Sugar gets a bad rap – and for good reason. Eating sugar doesn't have many benefits. While it doesn’t cause cancer on its own or cause cancer to spread, the calories in sugar are empty calories. That means sugar doesn’t have any nutrients. Consuming too many calories in foods with lots of added sugar can lead to weight gain or even obesity, which has been tied to several types of cancer.
Because added sugar has no nutritional value and can pack on unwanted pounds, sugar detox diets – diets that eliminate all sugar – have gained popularity. Like any diet trend, there are pros and cons. So we talked to employee wellness dietitian Lindsey Wohlford to learn more about sugar detox.
Do you really need to do a sugar detox?
A lot of people try to cut all sugar from their diet at once, but that’s actually not possible. Sugar, or glucose, is the fuel our body requires to function. Vegetables, fruits, grains and beans all contain natural sugar. We just typically think of them as carbohydrates. But besides natural sugar, these foods have nutrients like fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants that are essential to a healthy diet and a strong immune system that can help you lower your cancer risk and fight off other infections. You definitely don’t want to cut them from your diet.
Instead, look for foods with added sugars and try to stay away from those.
What’s the difference between added sugar and the sugar found in whole foods?
Some foods contain sugar on their own, like fruits and vegetables. But many processed and packages food contain extra sugar, like the sugar you use when you bake a cake, or other sweeteners. The average American eats about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day. That’s way more than the recommended amount.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men.
While you can’t cut out sugar completely, it’s a great idea to try to cut back on sugar, especially added sugar. To know if a packaged food you’re eating contains added sugar check the ingredients on the food label.
What tips do you have for someone trying to cut back on sugar?
Start slow. Our bodies build up tolerance to sugar. We expect things to taste sweet. Cut back on sugar gradually. If you like sugar in your coffee, have you ever tried going without it? Did you like how it tasted? You probably found it too bitter. Instead of cutting all sugar and dramatically changing the way something tastes, gradually reduce it. Over time you won’t notice the change in taste as much and you’ll be more likely to successfully cut back on sugar.
Learn the sources and names for sugar. Processed and package foods can be loaded with added sugar. But they often don’t call it by that name. Instead, manufacturers use names like fructose and sucrose. Learn the other names for sugar. Then, get in the habit of reading nutrition labels to better understand how much sugar you’re consuming.
Cook at home. It’s hard to know exactly how much sugar is in the food you get eating out. By cooking your own food you can better control how much sugar you consume.
By watching your sugar intake, you may have better success maintaining a healthy weight – an important part of lowering your cancer risk.