You're willing to forgo the sodas and cookies for your waistline's sake, but will it make a difference? The answer is a solid maybe. Quitting refined sugars is an excellent move for your overall health, and if your total calorie intake decreases with the switch, you will lose weight. That said, if you replace your sugary snacks with potato chips and other calorie-dense foods, your won't shed a pound.
Sugar and Weight
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, and contains 4 calories per gram. For the most part, a calorie is a calorie to your body no matter where it comes from. Although refined sugar does not directly cause weight gain, it can contribute to overeating. When you consume sugar, your blood glucose levels spike and then plummet, causing you to crave more food -- particularly more sugar for instant energy, perpetuating the cycle. Plus, you're more likely to over-indulge in sweet treats than healthier fare, and large portions of sweets contribute to weight gain.
Natural Vs. Added Sugar
All sugar is not created equal. Refined sugars are added to packaged foods and contain no nutrients, making them "empty calories." Fruits, vegetables and dairy also contain sugars, but these are natural and come with a cornucopia of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. While it's smart to cut refined sugars from your diet, don't skip the naturally occurring varieties. It's important to include a wide range of whole, fresh foods in your diet, many of which have sugar.
Recognizing Added Sugar
Food manufacturers can be sneaky, using many different names for refined sugar. Look for the terms corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, lactose, invert sugar and maltose on food labels. Even fruit juice concentrates, which appear healthy at first glance, still contain added sugar. Any word that ends in "-ose" is probably also a form of sugar. Sometimes, food makers add large amounts of sugar to foods that you may view as healthy. Fruit punches and vitamin-fortified waters are two examples of sugary products marketed as healthy beverages.
If you're serious about losing weight, watch your overall calorie intake and engage in regular physical exercise. Most women can lose weight and get adequate nutrition on a diet of 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day. With fewer calories, you risk low energy, hunger and poor nutrient intake. Get fewer than 100 calories per day from added sugars, per the American Heart Association guidelines. Instead of empty calories, fill up on nutrient-dense fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins. Foods with high fiber content, such as broccoli, oatmeal and beans, will help you feel fuller and reduce food cravings.
- Drugs.com: Food Label Reading
- Harvard Health Publications: Use Glycemic Index to Help Control Blood Sugar
- MedlinePlus: Sweeteners - Sugars
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- American Heart Association: Sugars 101
- Oregon Health and Science University: Obesity Treatment Overview
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.