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Unlocking the Secrets of Added Sugar: Why You Should Consider Cutting It from Your Diet?

Updated: Mar 17

The prevalence of added sugar in modern diets has raised many concerns about its impact on overall health. In this article I cover the reasons why you may benefit from reducing your intake of added sugars, shedding light on the potential health risks associated with excessive consumption. I also give you a list of all the sweeteners (sugars and artificial sweeteners), what are good to reduce or avoid and what to use instead if you want to sweeten your food.

Why is added sugar bad for health and different forms of sugar in processed packaged foods

Is added sugar bad for your health?

If you are not being mindful about the foods you eat- consume many packaged foods and eat foods like cakes, cookies, candies, ice-cream or drink soft drinks like Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta etc, you definitely increase your risk for various illnesses. A diet high in sugar can promote oxidative stress, which leads to cell damage. As we know glycose is paramount for the functioning of our cells, especially for the brain as it consumes around 20% of your daily energy intake. But it's important to note here, that our brain needs an average of 130g from glycose a day, while many people consuming modern western diet exceed that several times without knowing it.

Below are just a few health issues, a high-sugar diet can cause over time:

  • Diabetes

  • Heart disease

  • Leaky gut (sugar changes the gut microbiota in a way that increases intestinal permeability, plus added sugar feeds yeast (leads to candida) and bad bacteria)

  • Certain types of cancer like breast cancer, small intestine cancer, colon cancer

  • Fatty liver

  • Brain related illnesses

  • Skin issues and allergies

  • Hair loss

  • Insomnia

  • Dizziness

  • Tooth decay

  • Ages the body

  • Causes wrinkles

  • ADHD

  • Hypertension

  • Alzheimer's

Sweeteners- the worst, not too bad and fine to consume, but sparingly

When you want to limit your intake of added sugar or avoid it, you need to be smart when shopping your groceries.

Always read the labels on packaged foods!

I have taught my kids to follow these basic rules when checking food labels at stores:

  • if sugar is listed as number one or two in the ingredients list, you know the product is mainly made of sugar

  • one teaspoon of sugar is 4g. So if they want to buy morning cereal, where on the box it states 60g of sugar per 100g (and it's a 300g package), there is 45 teaspoons of sugar in the package. If they do this calculation, they likely put the box back on the shelf.

  • if they can't recognise (or pronounce) the name of the ingredient in the list of ingredients, it's not worth putting the product in your shopping basket.

  • if they want to know if the product contains any added sugar, one way to find out is look for hidden sugars in the ingredients list ending in "ose" (fructose, maltose, dextrose etc)

Foods that commonly contain sugars include:

  • Salad dressings

  • Sauces (barbecue, hickory)

  • Plant milks (coconut, soy, almond)

  • Cereals and granola bars

  • Mustard and ketchup

  • Yoghurt

  • Protein powders

  • Deli meats (ham)

  • Cured meats (bacon, prosciutto)

  • Liver pate

  • Store bought ceviche

  • Canned soups

  • Kombucha

Common forms of sugar

Sugar comes in different forms: granulated sugar, syrups, sugar alcohols, -oses, -ides, natural sugars, artificial sweeteners.

  • Sugar

  • Brown sugar

  • Raw sugar

  • Cane sugar

  • Castor sugar

  • Confectioner's sugar

  • White granulated sugar

  • Icing sugar

  • Invert sugar

  • Beet sugar

  • Cane syrup

  • Carob syrup

  • Date syrup

  • Corn syrup

  • Corn syrup solids

  • High-fructose corn syrup

  • Malt syrup

  • Maltodextrin

  • Maple syrup

  • Rice syrup

  • Refiner's syrup

  • Buttered syrup

  • Nectars (for example, peach or pear nectar)

  • Corn syrup solids

  • Fructose

  • Glycose

  • Glycose solids

  • Maltose

  • Sorbitol

  • Sorghum syrup

  • Sucrose

  • Ribose

  • Saccharose

  • Galactose

  • Lactose

  • Dextrose

  • Dextrane

  • Anhydrous dextrose

  • Confectioner’s powdered sugar

  • Blackstrap molasses

  • Molasses

  • Disaccharide

  • Monosaccharide

  • Polysaccharide

  • Agave nectar

  • Coconut sugar

  • Coconut nectar

  • Fruit juice

  • Date sugar

  • Golden sugar

  • Granulated sugar

  • Evaporated cane juice

  • Honey

  • Rice malt

  • Treacle

  • Stevia

What are the worst sweeteners you should try and stay away from?

  • Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame, saccharin. They change the bacterial makeup in your microbiome, which can lead to weight gain, diabetes, metabolic disorders, autoimmune problems

  • High-fructose corn syrup- which is derived from the stalks of corn and then converted to syrup through a chemical process. It does not need to be digested and therefore goes straight into your blood, raising blood-sugar and contributing to hormonal issues like leptin resistance (leptin is your 'feeling full and satisfied' hormone). This again could cause weight-gain and weight-loss resistance.

  • White refined sugar

What sweeteners to be very mindful about when consuming?

  • Agave nectar- though it's considered healthy alternative to sugar, it's very high in fructose. Fructose goes straight to your liver, which is turned there into fat. Too much fructose can cause fatty liver.

  • Brown-rice syrup- it's made of brown-rice and enzymes. Using a lot of brown-rise increases your exposure to arsenic (which is a poison). Enzymes used in rice-syrup are very often from barley (which contains gluten). So better to consume it very mindfully.

  • Turbinado or raw cane sugar

What sweeteners to use if you do choose to sweeten your food (use them very sparingly though)?

  • Monk fruit or luo han guo- fermented from the pulp of monk fruit. Make sure you get pure monk fruit without any added ingredients. Same as with sugar alcohols, it can cause upset stomach, so consume sparingly.

  • Stevia- as long as you use the raw organic stevia in it's green form, you will get the best health benefits from it. Not everyone like the taste of stevia though.

  • Sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol)- these don't have an effect on blood-sugar, but they can have a laxative effect, so not everyone can consume them. As your body does not completely digest them, these sugar-alcohols can end up fermenting in your gut and causing gas and bloating

  • Maple syrup- always look for 100% pure and organic maple syrup and the darker the syrup the better as it contains higher amounts of antioxidants.

  • Honey- it's 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Honey has great benefits as long as you buy it raw, unpasteurised, unfiltered and where possible, local. It contains antioxidants and bee pollen, which help to boost your immunity.

  • Molasses- which is made by boiling raw sugar down many times. Blackstrap molasses is the most nutrient-dense form of molasses with least amount of sugar and contains more iron than any other natural sweetener.

  • Fruit juice- as long as it's freshly pressed and without any added sugar, it's ok to use it and also drink it- but occasionally and in moderation. Fruit juice does contain vitamins and antioxidants, but it's still fructose. When possible, rather eat the whole fruit to get the benefits of fibre present in the fruit.

  • Dates- dates are very high in fructose, so do consume them sparingly (1-2 dates is more than enough). Dates are good for constipation.

  • Coconut sugar/coconut nectar- derived from the blossoms of the coconut tree. Though processed, they do contain some nutrients and inulin fibre which slows down the absorption of glucose in your body.

What are the best food to sweeten your food as they are naturally sweet?

  • Coconut milk

  • Coconut flesh

  • Coconut oil

  • Sweet potato

  • Pumpkin

  • Summer squash

  • Cinnamon

  • Whole fruit

  • Berries

Here is just an example of added sugars in some foods and drinks sold in Estonia.

How much sugar is in different packages foods and drinks?

I understand that giving up sugar can be a real challenge for many. As scientists say, sugar alters brain circuitry in similar ways to cocaine, which is well known to alter the dopamine and opioid systems in the brain.

But a change starts with a choice. Even if you start to be more mindful about how much sugar you consume, or what sweeteners are in your foods and opt for healthier versions of sweeteners, you do a great favour to your body!

If you need help and guidance, how to determine hidden sugars in foods, how to reduce added sugar intake in your day to day diet, don't hesitate to reach out to me for nutrition coaching, by e-mailing me at


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