News flash: We’re all dipped in honey and rolled in sprinkles. The average person shovels in 300 calories from added sugar every day, according to a report from the University of North Carolina. So it’s no wonder it seems like it would be impossible to stop eating sugar.
“Not only are we getting added sugar from obvious places like cakes, sweets, and soft drinks, but it’s also coming from healthier-sounding packaged products like salad dressing, pasta sauce, and yoghurt,” says Elyse Powell, one of the report’s coauthors and a doctoral researcher at UNC.
To be clear, by “added sugar” we’re talking about the super-processed sweet stuff you’d add to a batch of cookies, not the natural sugars found in whole fruit, veggies, and plain milk. The big take away from that UNC report: Most of us could stand to cut back on sugar.
Exactly what you’ll experience when you ditch the sweet stuff will depend on the size of your sugar habit; people on the high end of the sugar-consumption spectrum show addict-like withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, restlessness, and even depression, research has shown.
You can expect a few things to happen once you wrestle your sugar habit back into its cage.
1. You’ll Boost Your Heart Health
Your risk of dying from ticker-related trouble will plummet threefold, according to research from Dr. James J. DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist at St. Luke’s Mid-Atlantic Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri.
Why? “Added sugar chronically raises insulin levels, which activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood pressure and heart rate,” DiNicolantonio explains.
“Within a few weeks’ time, you might expect to see a 10 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol and a 20 to 30 percent decrease in triglycerides.” Your BP would head in the right direction, too, he says.
2. Your Skin Will Be Clear
Forget zits. Systemic inflammation is a known acne trigger. And sugar—wouldn’t you know it?—is inflammatory. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when non-soda-drinkers consumed one 60 ml can a day for three weeks, their inflammation levels increased by 87 percent.
Give up the fizzy drinks and other sweetened drinks and you might be waking up to smoother skin, the research suggests.
3. You’ll Sidestep Diabetes
Eating added sugar promotes the buildup of fatty deposits around your liver. These deposits contribute to insulin resistance and undermine the work done by your pancreas, which normally stalls the production of insulin, says Dr. Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.
In a study of sugar consumption in 175 nations, Dr. Lustig found that eating 150 calories of added sugar is 11 times more likely to contribute to the development of type two diabetes, compared with 150 calories from protein or fat. So swap that sugary granola for a handful of nuts, pronto.
4. You’ll Sleep When You Are Supposed To (For A Change)
The crash from a sugar high leaves you with mid-day sluggishness and an itching need for a nap. Also, added sugar triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which interferes with slumber, Dr. Lustig says.
Give up added sugar, and you should be more awake and alert during the day, and also better prepared to catch some serious shuteye at bedtime.
5. You’ll Remember The Name Of Your Boss’s Husband
Battling brain fog? Sugar may be to blame. One animal study at UCLA concluded a diet high in added sugar hinders learning and memory. Over time, eating lots of sugar may actually damage communication among your brain’s cells, the study shows.
So when you’re eyeing the donuts in a morning meeting, tell yourself you’ll be sharper without the sugar.
6. You’ll Finally Lose That Extra 4.5kg
While you’ll probably replace some of those sugary calories with other foods—like trading a sugary granola bar for a handful of almonds—you won’t be eating as many calories overall, Powell says.
Scaling back your sugar habit by 200 calories a day could help you drop 4.5kg in five to six months. Now that’s sweet!