous amount of sugar! Interestingly, most people have absolutely no idea they are actually consuming that much sugar and there’s a reason for that.
Sugar can be a stealthy ingredient, it's often foundhiding under a number of different names and disguises. And if you aren’t sure what to watch out for, you’re not alone. Most people aren’t familiar with the many disguises of sugar, but beware: all that hidden sugar, hiding within foods and beverages labeled “low sugar” is extremely detrimental to your health and contributes to a number of today’s most chronic health issues which can produce serious, and even deadly results over time.
Low Sugar: The Proof is in the Packaging
Next time you reach for something that claims to be “low sugar” (or low in anything, for that matter) take a good look at what the packaging looks like. Believe it or not, these foods typically come in a slimmed down, eye-catching package and that’s not a coincidence — manufacturers actually do this to trick you into believing what you’re about to consume is good for you… even when they know that is absolutely not true!
Take low-sugar, no-sugar, or even low-calorie beverages for example. Ever notice your favorite “skinny” drink comes in a tall, slim bottle, or even one that’s hourglass-shaped? Again – this isn’t done by accident, it’s all intentional and with one purpose in mind: to sell more products – often with no concern at all for your health or wellness.
Research has also shown us that people actually judge the caloric value of a product by the package in which it comes. So, if a company wants to cater to those looking for a low-sugar or low-calorie beverage, they’re going to package their product in a skinny bottle. In the subconscious mind of the consumer, a skinny bottle equals a better-for-you beverage. Same goes for a bottle that has an hourglass shape or is concave in the middle, meant to mirror the hourglass shape and indented waist of the female figure (as depicted by commercial beauty standards, however unfair and unrealistic those might be).
In all reality, the food or beverages contained within a tall, skinny, or concave package might not be healthier or have less sugar than something packaged in a wide or pear-shaped container. It might not be good for you at all. Always check the label first, and ignore the package shape.
Low Sugar Options: Less Isn’t Always Better
As with strategic packaging, foods with labels promoting how “skinny,” “low-calorie,” or “low-sugar” they are can be just as misleading. When one ingredient is taken out in order to make something low-sugar, something else is generally substituted in an attempt to make you feel like you’re eating the real (sugary) thing. Another trick with low-sugar foods is to load the product with dangerous artificial sweeteners and other additives, which are no more beneficial to your health than refined white sugar.
A better way to go is to avoid the “diet” product altogether and get the real stuff — just use portion control. Take ice cream, for instance; don’t bother with the “low-sugar” or “lite” or “sugar free” options. Go ahead and buy the one that is full-sugar, full-fat, and only contains all-natural ingredients. But here is the key:only eat a small portion.Remember, when used correctly, a product’s label could be your best friend. If you strictly adhere to the portion size, you’ll be able to occasionally indulge in the foods you like without the guilt and with fewer health implications.
Sugar Isn’t AllBad; But Remember, All Sugar Isn’t Good
Completely cutting sugar out of your life isn’t only unrealistic, it’s also not necessarily the best choice for your health. Again all fruits and even some vegetables contain sugar, as well as a host of nutrients that are beneficial to your health and help fight off illness and disease.
Curbing your sugar cravings by trying to eradicate it from your diet without a trace is a recipe for failure. Sugar found in carbohydrates breaks down into glucose which is fuel for your muscles duringexercise and as a regular part of ensuring your body hassufficient energy to fuel you throughout the day. You shouldn’t go overboard and indulge your sweet tooth all the time, but some sugarfrom natural sources will help your body function properly and in some cases, more efficiently.
While on the subject, be wary of theprotein bar. These may be fine post-workout if you’re on the go – but only if they are all-natural, plant-based, andnon-gmo. But don’t be misled by the hype surrounding the protein bar; make sure you look at the ingredients list where you may find things like cane syrup, barley malt extract, and brown rice syrup. Even though these are not labeled “sugar,” they each boost the actual sugar content of this supposedly healthy snack option faster than you can say brown rice syrup.
100% Juice Drinks: Sugar Bombs in a Bottle
Have you ever found yourself grabbing for a beverage that says “100% juice” somewhere on the bottle, believing it is good for you? Even when the color may be an unnatural shade of pink, purple, or blue? Several bottled smoothies claim to be made from “100% juice,” and while that might be true, the juices these smoothies are made of often have little to no nutritional value, and are almost always mostly apple juice or white grape juice — both of which have very little nutritional benefit.
When buying a bottled or store-bought smoothie, look for one that is made up of a mixture that’s more vegetable than fruit, and containshigh-fiber fruits like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and nutrient-dense vegetables like kale, arugula, or spinach. And be sure to play close attention the label and make sure it doesn’t have upwards of 300 calories per serving. While you are at it, check the sugar content, too. You want to look for a smoothie with around 20 grams of sugar or less, and, if possible, make sure the sugar is from natural sources (i.e. fruits) and that it contains zero added sugars or other artificial sweeteners.
Bottled or pre-made smoothies aren’t the onlysugar bombs in a bottle. Sports drinks and enhanced waters can also contain hidden amounts of sugar, even though they are purportedly more healthy than drinking a can of soda. By their very nature, something with “water” in the title should be healthy, right?
Making Vitamin Water or even Gatorade your go-to beverage of choice can be worse than snacking on a protein bar. These options may be fine if you need to refuel after a hard workout; but that’s about it.
While not as convenient as a bar or a smoothie, eating a handful of fresh fruit with some raw almonds or pumpkin seeds after a workout will yield more nutritional benefit, contain far less sugar, and are just better options than nearly any bottled smoothie, sports drink, protein bar or enhanced water on the market today. When it comes tohydration, we always recommend sticking to water as your go-to option, and if you are looking for a healthy alternative, sip organic antioxidant-rich hibiscus tea — it’s our favorite no calorie, no sugar, no caffeine alternative to water.
Don’t Lose Track of The Big Picture: Think Holistically
The most effective way to avoid the confusion surrounding misleading food labels and ensure the foods you eat are actually low-sugar, low-calorie and free of hidden sugars and other additives, is toeat whole foods that you prepare at home and in your own kitchen as muchas possible. Yes, part of the appeal with a lot of healthy, store-bought food options is their convenience, but you have absolutely no control over the ingredients they contain — the best thing for you to do, is to take matters into your own hands and prepare meals that are mostlyplant-based and sourced from whole foods right in your own home.
Reading labels and understanding sugar content is a great skill to acquire, but knowing exactly how much sugar is in your food because you actually prepared it is an even better way to regulate your sugar intake.
The whole idea is to become more aware of the foods you’re eating, paying close attention to the amount of sugar you are actually putting in your body and understanding how it actually affects your overall health. Like anything in life, you want to strive for balance: opting for portion control instead of low-sugar options, and always opting for fresh, natural whole foods options while avoiding “health” foods that are nothing more than fillers and sugars in disguise. And remember, the ultimate goal should be to work towards overall health without depriving yourself along the way — that’s the way to achieve lasting, healthy results.