Cutting Out Added Sugar: Just Another Trend or the Real Deal?
By Lily Sanders
A lot of people have a sweet tooth, but I definitely fall on the more severe end of the spectrum.
Sometime last month I truly reached my limit, after consuming a bulk container of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans over the course of two days at work. I became unbearably caffeinated in the process and knew I had hit a breaking point.
In all seriousness, my family has a long and troublesome history with Type 2 diabetes; I experience a great deal of sluggishness, and my skin is prone to the occasional breakout, so I decided to test the waters and put myself on a week-long added sugar detox.
Added sugars are defined as any sugar not naturally occurring in fruit or other foods. These include ingredients like fructose sweetener, agave, maple syrup, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, and white sugar, according to guidelines set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
To not get too focused on the minutiae of it all, I will save the bore of listing everything I ate, but instead, highlight my takeaways.
1. Sugar is literally in everything
Most people account for the sugar they consume from the ice cream they ate for dessert, but a lot of added sugar is found in sneaky culprits. During the course of the week, I found myself unable to use most of the condiments in my fridge, prepackaged snack foods were off-limits, and I even noticed while at the grocery store that it was an ingredient in some deli meats. Finding alternatives was doable at more health-oriented grocery stores, but a follower of this diet might have a hard time finding items at your average Giant or Acme. The substitutes also did not always taste the best. While natural peanut butter is admittedly much healthier, as a devout Skippy fan it did not live up to my expectations.
2. This lifestyle ain’t cheap
To save money, someone following this diet could make items that typically include sugar at home, but that is not very feasible for people with busy schedules. Buying organic alternatives to things like ketchup and switching out white bread for sprouted bread becomes costly. This is also the case for eating at take-out restaurants. One day, I purchased a smoothie at an organic market that was around $8, whereas an entire meal at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s are offered at half the price. It is simply an unfortunate reality of the food industry.
3. The energy was rolling
As schoolwork starts to pile on, some people turn to stress eating as a coping mechanism. My freezer is stocked with Halo Top for my periodic meltdowns. However, sugary and carb-filled food can make matters worse. The brain’s orexin system controls feelings like sleepiness and hunger. In a study by The Scripps Research Institute, sugar has shown to make orexin cells less active. With a healthier diet, I felt much more mentally acute and less groggy when I woke up. I found going through the motions of my day to be far less difficult than usual. I began going on my daily run as soon as I woke up, as opposed to waiting until the evening.
4. The sugar addiction is real
Before I started feeling good on a sugar-free diet, I immediately felt worse. I did not realize how much I relied on treating myself to a Snickers bar or ice cream after completing a strenuous task. There is a large debate over whether or not sugar can actually be classified as an addiction in the scientific and psychiatric communities, nonetheless it becomes a habit. During the experiment, fresh fruit and on-the-go snacks like dried mango became my saving grace.
All in all, cutting out sugar from your diet is not impossible, but it definitely has its caveats. It is important to be mindful of what you eat, but this sort of hypervigilance is not especially feasible for everyone.
More than the physical effects, I found myself being most alarmed by the inaccessibility of following this sort of meal plan. The CDC notes that sugar consumption is highest in those who are physically inactive, low-income, and smoke, whereas the demographic with the highest intake are black adults. Cutting out sugar for me was difficult mentally, but my “struggles” pale in comparison to people that struggle due to affordability and access.
The American Heart Association states that the average person consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day, on top of natural sugar intake. Consuming obscene amounts of sugar has become an unfortunate reality for Americans. Cutting out added sugar is a real test of self-discipline, but one worthy of trying out.