Senior Health

4/30/2021 | By Kari Smith

From an early age, we are taught the evils of sugar. Desserts are given sparingly or as a reward, and we are lectured by parents, health teachers, and dentists that we need to avoid excessive sugar for our health. Yet sugar lurks in many unexpected foods, such as the generous pour of dressing of that “healthy” salad. It is also easy to unknowingly consume high amount of sugar when your regular diet includes frequent eating out and consuming prepared and processed foods.

The Negative Side Effects of Sugar

Sadly, sugar can be the cause of many diseases and health issues, so it is important to recognize the possible side effects of overindulging.

  • To many, the most obvious reason to avoid sugar is that it can cause weight gain. Although some healthy sugars are necessary in our diet, it is important to avoid certain foods and drinks that contain a lot of sugar. It is especially easy to consume hidden sugars in drinks such as sodas, juices, and even sweet tea and heavily sweetened coffee.
  • Although sugar is not the cause of heart disease (the global leading cause of death), excessive consumption of sugar can lead to several risk factors for it, such as obesity, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure.
  • Weight gain, which is often fueled by excessive sugar consumption, is a strong risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, consuming too much sugar can prohibit the pancreas from effectively producing insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, also raising your risk of diabetes.
  • Have you ever heard of a sugar rush? Eating a candy bar will definitely raise your blood sugar and give you more energy, but the rush is very temporary. After the “rush” comes the “crash,” a drop in blood sugar. When eating sugar, be sure to eat them along with a food high in protein or fat to help stabilize your energy levels.
  • As mom (and the dentist) always said, sugar causes cavities. In addition, mouth bacteria can interact with sugar, releasing acids that cause breakdown of the tooth’s enamel.

Easy Ways to Cut Out Additional Sweetness

Weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, even cancer: these and many other health conditions are top reasons to avoid excessive sugar; so it just makes sense to try to cut back on sweets, or make better food and drink choices.

  1. Eat whole foods – foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy that are natural and unprocessed. For example, select whole fruit instead of fruit juices and fruit smoothies, which are loaded with added sugars.
  2. Trade out sodas of any variety (no sugar, low-calorie, fat-free), fruit juices, and sugary tea and coffee for water (plain, or flavored with mint leaves, cucumber, lemon, etc.)
  3. Check labels for “no added sugar.” Although many foods, drinks, and condiments have natural sugars, it is important to look for items that do not have additional sugar added.
  4. Avoid sweet alcoholic beverages such as ciders, wine coolers, malt beverages, and mixers that use simple syrup, juices, or sodas.
  5. Plan your meals ahead. Eating out, or grabbing frozen or pre-cooked heat-and-eat meals is often the source of consuming more sugar and calories than we realize.

Bonus: check out these 12 simple ways to cut down on carbs.

Sugar Alternatives

Of course, there will be times when you want to eat something sweet, so here are some healthier, natural alternatives that will continue to help you avoid excessive sugar:

  1. Honey is a common substitute for sugar, especially in drinks like hot tea. Although it still contains fructose, it also contains many beneficial elements, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more.
  2. Maple syrup and molasses are also natural sweeteners that contain minerals and antioxidants and come in a thick liquid form.
  3. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than sugar, but is still high in fructose.
  4. Stevia is a natural, plant-based sweetener.
  5. Monk fruit sweetener is derived from – you guessed it, the monk fruit. It contains no calories and is far sweeter than sugar.
  6. Applesauce can be substituted equally in recipes for sugar, but since applesauce is a wet ingredient, reduce other liquid (like milk or water) by a quarter to maintain the consistency of what you are baking.

Keep in mind that sugar substitutes should also be used sparingly – although they may be better for you and have a lower glycemic index than sugar; they still contain fructose and calories. Adjusting your diet to lower sugar and carbohydrate intake will ultimately be a better alternative than simply substituting other sweeteners for sugar.

Although it may seem overwhelming to avoid excessive sugar, making one small switch at a time will help reduce your overall sugar intake, and your body (and loved ones!) will be grateful.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith