Most people in the United States consume an average of 22-30 teaspoons of added sugar per day (and that’s before the inevitable addition of dessert). With the average American gaining weight and suffering from obesity-related health problems, it’s essential to cut down on your sugar intake as much as possible – but sugar can be hard to avoid! In fact, you may have noticed that some products that claim to be sugar-free are actually higher in carbohydrates than their sugary counterparts!
Sugar-free February gives you an opportunity to give up sugar entirely for a month and see what happens, then decide whether you’d like to make it part of your everyday lifestyle or not. Ranging from health benefits to money-saving to weight loss possibilities, whether you’re looking to kick your sugar habit or just want to experiment with taking things up a notch, this sugar-free February could be the start of something great!
Here are some more reasons why you should try a sugar-free February.
1. It will promote weight loss
If you’re struggling with weight, cutting out sugar from your diet can help immensely. Not only does sugar make your hunger cravings fluctuate quickly, meaning you end up consuming even more calories over the course of the day, but it can lead to weight gain.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a good idea to monitor your intake of sugar and refined carbs and to lose weight safely but quickly, switch to a sugar-free diet. This includes eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages.
Research shows that sugary beverages can increase weight, including belly fat, the kind of fat associated with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Even fruit juice may not be an option for your sugar-free February. In fact, studies have shown that fructose, a simple sugar in fruit juice, can increase your hunger and appetite, causing you to eat more, leading to weight gain.
High fructose consumption can also cause leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that regulates hunger and tells your body to stop eating.
2. Lowers the risk of blood pressure and heart disease
A diet too high in processed sugar has been linked to high blood pressure and various other health problems. Reducing your sugar intake can have a direct impact on lowering your blood pressure and, thus, your risk of heart disease.
Studies show that a high sugar diet can cause inflammation, obesity, high triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels, all of which are risks for heart disease.
In one study, researchers found that getting 17-20 percent of your calories from added sugar can increase your risk of heart disease by 38 percent compared to those obtaining only 8 percent or less of their calories from added sugars.
According to another study, reducing sugar intake can lower systolic blood pressure by five points.
3. It will lower your risk of cancer
Research has shown that cutting back on sugar can lessen cancer risk. Studies have also shown that reducing sugar in your diet may help prevent obesity, which could also reduce your risk of some cancers, including endometrial, esophageal adenocarcinoma, colorectal, postmenopausal breast, prostate, and renal cancers.
Furthermore, a high sugar diet increases your insulin production, which has been linked to endometrial cancer. In a study, women who consumed cookies and sweet buns more than three times a week were more likely to develop endometrial cancer than women who consumed such foods less than 1.5 times a week.
So if you’re looking for a good reason to give a February without added sugars a try, consider these reasons.
4. It promotes better sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for various reasons, including boosting your immune system, improving concentration and memory, promoting better decision making, reducing inflammation, preventing weight gain, and lowering your risk of cancer.
Unfortunately, a high sugar diet reduces your ability to sleep better, thus preventing you from experiencing these benefits. This is mainly because most people eat far too much sugar before bedtime. The classic culprits are chocolate, cookies, ice cream, and any other sweet snack that encourages you to just have one more.
Aside from reducing sugar in your diet, cutting back on caffeine can help you sleep better at night. If you’re consuming too much caffeine and energy drinks per day, you might have difficulty falling asleep at night and staying asleep.
5. Sharpens your memory
Studies have shown that consuming added sugar leads to cognitive impairment syndrome (CIS), including memory loss and other mental disturbances. The good news is that many people can improve their cognitive abilities by cutting out added sugars from their diet.
Studies show that replacing a high sugar diet with a diet rich in leafy greens, fruits, and healthy fats can improve memory retention. These foods all contain antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which help maintain optimal brain function.
6. Prevents or improves symptoms of depression
Studies have shown that reducing your sugar intake can alleviate depression.
In one study, consuming processed foods, including those high in added sugar like sugary drinks and cakes, increased the risk of developing depression.
Studies have also proven that eating more sugar can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, so if you are battling depression, a sugar detox may be just what you need. In addition, eliminating sugars can help clear up some brain fog and make it easier to think clearly.
Another study that followed people for two years found that daily consumption of 67 grams of sugar had a 23 percent increased rate of developing depression in men, more than those who consumed less than 40 percent of the added sugar.
Moreover, a study in 2013 found that sugar can cause mood swings and anxiety. When you cut sugar out of your diet, not only will you be cutting out more calories, but you’ll also reduce your risk of developing depression.
7. It will fight premature aging
A sugar-free diet is the best way to maintain a youthful look. Consuming too much sugar damages red blood cells, the brain, and arteries, and causes the accumulation of glycation products, which can cause functional and structural damage to the skin, including premature signs of aging. The glycation products also speed up the aging process.
Many people who follow a sugar-free diet are younger and healthier than those on a sugar diet. Also, a sugar-free diet helps the body flush out toxins that could further accelerate the process of aging.
One study found that daily consumption of 20 ounces (591 MLS) of sugar-sweetened soda accelerated aging and increased the rate of metabolic conditions.
Additionally, a sugar-free diet improves skin elasticity and prevents dark circles, which have been linked to a high sugar diet.
Unfortunately, sugar is in everything, from desserts to salad dressings and tomato sauces. Even bread can have added sugar, so a sugar-free diet is the best defense against premature aging.
8. It increases your energy levels
Studies show that in just two weeks of a sugar-free diet, your body’s insulin sensitivity increases, and your risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases. Without excess sugar (and processed carbs) in your system all day, you should find that you have more energy throughout the day. Instead of waking up exhausted and crashing around lunchtime, you should feel energized for most of each day—especially if you exercise regularly.
9. It will lower your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when high glucose levels from a high sugar diet get converted and stored as fat around your internal organs. NAFLD can block the liver from functioning properly and cause other serious health complications, including cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. There is no sure way to know if you have NAFLD, but those with diabetes or obesity are at a higher risk.
10. It will lower your risk of type 2 diabetes
Research has linked sugar consumption to high blood glucose and insulin levels, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. One study found that those who consumed more than 36 grams of sugar per day (the equivalent of two cans of soda) had nearly twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those who consumed less than 10 grams per day.
It’s important to note that these results were from observational studies, meaning researchers did not test participants for the disease but instead observed them over time. In addition, there may be other factors in your diet besides sugar intake—for example, total calories—that could also contribute to increased diabetes risk. Still, these findings add more evidence that limiting added sugars is important for preventing disease.
How to Follow a Sugar-Free February
As we’ve seen, a sugar-free diet can promote health and lower the risk of various chronic conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. If you’re struggling to get your sugar intake under control, try following this step-by-step guide on how to follow a sugar-free diet, which includes advice from experts on what to eat and what not to eat.
1. Avoid processed foods and focus on whole foods
To make your sugar-free February a success, aim to eat as many whole foods as possible. These include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains.
These foods are low in sugar and rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and even antioxidants, all of which promote health and well-being.
2. Track your intake of sugar
If you think it’s hard to follow a healthy diet, try tracking your intake of sugar. There are many sneaky sources of sugar in your diet, and to make it through February without sugar, it’s essential to be aware of how much sugar you consume in daily meals and snacks.
The first thing you’ll need to do is start reading ingredient labels. Sugar isn’t always listed as sugar; some companies use names like corn sweetener, dextrose, glucose, fructose, ethyl maltol, fruit juice concentrate, or high fructose corn syrup, all of which are still sugar.
3. Eliminate potential triggers
To control your sweet tooth, consider removing all unhealthy sweets from your house and surrounding environment. If there are no cookies in your cupboard, you’re not going to be able to grab one late at night while munching on chips. The same logic applies to treats: if you know that ice cream is off-limits and you don’t have it in your fridge, then there’s no way you can reach for it during stressful situations.
4. Replace your sweet treats with natural alternatives
Sugar cravings can be difficult to avoid. That’s why it’s important to have healthy sugar alternatives on hand. These may include unsweetened nut butter, nuts, roasted chickpeas, black bean hummus, banana oats energy bars, baked tortilla chips, etc.
5. Incorporate healthy fats into the diet
A high-fat diet can fight sugar cravings. Researchers from Yale University found rats on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet ate significantly less sugar than those on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate meal plan.
The best fat sources to include in your diet include olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
5. Keep a food journal
A food journal is one of the easiest ways to track how many calories you’re consuming every day and to make sure you’re sticking to your sugar-free diet. Simply record what you eat and drink throughout each day. Studies have shown that people who keep journals tend to achieve their health goals than those who don’t because they learn better eating habits and are more aware of their choice of foods and portion sizes.
Diets high in sugar have long been associated with obesity and other chronic health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. If you’re struggling to get your sugar intake under control, February can be a month of a new beginning for your health and diet. A sugar-free February may allow you to experience various sugar-free benefits, including weight loss, improved brain health, reduced risk of heart disease, better sleep, healthy skin, increased energy levels, and reduced risk of developing depression and cancer.
That being said, sticking to a sugar-free diet may be a challenge, but it’s definitely not impossible. Some things you can do to ensure you maintain a sugar-free diet throughout February and beyond include avoiding all processed foods, tracking your sugar intake, replacing sweet treats with healthy alternatives, and keeping a food journal to help you track your progress.
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