So, the first step in a healthier diet is to take sugar out of your diet as much as possible. Women should have a maximum of 25 grams of added sugars per day and men should have no more than 38 grams of added sugar per day. Added sugars are required to be listed on food labels. These are the sugars that “God didn’t put there” so to speak. Try to aim for less than the maximum on most days so that if you splurge one day you will still be within the maximum intake on average. The American Heart Association advises the above limits on added sugars even though many of the foods they endorse have more than that considering the serving size that people typically eat.

Food Labels: Why Grams?

The recommended amounts above are in grams because that is what is listed on food labels. I recommend reading food labels carefully to know what the food you are eating contains. Get in the habit of doing this with everything you buy at first until you know what  is in the food you eat.

Better yet, buy mostly foods that don’t need a label. An apple doesn’t need a food label. I am not concerned about the amount of sugar naturally occurring in an apple. But, yogurt is a good example of a food label to read carefully.  Dannon Natural Vanilla yogurt, for example, contains 20 grams of added sugar along with the naturally occurring milk sugar. So, it contains nearly an entire day’s worth of added sugar in a food that was supposed to be healthy. Activia Light yogurt with probiotics had 2 artificial sweeteners which have been shown to negatively alter gut bacteria along with inulin, a fiber supplement often used by the food industry, which can be gas producing. So beware! You might not get the results you were hoping for.

A good rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients on the label  the better. If you don’t know what an ingredient is maybe you shouldn’t buy it! If you do buy foods with sugar/sweeteners look for foods where it is listed as the fifth ingredient or less.

I recommend that you buy plain yogurt which does not have added sugar and use fruit such as blueberries to sweeten  it naturally. Greek yogurt has more protein and less naturally occurring sugar so that is a good choice. Don’t worry so much about the fat content. More on that later.

Other Sweeteners

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not the same as table sugar in spite of misinformation you may have heard from the food industry. Table sugar is a disaccharide. The two sugars glucose and fructose are bound together. So, it is half glucose and half fructose. High fructose corn syrup contains roughly 55% fructose and 45% glucose. They are not bonded together but “free.” There is about a 10% higher fructose content compared with table sugar.

It is even sweeter than table sugar and food manufacturers have learned that adding HFCS makes people eat more. That is why so many foods at the store contain HFCS. Most soda pop in the U.S. contains HFCS.

HFCS makes your liver work harder to process this extra fructose. Fructose has to be broken down in the liver by the same pathway that breaks down alcohol. Remember, alcohol is a fermented sugar so this makes sense.

I believe this extra fructose in the diet is a contributor to the increase in non- alcoholic fatty liver disease seen in the U.S. So, stop buying foods with HFCS and you will eliminate a lot of processed foods your body doesn’t need anyway that promote weight gain, diabetes and liver disease.

Natural Sweeteners

Sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and organic cane sugar sound healthier and may be preferred but they are still sugars and need to be limited. Some experts are advising use of Agave because it has a lower glycemic index. However, Agave is mostly fructose so I am concerned about the effects on the liver if you get too much. Remember, after fructose is metabolized in the liver it turns to glucose and still isn’t good for you. So there is no “free lunch” when it comes to added sugars. They all have to be limited!

Artificial Sweeteners

I do not advise artificial sweeteners either. Studies show that the risk of weight gain, metabolic syndrome and diabetes are all increased with diet soda. For example, a French study showed that drinking one diet soda per week increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 30%! A study in Japan showed a 70% increase in risk of diabetes in men who drank 1 diet soda weekly!

Studies have shown that aspartame and Splenda cause appetite stimulation in the brain and some patients will have altered gut flora that makes them more prone to diabetes. The phosphates in soda pop can interfere with hormones in the body that can lead to weight gain.

I am not saying you should use regular soda pop instead! That is just as unhealthy, So, ditching the soda pop whether diet or regular is a good start on a healthy diet.

If you must use a non-caloric sweetener perhaps Stevia is a better choice. But, it could be that the studies just haven’t been done yet to show problems with that.

Sugary Drinks

Try to eliminate all sugary drinks if possible. Be careful with juice as well. Ounce for ounce juice has as much sugar as soda pop. So, you should only have a small serving such as 4 ounces if you drink juice. Juice “drinks” can be even worse with more added sugars or adding grape juice or apple juice to increase the sweetness of sour juices like cranberry or pomegranate. Again, read the labels carefully.