If you’re like most Americans, your diet has at least a bit of sugar in it, if not a lot. And we really don’t need any sugar to sustain ourselves. What’s worse is that sugar has a litany of bad effects on the body. A diet high in sugar can lead to a number of physical problems, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, immune function, nutrient deficiencies (and these final two really concern us here at the dental office), as well as tooth decay and gum disease.

On top of that there are a number of issues that high sugar consumption can cause mentally, including poor mental clarity, muscle tension, depression, memory loss, and tiredness, What’s worse is that sugar is highly addictive, and in fact, sugar has a drug-like effect when consumed, and the brain may begin to crave sugar after getting a taste.

So, you may be asking yourself, how do I kick this bad habit? What steps can I take to reduce my consumption of this highly addictive, yet nutritionally hollow stuff? Well, let’s address those questions and a bit of additional information surrounding sugar, so that you can better understand what you’re up against, and how to beat the bad habit. Here’s part one of our four part series on how to kick your sugary diet:

What, exactly, is sugar?

Sugar is a high-calorie, nutrient-poor food, and it is available in a number of forms. Sugar can be found in healthy food sources (like fruit), as well as empty, damaging food sources (like candy containing corn syrup). Sugar is added to all sorts of food products that you’ll find at a modern grocery store, which can make it difficult to control sugar consumption. Now, there are “good” and “bad” sugars and ways to consume sugar. Here’s a brief overview of types of healthful sugar consumption and types of sugars to avoid:

Types of “good” sugars:

While, at the end of the day, sugar is sugar and too much can be harmful to the system, there are some sources of sugar that help us to balance our consumption with healthy nutrients and the fiber that we need to keep our blood sugar level balanced. You’ll find natural sugar in fruits, veggies, and other whole foods, and you should still absolutely consume these foods! While these foods do contain sugar, that sugar is offset with a bounty of healthy components, like fiber, nutrients, and protein. If you’re consuming whole foods that contain sugar, just be sure that you are actually consuming the “whole” of the food — which is to say eat a whole orange or a whole apple (accept the core or rind, of course), instead of apple juice or orange juice (which may have reduced fiber and nutrient content). Eat whole fruits, whole veggies, and whole grains to gain the most from them —  the health benefits of these foods far outweighs the detriments of the sugars they contain. Also, take note, if you’re blending your fruits and veggies into a smoothie (not juicing them), you’ll still get all of those benefits because you aren’t pulling out nutrients and fiber!

Types of “bad” sugars:

Now that we’ve covered the good stuff, you’ll have to be wary that there are all sorts of sources of sugar that are hollow and empty of nutrients. And unfortunately, these “bad” sugars have all sorts of names, but they’re still all relatively similar in content. Keep a keen eye out for all of the following sugar ingredients that can be harmful, which you’ll find in many food products that line grocery store shelves:

  • Turbinado sugar
  • Syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Sucralose
  • Sorghum
  • Rice syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Palm sugar
  • Molasses
  • Maple syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Malt syrup
  • Honey
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Fructose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Dextrose
  • Dextrin
  • Dehydrated cane juice
  • Corn syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Beet sugar
  • Agave nectar

Continue to Part II

Now that you know the basics about sugar, where to look for it, and what to avoid, you’re ready to learn about how to cut cravings and how to implement good habits. Skip ahead to part two of our article How to Kick Your Sugary Diet – as provided by your local dentist!