Sugar Detox Challenge

There’s some sour news about the sweet stuff. Excess consumption of sugar can lead to an increased risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other serious health conditions. Take this challenge to reduce the amount of sugar you consume – you’ll feel healthier, and if you stick with it, you may just extend your life.

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There’s no sugarcoating the facts. Excess sugar consumption puts your body in danger of many potentially fatal conditions.

Below are the top 4 reasons why sugar should get the boot from your diet.

  1. High Blood Pressure - Normal nitric oxide levels keep blood vessels healthy and open. Too much sugar in your diet decreases nitric oxide levels, causing blood vessels to become narrow, which causes high blood pressure and an increased risk for cardiac disease.
  2. High Cholesterol - People who consume too much sugar are more likely to have lower levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, higher levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, and higher levels of triglycerides, or blood fats. This clogs up arteries and blood vessels, leading to heart disease.
  3. Liver Disease - A diet high in sugar is believed to exacerbate fatty liver disease. Too much sugar spikes insulin and drives fat into the liver cells, which causes inflammation and scarring, eventually causing the liver to become cirrhotic.
  4. Insulin Resistance - When sugar enters the body, insulin opens the door to allow sugar into the cells. However, when there are continuous sugar spikes, insulin becomes less effective. Sugar can’t get into the cells and become “stuck” in the body, producing toxic effects that lead to obesity and the threat of diabetes.

The average American consumes 24 pounds of artificial sweeteners each year. Sugar substitutes are added to nearly 6,000 products sold in the US, including baby foods, frozen dinners and even yogurts.

Carefully Consider the Alternatives

Examine the health risks linked to artificial sweeteners. They’re not always the healthier option.

  • Sucralose (includes Splenda brand) – It is 500 times sweeter than sucrose, stored in body fats, and does not affect blood sugar levels. Its use is too new to know the long-term effects, but it appears the most promising and is the best one for cooking.
  • Aspartame (includes Equal, Nutrasweet brands) – Several studies have found it has adverse health effects. This sweetener stays in your body longest, and it cannot be heated – or it turns into formaldehyde.
  • Saccharin (includes Sweet’N Low brand) – Long-term data suggest it may be one of the safest sweeteners, even if some of the data is not positive.

Hunt down hidden sugars hiding in your cabinets and pantry. Throw away foods containing high amounts of added sugars, everything from tomato sauces to ketchup and peanut butter. Be especially wary of low-fat items as they often contain more sugar to make them taste better.

Eliminate Hidden Sugars

When purging your kitchen, be on the look out for these names:

  • Fructose
  • Maltose
  • Sorbitol
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Syrups
  • Xylotol
  • Sugars ending in "ol" or "ose"

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day. That equals about a 100 calories worth of sugar. Unfortunately, it’s less than the sugar in one candy bar or can of soda. This doesn’t include all the natural sources of sugar from fruits, some vegetables and even some whole grains. Many Americans consume close to a whopping 22 teaspoons a day.

Cut Your Consumption

Instead of buying and consuming processed foods that include sugar, try buying healthier and whole-food alternatives with low or no added sugar. You can add up to one 1 teaspoon of sugar to these foods. This puts you in control of the amount of sugar you’re consuming.

The average American drinks 53 gallons of soda a year; if it's regular soda, that comes to about 49 pounds of sugar. Soda is loaded with caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup, and it's making Americans sick. In addition to contributing to weight gain, soda increases your risk of diabetes, bone weakening and tooth decay.

Cut Out the Soda

Whatever amount of soda you are currently drinking, cut it in half. If you drink 6 sodas a day, decide which 3 are the most important to you and eliminate the other 3. Next week, cut it in half again. Continue on like this until you have eliminated soda from your diet.

By reducing your soda consumption by just 1 can a day, studies show that you can improve your blood pressure. Using fresh spices and herbs can trick taste buds into thinking you’re eating something sinfully sweet.

Trick Your Taste Buds

Try adding cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla or allspice to your coffee, cereals and baked goods.

In addition, some of these natural alternative sweeteners may also do the trick.

  • Honey - Unlike white table sugar, honey is a complex food. One teaspoon contains 25 other compounds including proteins, amino acids and trace minerals.
  • Agave - A distilled sweetener derived from the blue agave cactus, agave has a low glycemic index.
  • Stevia - A low-calorie sweetener that comes from a plant native to Paraguay and Brazil, stevia is 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so a little goes a long way.

Though eating as few simple sugars as possible is the goal, if you do eat them, there is a right and wrong way to do so. Never eat high-sugar foods by themselves.

Keep Your Sugar Under Control

When not eaten with other substances like fat or protein, sugar consumption can cause blood sugar spikes. Pair sugars with nuts or some olive oil and bread first. This slows your stomach from emptying and will keep sugar levels stable.

Challenge yourself to kick the sweet stuff by joining Sharecare's Sugar Detox Challenge