You’ve probably heard that added sugar isn’t the best thing for you, and you may have even tried to cut back on how much of the sweet stuff you have on a regular basis. One woman in Australia did just that, and along with a few other changes, she credits slashing her sugar intake as one of the things that helped her lose 40 pounds.
Kathryn Dickie runs the popular healthy-living Instagram account @KDInspiredLife, where she chronicles her efforts to eat well and be active. Dickie tells Daily Mail Australia that she lost 40 pounds by making a few key moves: She began doing a 40-minute walk home from work every day—yes, walking can indeed help you lose weight—started using a personal trainer, monitored her carb intake, and ditched the four to five sugars she used to have in her tea, opting for the sugar substitute stevia instead.
Here, the results of all that hard work, which Dickie posted on Instagram:
Plus, an adorable shot of Dickie enjoying the active life she’s created for herself:
Although Dickie achieved her weight loss through various means, she notes that dropping sugar made a big impact. “For me, I noticed a huge difference having cut out refined sugar,” she says. Even if weight loss isn’t a goal of yours, getting more than the daily recommended max of 6 teaspoons of added sugar (or 100 calories) can harm your health, making you more prone to issues like heart disease.
Here’s the deal with added sugar.
Added sugar is refined, meaning it goes through a chemical process to remove impurities. “Refined sugar contains excess calories—calories that your body can’t do much with,” New York City-based R.D. Jessica Cording, tells SELF. “It’s not really giving you any vitamins or minerals to go along with it.”
Like anything else, eating too much sugar can lead to weight gain, Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF. “Foods high in sugar are designed to appeal to our taste buds, which can often lead us to crave more,” she explains. “These foods cause more of a blood sugar spike in your body, followed by a rise in insulin, which is a storage hormone.” As a result, if you eat more sugar than your body can use for energy, you can store the excess sugar as fat.
Rumsey also points out that foods high in sugar tend to be high in fat and calories—and by cutting out refined sugar, it’s likely that you’re also cutting back on other scale-tipping ingredients.
In that light, other kinds of sweeteners might seem ideal, but many are basically the same thing as regular sugar.
Gina Keatley, a C.D.N. practicing in New York City, tells SELF that people may think it’s healthier to swap out table sugar for more natural versions like agave nectar and honey, but it doesn’t make a difference. “Sugar is sugar,” she says. “Regardless of if you are eating table sugar, honey, turbinado, brown sugar, white sugar, or corn syrup, they have almost the exact same amount of calories per tablespoon.” (That would be in the 50-60 calorie neighborhood.) Rumsey agrees. “While natural sugars might be slightly less refined, once you ingest them your body cannot tell the difference, and they have basically the same effect on your blood sugar,” she says.
Artificial sweeteners are a whole other beast.
Stevia, which Dickie now uses it in her tea, is a sugar substitute that comes from the stevia plant. It’s not technically an artificial sweetener, and it doesn’t have the calorie load refined sugar does, but there’s another issue: “My main concern with stevia is that it still keeps your tastebuds trained to expect a high level of sweetness,” Cording says. As a result, you may find yourself craving sugar as much as you did before. Plus, many artificial sweeteners cause bloating and other unwelcome effects.
If you want to cut down on your refined sugar intake, Cording recommends scaling back on the obvious culprits, like sugar-sweetened beverages, cakes, and cookies.
However, she points out that pasta sauce and condiments like ketchup can be sneaky refined-sugar sources, as can packaged bread. Be wary of cocktails, too: Lisa Moskovitz, C.D.N., R.D., CEO of NY Nutrition Group, tells SELF that mixers can be high in sugar.
Rumsey also recommends paying close attention to food labels. “Look at the amount of grams of sugar per serving, and divide that by four,” she says. “This tells you how many teaspoons of sugar are in a serving.” So if something has 20 grams of sugar, that means there are five teaspoons of sugar in it. Keep in mind that sugar goes by many names on ingredient labels—really, look out for anything that ends in “-ose,” along with anything that mentions syrup or sweeteners. And if your food doesn’t have a label, tastes sweet, and isn’t a fruit, vegetable, or unflavored dairy product, it likely has a lot of sugar, most likely a refined or artificial version, Moskovitz says.
Rumsey suggests using alternative flavorings instead of sugar, like vanilla bean or vanilla extract in oatmeal instead of brown sugar, unsweetened coconut flakes in plain yogurt instead of honey, and cinnamon in your coffee. “Spices, extracts, and zests all add sweetness and flavor to food without using sugar,” she says.
You can also try to satisfy your sweet tooth with foods that have naturally occurring sugar.
Even though it’s still sugar, it comes with nutritional bonuses. “Foods that have naturally occurring sugar, like fruit and dairy products, also have other beneficial nutrients like fiber, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants,” Rumsey explains. “The fiber, protein, and fat help to blunt the blood sugar rise from these foods. Plus, since they fill you up quicker than a highly processed food that is high in sugar, you end up not eating as much.”
If you love your sugar and know it will be hard to cut back, try doing it in stages, Cording recommends. If you use four packets of sugar in your coffee, try three packets one week, two packets the next, etc. “This gives your body and brain a chance to get accustomed to the change,” she says.