The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Take on Our National Obsession with Added Sugars
With the release of the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines that take special aim at added sugars, particularly sugar-sweetened beverages, seems like a good time to consider what’s particularly toxic about this stuff. Let’s start with a few basics:
- Nutrient-wise, refined sugars add nothing of value to the diet.
- Excess sugar intake creates a strain on your pancreas’s ability to make insulin to regulate blood glucose levels within healthy levels, raising the risk of impaired glucose tolerance, which if untreated in the earlier stages may progress to Type 2 diabetes.
- Human bodies haven’t evolved to handle all these excess sugars that were rare throughout most of human history. The resulting overflow has created an eruption of physiologic and hormonal effects within the body, including chronic inflammation, which aggravates the risk of a host of chronic diseases like obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly cancer.
- Scientific research has specifically tied soda intake to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.
Even more striking, recent research suggests that genes aren’t fixed but may turn “off” and “on” based on our health exposures *. According to researchers from Harvard, diet, smoking, physical activity, sleep and stress to some degree may modify the expression of our genes. For example, data from the much-respected Nurse’s Health Study suggests that sugary beverages may “amplify” the effects of obesity genes, making it easier to gain weight. The theory that genes aren’t set in stone, but may be influenced by diet, activity and other health behaviors provides more support for adopting healthier diet and lifestyle habits, and the earlier in life this happens, the better.
It goes without saying, of course, that there’s a reason humans like sugar so much. It tastes good! Some people even describe themselves as “addicted” to sugar their attraction to it is so strong. For many, however, adapting to a less sugary lifestyle is possible, and, in my opinion, necessary if you live in a house with young children who look to you for guidance on what normal eating looks like. Some of the following tips may help you wean your sweet tooth from its daily fix:
- Gradually cut back on added sugars, starting with that sugar or syrup-infused beverage in the morning. Go from two packets of sugar , or ask your barista to cut from four pumps of flavored syrup to two. If you stick with this strategy long enough you will adjust. I’ve heard countless times from clients who have weaned back their sugar intake that on retrying their old sugar-loaded beverages were stunned at how sweet it tasted.
- Notice if eating a lot of sugar makes you want it more. Many will also notice that the less sugar they eat, the less they want it, likely because it reduces circulating levels of insulin, a hormone that can trigger sugar cravings.
- Be smart about how much access you allow yourself to your favorite sweet treats. Humans aren’t designed to resist sugar, so making it too available ups the ante that you’ll over-indulge.
- Try to appreciate sugary treats in small portions. Foods never taste as good after the first few bites, so try to savor a small portion.
- Sub in some whole fruits for some natural sweetness. Try a dollop of lowfat vanilla greek yogurt and a sprinkling of nuts on some cut fruit for a sweet but nutrient-rich dessert.
- Try to adopt a taste for dark chocolate, which may hit that chocolate-loving button in your brain without the same binge potential as milk chocolate.
Bottom line? Access is everything. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy your favorite sweets out there in the world without making it too easy by stocking your fridge or cabinets.