A pile of sugar

The Bittersweet Truth About Sugar

February 25, 2022

Human beings are biologically built to enjoy sugar, but the way it can affect our health makes it a double-edged sword. From being found in drinks and cereal additives to dressings and other processed foods, sugar now feels like a staple of the American diet. However, research has shown that consuming too much of it can complicate weight loss and lead to a variety of other unsavory health issues, such as insulin resistance.

The American Heart Association reports that, on average, Americans consume 57 pounds of sugar each year, so if you've had trouble quitting sugar - or even just reducing your sugar intake - you're far from alone. Fortunately, Katherine Carithers, MHA, RD, LDN, the clinical nutrition manager at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, has some great advice for anyone looking to give up sugar.

What makes sugary foods so hard to give up?

Katherine Carithers (KC): Sugary foods are very palatable. People like to eat them because they taste good, they get a little energy boost, and many sugary foods are associated with happy and celebratory times. Humans were not made to consume the abundance of sugar that is easily available in our processed foods; however, many people have a challenging time turning down sugary foods when they are available to them.

How can sugar negatively impact your health?

KC: Too much sugar in your diet can lead to weight gain and obesity. Sugar is pro-inflammatory and can lead to serious disease states, like diabetes and heart disease.

Do you have any tips for people who'd like to cut sugar from their diet?

KC: It is best for people to analyze their diets and see where they can make the biggest impact on reducing sugar intake. One common recommendation is to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. This can be a useful strategy, but may not be enough for people who eat a lot of sugar versus drink their calories. Some people find that they crave sweets in the afternoon, or when they come home from work, or when relaxing in the evening. Others may find that their breakfast choices are laden with sugar. It can be helpful to seek the advice of a registered dietitian who can perform a nutrition assessment and help you determine where sugar may be hiding in your diet.

Is eating table sugar the same as eating foods containing natural sugar, like fruits?

KC: While processed food with sugar and fruit both contain sugar, people should not fear natural sources of sugar within whole foods. Fruit contains other beneficial antioxidants, vitamins, phytonutrients, and fibers. People are also less likely to binge on fruit compared to candy or other snacks. Keeping fruit intake to about two cups per day is consistent with a healthful diet pattern.

If you have questions about how to reduce your sugar intake and improve your diet, speak to your primary care doctor or seek out a dietician.