There are a few topics in nutrition (okay maybe more like several) that never fail to get people fired up. Sugar is a big one.
Should you do a sugar detox?
I’m just going to say it – cutting out sugar is not sustainable for most people.
I was even hesitant when we dedicated one day to avoiding added sugar in our Detoxify Your Life Challenge. I’m more of a moderation kind of girl, you know?
Ultimately, I decided that there is some value in taking one day off of added sugar. First of all, doing this will give you some perspective on the foods you’re eating on a regular basis. Are you eating more added sugar than you think? And who knows, maybe you’ll make some connections between added sugar and your mood or energy levels.
I know one day is just…one day. It’s not a sugar “detox.” But I’m still interested in seeing what you notice! After this mini experiment, the goal is not to obsessively check labels and feel guilty every time you eat sugar. The goal is to recognize where the added sugar in your diet is coming from, and to learn a simple way to practice mindfulness.
‘Added Sugar’ vs ‘Natural Sugar’
You may have noticed that I’ve been saying “added” sugar over and over, and not just “sugar.” Sugar is naturally in a lot of healthy foods, like fruit. I’m very much team fruit.
Added sugar is just like it sounds. It’s not naturally occuring in a food, but is added during processing. Some examples of added sugars you may see on a label include brown sugar, can sugar, corn syrup, malt syrup, honey, and molasses.
Wait, I thought honey was natural?
Confusing, I know. Honey is naturally occurring, but also still considered an added sugar. The same goes for maple syrup and agave.
However, there is an exception for 1-ingredient foods. In other words, a jar of honey or bottle of maple syrup won’t be labeled with added sugar.
Also, it’s not that honey isn’t healthy – it’s just technically an added sugar in most cases.
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Sneaky foods with added sugar (sometimes)
We know stuff like candy, ice cream, and an venti Iced Caramel Macchiato have a lot of added sugar. But there are some less obvious foods to be aware of too.
It’s often these “sneaky” foods that cause us to eat more added sugar than we realize.
Breakfast bars, granola bars, protein bars, you name it. These are notorious for being higher in added sugar than you might think. I was just watching a reel by RD Kacie Barnes (AKA @mamaknowsnutrition) that compares Nutrigrain Bars to Oreos. Both have basically the same amount of added sugar – 12g for 1 bar, and 13g for 2 Oreos.
This is not to say “stop eating bars” …or even Oreos. I love Oreos. It’s just a little food for thought to help you out when you’re buying snacks for yourself and your family.
What’s a good option? Here’s what I look for:
- 10g or less added sugar
- At least 3 grams of fiber
- at least 4 grams of protein (at least 8 grams if you’re looking for a true protein bar)
I love yogurt because it’s so accessible and portable. It’s a great source of nutrients and probiotics, but can also be a great source of… added sugar.
The culprits are usually flavored yogurts – especially those “fruit on the bottom” varieties (this one has 15g per serving) and anything that resembles a dessert (the ones with cookie crumbles ARE tasty, but…yeah. Full of added sugar).
Again, I’m not saying to avoid these at all costs. I know the Trader Joe’s yogurt I love is not the best option out there, but I still buy it occasionally. If you want to lower the amount of added sugar you’re taking in, start glancing at the label and try to get something with 10g of sugar total or less.
Tip: Most of the time I buy plain, unflavored yogurt and then flavor it myself with berries (heat them up so they become jammy) or honey.
I LOVE smoothies. No one here is demonizing smoothies. But when it comes to added sugar, we need to be aware of certain options. I’m talking about the bottled smoothies at your grocery store, and some choices on the menu at your local smoothie shop.
This Protein Plus Smoothie has 25 grams of added sugar.
This Acaí Antioxidant Smoothie doesn’t specify added sugar on the label, but has 53 grams of total sugar. If you look closely, there is raspberry sherbet in the smoothie, plus sugar listed more than once on the detailed nutrition label.
It’s not a shock to learn that ketchup, barbecue sauce, and some salad dressings are pretty sugary, but people often underestimate how much they’re getting. Why? Because they underestimate how big their portions actually are.
Two tablespoons is smaller than you might think when it comes to sauces and salad dressings. Of course it depends on the brand, but some barbecue sauces have 16 grams of added sugar in 2 tablespoons. You can get 8 grams of added sugar in 2 tablespoons of ketchup, and 8 grams per 2 Tbsp of poppyseed salad dressing.
Ah granola, why do you have to be so sneaky? Not only do some granolas contain crazy amounts of added sugar, but the serving size of most granola is wayyy smaller than what we’re actually consuming.
Who could blame us? Granola is delicious.
Here’s the good news – granola can be a great source of protein and fiber. So in my book, it can get a pass.
How much added sugar per day is too much?
The Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2020-2025 recommend that everyone age 2 and older limit added sugar to less than 10% of their total daily calories. For someone eating 2000 calories per day, this comes out to be about 50 grams of added sugar.
To put this in perspective, the average American eats closer to 70 grams per day. One 12-oz can of Coca Cola contains 39 grams of added sugar.
Should you do a sugar detox?
I don’t think a sugar detox is sustainable for most. However, I do see the value in trying it for a day, just to gain some perspective.
Although I think it’s great to be mindful about added sugar in your everyday diet, I’d argue that many of us could be putting more energy towards getting MORE of certain nutrients into our diets. For example, fiber. Most of us aren’t getting enough!
If checking the label for added sugar feels overwhelming or becomes something you obsess over, it’s okay to let it go. Focus on adding color to your meals, incorporating more variety, or maybe eating enough throughout the day (because you may not be if you’re craving sweets at night!).