I love my job for many reasons, but a major perk of writing for Eat This, Not That! is that I have been able to learn a tremendous amount about living a healthy, balanced life from expert dietitians and doctors. One topic that our team writes about quite often is added sugar and its relationship to things like diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, and accelerated aging.
Added sugar is a major topic of conversation among researchers and experts everywhere. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Dietary Guidelines for 2020-2025 mention four major guidelines for healthy living: 1) follow a healthy dietary pattern, 2) customize nutrient-dense food to meet cultural traditions and preferences, 3) focus on meeting food group needs and stay within calorie limits, and 4) limit foods and beverages high in added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.
In the Healthy People 2030 Guidelines, which is the CDC’s project for improving health and well-being over the next decade, cutting back on added sugar is at the very top of a list of 23 leading health indicators.
Talking with experts and reading research about the excessive amounts of added sugars hidden in some of our favorite foods has definitely made me more aware, but it wasn’t until recently when I was enjoying a homemade margarita with friends, that I was truly hit with a rude, sugary awakening.
As I was sipping on my delicious margarita, I remembered that earlier in the day I had written a piece about added sugar and had learned that the recommended daily limit was much smaller than I had realized. in fact, the USDA recommends less than 10% of your daily calorie intake come from added sugar (that’s 50 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet), and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 25 grams or 100 calories of added sugar for women (36 grams or 150 calories for men).
This information was swirling through my head, so I decided to take a quick glance at the nutrition label of the margarita mix we used to make our drinks. I was shocked to learn that in one 4-ounce serving of mix was a whopping 24 grams of added sugar. With two margaritas, I had nearly doubled the AHA’s recommended limit, not to mention the added sugar I must have consumed earlier in the day.
At that moment I decided that it may be beneficial to see how much added sugar I was really consuming on a regular basis, and find out if it was possible for me to cut back in order to meet the recommended limits.
First, I wanted to see how much I was consuming
I tracked my added sugar consumption for about three days to get an idea of how much I was eating on average. Here’s an example of what I was eating and how much sugar I consume on a regular day.
Breakfast: 16 grams of added sugar
- Dave’s Killer English Muffin (2 grams)
- 2 eggs (0 grams)
- Aidell’s Chicken and Apple sausage (3 grams)
- 1 Tablespoon of ketchup (4 grams)
- Espresso with Chobani Oat Milk (7 grams)
Lunch: 12 grams of added sugar
- Carolina Gold Rice (0 grams)
- Sauteed peppers and onions (0 grams)
- Chicken thighs (0 grams)
- Good & Gather Sweet Sesame Cooking Sauce ( 7 grams)
- Salad greens with Annie’s Organic Thousand Island Dressing (5 grams)
Afternoon snack: 30 grams of added sugar
- Iced vanilla latte (about 28 grams)
- Trader Joe’s Dry Roasted and Salted Pistachios (2 grams)
Dinner: 19 grams of added sugar
- Alexia Sweet Potato Fries (4 grams)
- Roasted veggies and salmon with EVOO (0 grams)
- 1 St. Agrestis Phony Negroni (15 grams)
Total grams of added sugar in one day: 77
I was shocked at how much added sugar I was consuming on a regular basis, especially because I feel as though I eat a relatively healthy and balanced diet. Plus, I didn’t even eat dessert that day!
I noticed that the sneakiest items were beverages like the iced vanilla latte and the Phony Negroni. It’s easy for me, and I’m sure many other people, to forget to take my drink choices into consideration. But as you can see, these played a huge role in increasing my total count for the day.
I wanted to try cutting back on sugar for just one week, and knowing that I was going to have to take 77 grams of added sugar down to around 25 felt like quite a daunting task. However, the way my body and mind felt after a week ended up absolutely being worth it.
Then I stuck to the recommended amount of added sugar
The AHA and the CDC have slightly different numbers for recommended added sugar intake, but because the AHA’s is a bit lower, I wanted to attempt theirs to see if I was able to accomplish it. Here is an example of what a day looked like with me trying to cut back on sugar.
Breakfast: 3 grams of added sugar
- Dave’s Killer English Muffin (2 grams)
- 2 eggs (0 grams)
- Aidell’s Italian Style Chicken Sausage (1 gram)
- Sir Kensington’s Avocado Swimsuit (0 grams)
- Double espresso (0 grams)
Lunch: 2 grams of added sugar
- Green bamboo rice (0 grams)
- Veggie stir fry with shrimp (0 grams)
- Coconut aminos (2 grams)
- Salad greens with Primal Kitchen Green Goddess Dressing (0 grams)
Afternoon snack: 17 grams of added sugar
- Iced vanilla latte with just one pump of vanilla (about 9 grams)
- Chobani Greek Yogurt with peanut butter and Good & Gather Vanilla Bean Granola (8 grams)
Dinner: 4 grams of added sugar
- Homemade sweet potato fries (0 grams)
- Chicken thighs sauteed with EVOO (0 grams)
- Roasted eggplant with seasoning and EVOO (0 grams)
- Poppi Raspberry Rose Soda (4 grams)
Total grams of added sugar in one day: 26
I stuck to a similar pattern of eating that I usually have because this is what works for me and my schedule, but I made some adjustments to cut back on sugar. I gave up oat milk for my coffee in the morning, although if you didn’t like black coffee you could certainly find non-dairy milk options without added sugar.
I looked for condiments and salad dressings that didn’t use added sugar because that was one of the sneakier ways I learned I was consuming added sugar throughout the day. I switched out my sugary drink at dinner for a low-sugar “soda” and made adjustments on how much vanilla I get in my afternoon iced vanilla latte.
Overall the adjustments weren’t too difficult, but it definitely forced me to be more mindful of what I was consuming, and it does require a bit more planning upfront.
After one week, I felt amazing
After just one week of cutting back on added sugar, I have to admit that I feel drastically better in multiple ways. Here are some specific things I noticed after changing up my sugar intake.
I had more energy throughout the day
For one, I have way more energy to sustain me throughout the day, and I notice less of that afternoon slump feeling in the middle of the work day. This in turn actually helped me consume less caffeine, too. On days when I may not be eating as well and feeling more tired, I often turn to one too many cups of coffee to get me by, which then contributes to more of an afternoon slump. But I’ve noticed that the less added sugar I eat, the more natural energy I have.
I felt less brain fog and was in a better mood.
I also feel less brain fog throughout the day and an overall elevated mood, which may also go hand in hand with having more energy. Brain fog-especially in the afternoon-is something I’ve always struggled with, so feeling clearer headed and a bit lighter mood-wise helped me to be more productive and stick to my schedule more easily.
The way that added sugar impacts my mood and brain isn’t surprising, given the fact that a lot of research has pointed to diets higher in sugar contributing to higher risk of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. There’s actually one study that found participants who consumed more than 67 grams of sugar per day, which you saw from my experiment isn’t that much, had a 23% higher chance of developing depression than those who ate 40 grams or less.
My skin looked better than ever.
I’ve noticed changes in my physical appearance as well and have noticed less skin flushing and redness in my face. I think that if I were to continue eating less added sugar that my face would clear up even more, but I was shocked to see such a drastic change even after just a few days.
Eating too much added sugar can impact your skin in a few different ways. For one, a high-sugar diet is known to impact your gut health, which can also lead to more acne and other common skin conditions. Diets higher in added sugar are also known to speed up the skin aging process.
I didn’t have as much bloating.
The inflammation in my body has decreased a bit, as well as the bloating in my abdominal area. I would imagine that this has to do a lot with my gut health improving, especially because along with less bloating, I noticed more regular digestion as well.
Noticing such significant changes in my mind and body after just a little over a week of cutting back on added sugar shows me how crucial it is to monitor the sugar we are consuming. It’s a doable venture with a little bit of planning and one that has made me feel significantly better.