This post is a modified version of a newsletter that I wrote. In this weekly newsletter I share nutrition insights and tips, along with a recipe and recommendations for things to read, listen to, or try. Sign up here.

Deep dive on sugar

TL;DR Sugar is in way more foods than you’d expect, and it’s linked to everything from cardiovascular disease to poor memory and depression. Limiting added sugar intake will help you consume more nutrient dense foods and likely decrease overeating. Plus tips for replacing sugar in your diet.


As a kid, every morning before school my mom would make me a PB&J for lunch. I’ve probably eaten over 3,000 in my life…

Your typical PB&J has 26 grams of added sugar:

  • 5g in 2 pieces of white bread +
  • 18g (2 tbls smuckers jam) +
  • 3g (2 tbls skippy peanut butter)

That’s already more than the recommended daily amount (RDA) for kids according to the American Heart Association.

The RDA in this case is an upper limit, you body does not actually need to get any of it’s carb intake from added sugar

  • For women the RDA is 24g
  • For men the RDA is 36g

The average American is getting about the 3x this amount every day.

I always wanted my mom to get us that sweet, sweet Skippy, but she’d always get us the peanut butter that you have to stir. But, now I see why she did…

Studies have shown that sugar is as addictive as cocaine…

Studies show these negative effects of high sugar intake

  • High added sugar diets are linked to heart disease, smaller average brain volumes and poorer memory function
  • Over the course of the 15-year study, people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar (source)
  • High-glycemic foods activate regions of the brain associated with the reward response and provoke more intense feelings of hunger compared to low-glycemic foods. (source)
  • The ability to process emotion is compromised with elevated blood glucose, according to a brain imaging study. (source)
  • An analysis of more than 23k individuals found that higher sugar intake was associated with depression (source)

“Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat,” says Dr. Hu. Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which raises your risk for heart disease.”  (link)

And yet, food manufacturers are sneaking sugar into everything we eat…

Three out of the top four ingredients in Smucker’s jam are sugar: strawberries, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sugar.

Food manufacturers use multiple types of sugar

Using multiple types of sugar is a common trick among food manufacturers so that they don’t have to list sugar as the first ingredient. Not cool…

This is part of the reason we’re eating way more sugar than our ancestors. Even our fruit is being bred to be sweeter than it used to be.

Any dissenters?

To be fair, there are some out there that are skeptical about the link between sugar and some of the diseases listed above.

The main reason is that many of the studies are not able to isolate sugar as the only dietary change, Many people consuming high amounts of sugar also have other poor dietary habits that may be linked to those diseases. 

At the end of the day, it seems likely though that sugar is a contributor, in particular because it is often found in highly processed, high calorie foods that offer little nutritional value (like soda) and then your body craves more. 

What can we do from here? 

Start by looking out for these added sugars…

  • Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and corn sweetener
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose
  • and more 

And know that this is very likely where you’ll find most of your added sugar intake…

  • Soda/energy/sports drinks
  • Grain based desserts
  • Fruit drinks

Read more on this here

You can make some of these simple substitutions…

Make that last Oreo a good one. Are you going creme first or eating it like a sandwich? Never mind…here are some ideas for replacing your next dessert.

Replacing highly processed sugary treats with healthier options

Sweet snacks:

  • Dates, dried fruit, or fresh fruit
    • I love dried mango, but make sure there are no additives!
    • Fruit’s fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals curtail the surge of sugar in the bloodstream and block its negative effects.
  • Hu dark chocolate bars or other dark chocolate
    • I love these! They do contain a limited amount of coconut sugar, but nothing to worry about if you’re limiting yourself to the serving size or less. Plus, dark chocolate has a ton of benefits. 
    • We just get them at our local super market. 
  • Dessert smoothie
    • This is a recipe that we use frequently. You can modify this to your liking, doing it without the cold brew, for example. We often add unsweetened organic cacao nibs like these

Drink ideas:

  • Swap Soda for Kombucha (watch out for added sugar in your booch, GTs is a good option)
    • Kombucha is filled with probiotics (good for your gut)
  • Swap Gatorade for LMNT
    • It’s good to get your electrolytes, but not with unnecessary added sugar! Especially if you’re not using it for an intense workout. 

If you have trouble giving up added sugar, try to do it incrementally. Replace one desert / week with a healthier alternative, and then work your way up.

Everyone is different, I personally find it easier to go cold turkey on something and find a suitable replacement…if I have it in the house, I will eat it.

Wrapping up

It might be a good idea to track your sugar intake for a week and see what % of your calories are coming from sugar, in particular added sugars…

If you’re already eating at or below the RDA AND you feel good, then maybe you don’t need to cut out any sugar. Otherwise, it might be worth a try. If you don’t feel good, even if you’re at the RDA you might want to try lightening it up.

I’m not a doctor, so don’t take my word for it…always good to check with a pro.

And check your labels! You will see more sugar than you expect. Start replacing highly processed, sugar filled foods with a healthier alternative.

A recipe

PB&J Bliss Balls Recipe (source)

Inspired by all the PB&J talk, I thought it’d be fun to make some healthy PB&J alternatives that you can use as a dessert replacement. I was going to write up the recipe on my own, but with travel this week I didn’t have time…

Here’s a great recipe that I found for you though. Might be worth cutting down the maple syrup in this recipe 🙂 

Hit me up if you gave this a try!

Three things: two reads and a podcast

Thanks to all who read this far! I appreciate you.

If you got some value out of this, consider sharing it with a friend!

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
%d bloggers like this: