If you don't live under a rock, then you're probably well aware that cutting back your sugar intake is good for your health. The World Health Organization recommends reducing our free or added sugar intake to 10 percent of our calories per day. This means significantly limiting sources of added sugars like refined sugar, honey, brown sugar, agave, maple syrup, and the like. So if you want to cut back on sugar, here are the pros and cons (don't get too excited about the cons!).
The Pros of a Low-Sugar Diet
You might drop some lbs and slash fat.
News flash: Stop drinking sugary sodas. Research suggests that greater intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages (the leading source of added sugar in our diet) are significantly linked to an increased risk of obesity. It also seems that the type of fat on our body matters. We know that visceral abdominal fat (the fat that accumulates around vital organs around our gut) is more dangerous to our health than subcutaneous fat, and a 2016 study found that higher amounts of sugar-sweetened drinks were linked specifically to belly fat.
It is better for your heart.
Reducing your intake of added sugars may help lower high blood pressure, reduce bad LDL cholesterol, and raise good HDL cholesterol, all of which help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. One 2014 study found that those who consumed 17-21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of death from heart disease compared with those who consumed 8 percent of their calories from the sweet stuff. That's a big difference.
It may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
While sugar doesn’t necessarily “cause” diabetes, research suggests that an excess of sugar, particularly from sweetened beverages, does significantly increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
It might help reduce your risk of cancer.
It’s not written in stone that sugar “feeds” cancer, but we do know that cutting back on the sweet stuff may help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and prostate cancer.
It may keep your immune system strong.
Early research suggests that there may be a correlation between sugar and our white blood cell count. One study found that eating just 100 grams of sugar reduced our white blood cells' ability to kill off bacteria by as much as 50 percent.
It may improve your own mental health.
Dessert may seem like a quick pick-me-up, but research suggests that excess sugar from sweets and drinks increase the risk of mental disorders and depression.
Your skin may shine and get that natural glow.
Sugar damages the collagen and elastin in our skin that helps prevent wrinkles and fine lines. It also appears to set off an inflammatory response that causes acne and psoriasis in some individuals. Ditch it for the glow.
It might improve cognitive function.
Early research suggests that a high-sugar diet may play a role in damaging the specific areas of the brain involved in memory formation through inflammation, increasing the risk of dementia, Alzheimer's, and other neurological diseases.
You may slash cravings... for good.
While the concept of “sugar addiction” is controversial, it makes sense that when we cut back on the sweet stuff, our palate just adjusts. In fact, research suggests that a low-sugar diet makes food taste sweeter so you just want less of the sweet stuff over time.
You’ll spend less money on dental work.
Mom was right about sugar rotting your teeth. Sugar is the preferred fuel for the bacteria that loves to cause cavities, plaque, and bad breath in your mouth so cutting back may slash your dental bills quite a bit.
You’ll boost your energy.
Added sugars spike your blood sugar and then send you crashing shortly after, so replacing the white stuff with more protein, fiber, or healthy fats can help stabilize your energy levels all day.
You’ll slash your risk of asthma.
Early research suggests that an inflammatory diet rich in added sugars may increase the risk of asthma, so cutting back may help you breathe easier.
The Cons of a Low-Sugar Diet
Reading labels for free sugars may be tough.
A lot of surprising foods are sneaky sources of added sugars, so you may find yourself spending a lot of time reading labels and ingredients. For some busy families, this may become tricky, but do your best to keep an eye out for (and avoid) any labels that have cane sugar, surculose, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, evaporated cane juice, and malt syrup (and that's just to name a few).
You actually might need it for hardcore workouts.
When it comes to high-intensity exercise, carbs are actually good—and necessary. Whether you’re eating a complex carb (like brown rice) or a simple one (the honey on your Greek yogurt), your body breaks it down into glucose—and that liquid sugar coursing through your veins is the preferred fuel source for your muscles. If you're training for a marathon or triathlon, you'll probably want to avoid a low-sugar diet. But also, don't just eat a Snickers between workouts.
- Risk of disordered eating thoughts and behaviors
Like with any diet, following a low-sugar regimen carries the risk of becoming an obsession, which can easily spiral into disordered eating territory in the form of orthorexia. While cutting back on sugar isn’t terribly restrictive, if taken to an extreme, it may interfere with your ability to enjoy your life. If you feel like you may be struggling with disordered eating, speak to your health care professional about getting help.
Want to know more about getting started on a low-sugar diet? Check out these seven ways to cut back.