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Let’s Talk About Sugar!

by AthleticoLeave a Comment

I hear this comment all the time from people, “Well, I really don’t eat that much sugar.” Today is American Diabetes Alert Day and here’s the thing about sugar – it’s hiding, it’s all around you, it’s calling from inside the house! Okay, that was a little bit dramatic, but sugar really is everywhere!

First things first When foods are ‘processed’ it means that they are taken from their original state and turned into something else for consumption. They do this for many reasons, but mostly to improve taste, to allow food to last longer on a shelf, and/or to turn the ingredient into something else altogether. A HUGE amount of the food in the typical American diet is processed food.

The big 3 The most common ‘extras’ that food companies add to their food products are salt, sugar, and fat. Salt, sugar, and fat improves taste, and causes us to crave certain foods and more of them. They are also used more often than you would think. If you prepared some of these processed foods at home, you would likely not use as much of these ingredients (and some you’d skip altogether). For example, if you were going to make pizza at home from scratch, you would probably use way less salt, and likely, little sugar or no sugar at all. This is not the case with our frozen friends from the grocery store.

Back to sugar- Today I want to talk about sugar specifically. If I asked you to calculate the sugar you had today, you might start to think back to any ‘sweets’ you ate or the sugar you put in your coffee this morning. However, those things are just the tip of the ice berg. Many of the foods we eat have sugar added, even when you don’t expect it. When was the last time you looked at the ingredients in your whole wheat bread? Most brands have sugar or high-fructose corn syrup listed in the top 5 ingredients.

Here are some popular foods with surprisingly high levels of sugar:

Fruit Juices

Vitamin Water/ Gatorade

Salad Dressings (especially the low fat varieties)

Yogurt (many brands have as much sugar as a soda)

Pasta Sauces

Barbecue Sauce

Cereal (even the ‘healthy’ kinds)



Granola bars, fruit bars, fiber bars, protein bars


3I know, it’s depressing. If you really wanted to get radical – stop buying things that have labels. By that I mean: buy only fresh vegetables, fresh fruits (they still have sugar, but you also get the vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber), unsweetened nuts and seeds, and meat/seafood. Just doing this would dramatically cut your sugar intake. And, your body would rejoice with all that healthy food.

However, since processed foods are hard to avoid and we occasionally need some help from the store, here are some general tips:

  • Eat your fruit, don’t drink it. You are much better off eating the orange than drinking the glass of orange juice.
  • Buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with berries, honey, or vanilla. You can also try buying both plain yogurt and the flavored kind and mix them together. You will be cutting the sugar in half!
  • Avoid sodas, sweetened iced teas, flavored waters, and specialty coffees. Instead drink your coffee black (or with only 1 sugar) and drink more water.
  • Don’t buy the ‘sugar-free’ or diet alternative. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but usually when foods claim ‘sugar-free’ it is because they replaced it with a fake-sugar or sweetener. These fake sugars trick our brains into continuing to crave things that are super sweet. So, we are better off avoiding anything that is very sweet regardless of whether or not it has calories.
  • Instead of drinking an alcoholic drink mixed with a soft drink, consider drinking wine, beer, or mixing your liquor with soda water. Cut back on the total amount you drink by alternating with glasses of water between drinks.
  • Get the freshest ingredients that you can.
    • Bread from the local bakery will likely have less sugar (and other junk) than the kind that lasts for 3 weeks on your counter.
    • Fresh fruit is a better choice than dried fruit.
    • Fresh squeezed juice is a better choice than the kind from the store.

I know it’s not easy, but it’s worth it. If nothing else, just simply start reading the labels. You’ll be surprised at what you find.

Feel free to leave any questions below. I have been eating this way for a while now, and I LOVE talking about it.

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Read more health resources related to these topics:

Exercise and FitnessNutritiondiabetesnutritionsugar

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