Q: Why is sugar so bad for you? – Brian
A: We know, we know… how could something that tastes so good be bad? And how can you avoid it, when it’s a prime ingredient in fruits, vegetables and just about everything else?
Well, you asked a great question and the good news is that sugar itself is not that bad. The bad news: we tend to consume it in excess and in place of healthier foods—and that’s bad. Same goes for artificial substitutes.
Before you close your browser and write us off forever, we are going to tell you that sugar belongs in your diet. Right after we give you 3 reasons why it might not currently be doing you any favors:
1. When we eat sugar, we eat too much.
We’re not just pointing a finger at soda addicts and secret candy stash-ers. “Most Americans get more than 22 teaspoons a day of added sugar—or 355 calories,” Mayo Clinic reports. That’s half a cup a day, and way more than what the USDA recommends. Few even realize just how much sugar is in the food they eat.
That doesn’t mean we’re all victims, though. Not only does sugar sneak up on us, but sometimes we attack it full force. It makes some foods so delicious that you just have to keep eating… and before you know it, you’re a casualty of skyrocketing blood sugar, heart disease, diabetes, cavities or—and this is almost a guarantee—weight gain. Cheating isn’t always bad, but must follow the rules outlined in Cheat Your Way Thin.
2. When we eat sugar, we aren’t eating healthy foods.
Not only are the soda pop, specialty drinks and fruit juice (which has high sugar content) bad for you, but you’re having them instead of water and other nutritious beverages. Eating too few healthy foods is another cause of weight gain: your body isn’t getting the energy-packed, muscle-building, metabolism-boosting nutrients it needs.
Next time you’re craving a cola, try reaching for a protein or meal replacement shake instead. Not only will you get valuable nutrients, you’ll also fill up and be less tempted to gorge on sweets.
3. We trade sugar for equally unhealthy alternatives. Counterfeit substances tend to come with their own drawbacks, but people also misinterpret “sugar-free” as a green light to suck up soda, coffee drinks and other goodies like they’re going out of style. These “sugar-free” foods often have plenty of other unhealthy and calorie-laden ingredients. And the chemically-processed artificial sweeteners can be bad for you, too.
The most common sugar alternatives are NutraSweet and Equal (Aspartame), Sweet n’ Low (Saccharin) and Splenda (Sucralose)—and being FDA-approved does not mean they’re good for you. For one, your body doesn’t really know how to process them, whereas it can turn natural sugar into energy. There are other side effects, too. Natural substitutes like agave and stevia may be better for you.
You and sugar can still be friends.
You don’t have to completely cut it from your diet, and it would be pretty hard to: sugar is added to so many foods for flavor, texture, preservation or fermentation. When naturally included in “nutrient rich” foods, sugar (and its relatives: fructose, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, sucrose, glucose and molasses) can be OK.
Just look at added sugar and processed foods as your enemies, and consume them as infrequently as possible. Especially if you’re trying to get in shape. Here’s a killer list of overly processed foods, and what you can snack on instead.