Written By Michael Greger M.D. FACLM on January 14th, 2020 by www.nutritionfacts.org
Recommendations on limiting sugar consumption vary around the world, with guidelines ranging from “limit sweet desserts to one every other day” to keep sugar consumption to 4 or less occasions per day.” In the United States, the American Heart Association is leading the charge, “proposing dramatic reductions in the consumption of soft drinks and other sweetened products” and recommending fewer than about 5 percent of calories a day from added sugars, which may not even allow for a single can of soda.
Why is the American Heart Association so concerned about sugar? “Over consumption of added sugars has long been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” meaning heart disease and strokes.
We used to think added sugars were just a marker for an unhealthy diet. At fast-food restaurants, for example, people may be more likely to order a cheeseburger with their super-sized soda than a salad.
However, the new thinking is that the added sugars in processed foods and drinks may be independent risk factors in and of themselves. Indeed, worse than just empty calories, they may be actively disease-promoting calories, which I discuss in my video Does Diet Soda Increase Stroke Risk as Much as Regular Soda?.
At 1:14 in my video, you can see a chart of how much added sugar the American public is consuming. The data show that only about 1 percent meet the American Heart Association recommendation to keep added sugar intake down to 5 or 6 percent of daily caloric intake. Most people are up around 15 percent, which is where cardiovascular disease risk starts to take off. There is a doubling of risk at about 25 percent of calories and a quadrupling of risk for those getting one-third of their daily caloric intake from added sugar.
Two hundred years ago, we ate an estimated 7 pounds of sugar annually. Today, we may consume dozens of pounds of sugar a year. We’re hardwired to like sweet foods because we evolved surrounded by fruit, not Froot Loops, but this adaptation is “terribly misused and abused” today, “hijacked” by the food industry for our pleasure and their profits.
“Why are we consuming so much sugar despite knowing too much can harm us?” Yes, it may have an addictive quality and there’s the hard wiring, but the processed food industry isn’t helping.
Seventy five percent of packaged foods and beverages in the United States contain added sweeteners, mostly coming from sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, which are thought responsible for more than a 100,000 deaths worldwide and millions of years of healthy life lost.
Given this, can we just switch to diet sodas? By choosing diet drinks, can’t we get that sweet taste we crave without any of the downsides? Unfortunately, studies indicate that “routine consumption of diet soft drinks is linked to increases in the same risks that many seek to avoid by using artificial sweeteners—namely type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome heart disease, and stroke.”
At 3:15 in my video, you can see data showing the increased risks of cardiovascular disease associated with regular soft drinks and also diet soda. They aren’t that dissimilar.
“In other words, the belief that artificially sweetened diet beverages reduce long-term health risks is not supported by scientific evidence, and instead, scientific data indicate that diet soft drink consumption may contribute to the very health risks people have been seeking to avoid.”
But, why? It makes sense that drinking all that sugar in a regular soft drink might increase stroke risk, due to the extra inflammation and triglycerides, but why does a can of diet soda appear to increase stroke risk the same amount? It’s possible that the caramel coloring in brown sodas like colas plays a role, but another possibility is that “artificial sweeteners may increase the desire for sugar-sweetened, energy-dense beverages/foods.”
The problem with artificial sweeteners “is that a disconnect ultimately develops between the amount of sweetness the brain tastes and how much glucose [blood sugar] ends up coming to the brain.” The brain feels cheated and “figures you have to eat more and more and more sweetness in order to get any calories out of it.” So, “as a consequence, at the end of the day, your brain says, ‘OK, at some point I need some glucose blood sugar here.’ And then you eat an entire cake, because nobody can hold out in the end.”
If people are given Sprite, Sprite Zero (a zero-calorie soda), or unsweetened, carbonated, lemon-lime water, but aren’t told which drink they’re getting or what the study is about, when they’re later offered a choice of M&M’s, spring water, or sugar-free gum, who do you think picks the M&M’s?
Those who drank the artificially sweetened soda were nearly three times more likely to take the candy than those who consumed either the sugar-sweetened or unsweetened drinks. So, it wasn’t a matter of sweet versus non-sweet or calories versus no-calories. There’s something about non-caloric sweeteners that somehow tricks the brain.
The researchers did another study in which everyone was given Oreos and were then asked how satisfied the cookies made them feel. Once again, those who drank the artificially sweetened Sprite Zero reported feeling less satisfied than those who drank the regular Sprite or the sparkling water.
"These results are consistent with recent [brain imaging] studies demonstrating that regular consumption of [artificial sweeteners] can alter the neural pathways responsible for the hedonic [or pleasure] response to food.”
Indeed, “the only way really to prevent this problem—to break the addiction—is to go completely cold turkey and go off all sweeteners—artificial as well as fructose [table sugar and high fructose corn syrup]. Eventually, the brain resets itself and you don’t crave it as much.”
We’ve always assumed the “consumption of both sugar and artificial sweeteners may be changing our palates or taste preferences over time, increasing our desire for sweet foods. Unfortunately, the data on this were lacking”…until now. Twenty people agreed to cut out all added sugars and artificial sweeteners for two weeks. Afterwards, 95 percent “found that sweet foods and drinks tasted sweeter or too sweet” and “said moving forward they would use less or even no sugar.”
What’s more, most stopped craving sugar within the first week—after only six days. This suggests a two-week sugar challenge, or even a one-week challenge, may “help to reset taste preferences and make consuming less or no sugar easier.”
Perhaps we should be recommending it to our patients. “Eating fewer processed foods and choosing more real, whole, and plant-based foods make it easy to consume less sugar.”
A new year often signifies a fresh start for many people. For some, this means setting health goals, such as losing weight, following a healthier diet, and starting an exercise routine.
However, more often than not, the health and wellness resolutions chosen are highly restrictive and unsustainable, leading most people to break their resolutions within a few weeks. To break that cycle, it’s important to make resolutions that can add to creating healthy habits for life.
Here are 17 New Year’s resolutions you can actually keep:
1. Eat clean unprocessed whole foods
One of the easiest and most sustainable ways to improve overall health is to eat clean whole foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish / seafood and lean meats.
Research shows that following a whole-foods-based diet may significantly reduce heart disease risk factors, body weight, and blood sugar levels, as well as decrease your risk of certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
2. Sit less and move more !
Whether it’s due to having a sedentary job or simply being inactive, many people sit more than they should. If you have a desk job that requires long periods of sitting, make a resolution to go for a 15-minute walk at lunch or to get up and walk for 5 minutes every hour.
3. Cut back on sugary drinks even the ones labeled "zero" calories or "stevia" etc..
Cutting back on sugary drinks is really important because sugary drinks are linked to an increased risk of obesity, fatty liver, heart disease, insulin resistance, and cavities in both children and adults.
4. Sleep, sleep and sleep.
Sleep is an essential part of overall good health. Sleep deprivation can lead to serious consequences. For instance, lack of sleep may increase your risk of weight gain, heart disease, and depression.
5. Find a physical activity that you enjoy
To get started, choose an activity based on enjoyment and whether it fits into your schedule.
For example, taking a half-hour walk, jog, or bike ride before work, or swimming at a gym that’s on your way home, are simple and sustainable exercise resolutions.
Then, set an attainable goal, such as planning to walk a few specific days per week instead of aiming for every day.
6. Take more ‘me time’ and practice self-care
Taking time for yourself is not selfish. In fact, it’s imperative for optimal health and well-being. This is especially true for those in caretaker roles, such as parents and healthcare workers
Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate or time consuming. It can simply mean taking a bath every week, attending your favorite weekly yoga class, having a cuppa tea with a friend, going for a walk in nature, or getting an extra hour of sleep.
7. Cook more meals at home
Research shows that people who cook more meals at home have better quality diet and less body fat than people who eat more meals on the go.
In fact, a study in 11,396 adults found that those who ate 5 or more home-cooked meals per week were 28% less likely to be overweight, compared with those who ate fewer than 3 home-cooked meals per week. Start by making one meal a day, then increase the frequency over time until you’re making the majority of your meals and snacks at home.
8. Give nature some loving and get outside
Spending more time outdoors can improve health by relieving stress, elevating mood, and even lowering blood pressure. Take walks in the park, on the beach or even go camping !
9. Limit screen time
Many people depend on their phones and computers for work and entertainment. However, spending too much time on electronic devices — particularly on social media — has been linked to depression, anxiety, and loneliness in some studies.
10. Try meditation
Meditation is an evidence-based way to promote mental well-being. It may be particularly helpful for people who have anxiety or depression. There are many ways to meditate, and it’s easy to find books, podcasts, and apps that teach you how to start a meditation practice.
11. Cut back on alcohol
Though alcohol can certainly fit into a healthy diet, indulging too often can negatively affect your health. What’s more, drinking alcohol frequently may keep you from reaching your health and wellness goals. Limit yourself to two drinks a week.
12. Take a vacation
Taking a vacation — even a short one — may have significant and immediate positive effects on stress levels and may enhance well-being.
13. Try a new hobby
It’s common for adults to let once-loved hobbies fall by the wayside as they get older due to busy schedules or lack of motivation.
However, research shows that partaking in a hobby that you love can help you live a longer, healthier life (study).
14. Visit your doctor
Getting examined regularly by your healthcare practitioner is important for many reasons. Having regular blood work and necessary screenings can help spot potential problems before they turn into something more serious.
15. Take care of your teeth
Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly can help prevent oral conditions like gum disease and bad breath . In addition, recent research shows that gum disease may be associated with serious health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease, making oral care all the more important.
16. Create a sustainable, nourishing diet
Instead of making a plan to follow yet another restrictive fad diet, this New Year, make a resolution to break the dieting cycle and create a sustainable, nourishing eating pattern that works for you. The healthiest diet is one that’s rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods and low in heavily processed, sugary products. A healthy, long-term diet should not only be nutritious but also adaptable, meaning you can follow it for life — no matter the circumstances.
A sustainable eating pattern can be maintained on vacation, during holidays, and at parties because it’s nonrestrictive and suited to your lifestyle. Check out my book to get started.
17. Drink herbal teas
Drinking at least 3 mugs of herbal teas a day will definitely benefit your health. Herbs are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory properties just to name a few. As they say there is a herb to treat almost every ailment. So make a cuppa of herbal tea… choose from ginger, chamomile, cinnamon, anise, mint, moringa, tulsi, turmeric, cloves and so much more. Get imaginative and make your own mix !
Though most New Year’s resolutions are only kept for a short period, the healthy resolutions listed above are sustainable ways to create healthier eating and lifestyle habits for life. It's all about creating a healthier relationship with food and taking better care of your body and mind which can drastically improve your health in various ways.
Barbara is a qualified nutritionist offering Health, Nutrition & Lifestyle Counseling. She gives Healthy weight loss advice and promotes the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of the Med Life Diet - creating healthy lifestyle habits and attitudes for life !