Sugar. It is one of the primary ingredients in many of our favorite foods, and we eat a lot of it. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average person consumes almost 78 pounds of sugar per year, which is making a significant impact on our collective waistlines. Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows how difficult and frustrating it can be to slim down. We often hope there is a type of food, or food group that we can eliminate or cut back on that will allow the weight to come off more easily. Sugar seems like a likely culprit. After all, it is in candies, cakes, cookies, pies – foods that we know are high in calories and are not good for us. Can cutting out desserts help us reduce sugar from our diets, and subsequently, inches from our waistlines?
Does Sugar Cause Weight Gain?
Is there something about sugar, apart from its calories, that actually makes us gain weight? A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in January 2013 looked at the effect of sugar on weight gain and loss and found that reducing sugar resulted in a small, but significant weight loss. Researchers from University of Otago and the Riddet Institute in New Zealand examined the results of 71 studies performed on adults and children to measure the association between dietary sugar intake and body fat. Those who were advised to cut their sugar intake lost an average of 0.8 kg (1.76 lb), whereas those who were advised to increase their sugar intake gained an average of 0.75 kg (1.65 lb).
So does this mean that cutting back on sugar can help us lose weight? The authors concluded that the reported weight loss was most likely due to the reduction in total calories that occurred when participants cut back on sugary foods and drinks, not some physical change in the body or metabolism related to sugar. They noted, “When considering the rapid weight gain that occurs after an increased intake of sugars, it seems reasonable to conclude that advice relating to sugars intake is a relevant component of a strategy to reduce the high risk of overweight and obesity in most countries.”
Where Do We Get Sugar?
One reason it is so hard to reduce sugar from our diet is that it is hidden in so many foods and drinks, even items we think are healthy, such as fruit juice, fruit flavored yogurt, canned vegetables and even whole grain cereals we purchase at health food stores. It is also often hidden in many things you would not suspect, such as ketchup, salad dressings and other condiments. All of these items can contain added sugars.
Many adults also consume sugary sodas, fruit juice, energy drinks, and flavored waters on a daily basis. These items are calorie dense, meaning they pack a lot of calories into a small amount of food or drink. They are also not satiating, or filling and are consumed in addition to our daily meals. The sugar and calories can really add up, leading to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
The World Health Organization advises that sugar intake should comprise no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake, and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. Just one can of soda has 140 calories and a staggering 39 grams or 13 teaspoons of sugar. A small can of an energy drink averages 110 calories and 30 grams of sugar!
The researchers from the BMJ study advised that more effort be made to help people restrict their sugar intake, which includes implementing policies such as reducing serving sizes, putting taxes on sugar-laden drinks and restricting advertising of sugary drinks and snacks to children.
Cutting down on sugar can help you lose or maintain weight by reducing our overall calorie intake. Now that you know where sugars might be hiding in your diet, check the labels on the foods and drinks you enjoy so you can make healthier choices!