When It Comes to Sugar, There Really Is Too Much of a Good Thing

It’s no secret that curbing a sugar habit is good for your overall health. Whether you start slow or go cold turkey, before you know it your cravings for the sweet stuff will be in the rearview mirror.

When it comes to sugar, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. The average American eats 100 pounds of the sweet stuff each year — far more than is good for us, no matter how good it tastes. And it's not just ice cream, cookies and candy that are to blame. A recent study found "68 percent of all packaged supermarket products have added sugar," reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

You probably know all of that sugar's not good for your waistline. But there are other health consequences as well. Donald Hensrud, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, tells the Star Tribune that added sugar is "a quadruple whammy" health-wise:

  • It adds empty calories.
  • It adds no nutritional value.
  • It's linked to tooth decay, inflammation, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
  • It can displace healthier foods (for example, when you fill up on brownies instead of broccoli).

If you want to curb your sugar habit, taking a temporary break can be just what the doctor (or dietitian) ordered. "Think of it as a palate cleanse," Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian, tells MayoClinic.org. During that break, Zeratsky recommends eating only foods that have 5 grams of added sugar or less per serving. That information is now included on many food labels and will be on all food labels by 2021.

If you're ready to make a more drastic change, Dr. Hensrud says it's OK to give up added sugar altogether. "As long as you're getting adequate calories, there really aren't any physical or health issues," with stopping cold turkey, he tells the Star Tribune.

Just two weeks is enough time to reset your palate. After that, "you'll find you're better able to appreciate the natural sweetness in whole foods, such as fruit and vegetables," Zeratsky says. And that brand of sweetness is OK in any amount. Fruit "gets a reputation of being high in sugar, but a small piece of fruit is only about 60 calories," Dr. Hensrud tells Mayo Clinic Minute "There's a lot of water. There's other nutrients. There's fiber. So there [are] many other beneficial things in fruit." (We wish we could get him to say the same thing about Girl Scout cookies. Sigh.)

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