Mayo Clinic Minute: Take the sugar challenge
I Tried A No-Added-Sugar Challenge For A Month—Here's What Happened
I have always laughed at people who suggest, in all seriousness, that fruit should be considered dessert. A slice of chocolate cake is dessert. Talenti banana chocolate swirl ice cream is dessert. But apples and peanut butter? Or frozen grapes? Insert eye roll here.
And yet, I found myself making a bowl of blueberries topped with unsweetened Greek yogurt and cinnamon as a nightcap multiple times over the past month, all in an effort to avoid added sweeteners (including artificial ones—more on that later) for 31 days.
Let me back up a bit. By the end of last year, I craved Halo Top or ice cream most nights after dinner...and gave into that craving more often than I'd like to admit.
So I decided to take control of the situation by doing the sugar-holic's equivalent of dry January: a no-added-sugar January.
The "added" part is key—fruit and other foods with naturally occurring sugars were okay. The USDA recommends getting no more than 10% of your calories from added sugars—which comes out to a max of 40 grams if you're eating about 1,600 calories a day. (The average American exceeds that daily limit by about 30%, according to the most recent stats.)
Whereas a banana's sugar comes with nutrients like potassium and fiber, the high-fructose corn syrup in something like soda is just empty calories. "They don't really give your body anything of value," says Angela Lemond, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And, bummer alert, they can put you at a higher risk for scary conditions like diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
MORE: My UTI Turned Out To Be Bladder Cancer
Artificial sweeteners (like aspartame or stevia) and alcohol sugars (like erythitrol) aren't necessarily better. While anything approved by the FDA is, in fact, safe, Lemond says these sugar substitutes can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. She adds that some research suggests artificial sweeteners may increase cravings for sweet foods. (Hmmm, so perhaps my semi-recent diet soda habit had something to do with my adult-onset sweet tooth?)
My goal with this challenge was to "reset" my taste buds so that I didn't feel like such a slave to my cravings—and Lemond says I was onto something: "We crave what we eat, so if we start slowly changing the types of foods that we’re eating, you’re going to find that your taste buds will change."
I figured that if I noticed any other positive effects in the process, hey, all the better.
So I had one last cookie on New Year's Eve and braced myself. Here's how my month of no-added-sugars went.
I spent a lot of time getting cozy with ingredient lists
As someone who's covered health and nutrition for years, I knew that I was going to have to avoid more than just candy and cookies since many foods that don't taste sweet secretly pack sugar. Still, I had to brush up on all of the different names for added sugar (there are more than 50!)—and spend a lot of time googling ingredients I didn't recognize.
At restaurants, I was the annoying person who asked if there was a menu listing all of the ingredients in each dish. But these steps were so necessary.
MORE: 7 Foods Added Sugar Labels Will Totally Ruin For You
Name a food, and you can probably find a packaged or restaurant version that contains added sugar—including soups, sauces, salad dressings, sandwich bread, even roasted veggies at health-food restaurants (remember: honey is a form of added sugar, too—and it doesn't have as much nutritional value as we've been led to believe, Lemond says). In fact, sometimes it was nearly impossible to find convenience foods that didn't contain "evaporated cane juice" or "maltose" (I'm looking at you, turkey bacon and sandwich bread).
Video: We Tried A 14-Day No Sugar Challenge 🙅🏾🍩🙃
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