As part of a balanced diet, cutting down on sugar intake is always a healthy choice. While some sources of sweeteners and sugars are obvious, it can be tricky to know when sugar unknowingly sneaks into our diets. Cutting down on sugar and carbohydrates can be helpful towards overall health, weight management and even glucose management for those living with diabetes. However, it is important to be mindful that there are many hidden factors to consider.  


Benefits of Lower Carb Diets

Repeated consumption of excessive amounts of sugar over time leads to prolonged dopamine signaling to the brain. In order to continue to receive the same dopamine response over time, the body’s need for sugar increases. The brain becomes tolerant to sugar, thus more is needed. It is therefore highly addictive. It is also associated with many health issues including high cholesterol, obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease. Eating large quantities of sugar can also lead to headaches, low energy levels, and inflammation. 

Cutting down on sugar in your diet will decrease inflammation, boost your energy levels, and improve your ability to focus. A reduction in sugar intake helps stop weight gain and fat buildup linked to heart disease. It will also reduce the risks associated with heart disease, insulin resistance, and obesity. 


What is a glycemic index?

When discussing carbohydrates consumption as part of a lower-carb lifestyle, it is important to consider the glycemic index of the food in question (GI). GI is essentially a rating of how quickly and how high your blood sugar will rise with specific foods. Large quantities of higher GI foods can lead to insulin resistance and make it difficult to maintain glucose control. 

As part of a healthy and balanced diet, the majority of your carbohydrate consumption should be mostly medium to low GI foods.

  • High GI foods >70 
    • Sugary foods, juice, sweetened beverages, treats and baked goods, white bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereal, bananas, pineapple, instant oatmeal, pretzels, crackers
  • Medium GI foods 55-69
    • Whole wheat bread, rye bread, steel-cut oats, beans, lentils, legumes, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa), non-starchy vegetables, parsnips, carrots, fruit higher in fiber (apple, pear), lower carb fruit (berries)
  • Low GI foods <55
    • Broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, beets, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, zucchini

All carbohydrates whether low or high GI get converted into glucose in the bloodstream and stored as energy. Eating more carbohydrates than the body requires as energy reserves, will lead to increased fat conversion. get converted into fat.


Sugar Substitutes

Sugar substitutes in small quantities do not typically impact the body. However, in larger quantities, it is possible to impact the body just as negatively as real sugar. Sugar substitutes include: 

  • Aspartame (Equal) – 200 times sweeter than sugar
  • Sucralose (Splenda) – 600 times sweeter than sugar
  • Saccharin (Sweet’n’Low) – 400 times sweeter than sugar
  • Stevia (Sweet leaf, truvia,)- similar sweetness to sugar
  • Monk fruit – about 200 times sweeter than sugar
  • Sugar alcohols (xylitol, erithyritol, isomalt, malitol, sorbitol, glycerol) – typically less sweet than sugar and contains less than half the carbohydrates of regular sugar
  • Fructose, fruit juice – as sweet as sugar
  • Honey, date syrup, maple syrup -slightly lower GI and less sweet than sugar
  • Agave – lower GI, but highly processed

For sugar substitutes that are sweeter than regular sugar, adjust consumption quantities accordingly. 


Are Sugar Substitutes Safe?

The dopamine effect on the brain from consuming excessive amounts of sugar substitutes can still occur, like they do with sugar. In short, sugar substitutes can be harmful to your body in similar ways as sugar. 


Nutrition Labels 

As part of balancing nutrition and carbohydrate consumption, always read nutrition labels to determine the amount of sugar or sugar substitute a food has. 

  • The portion size at the top of the label indicates what a portion size actually is, this helps keep track of portion control and optimal dietary intake. 
  • The label is typically based on a 2000 calorie diet per day, this amount of calories is not suitable for all individuals, it depends on height, weight and weight goals / targets. For example a serving size of 1 cup, is the appropriate serving size for a person targeting a total of 2000 calories per day. If your calorie target is lower, the portion size should be less to reflect this.
  • The contents and ingredients are listed in descending order by weight of quantity, eg. if the first ingredient listed is a sugar or sugar substitute and not a whole food, then this food item is mostly sugar in weight. Select foods where the first listed ingredients are whole natural foods.
  • Read the food ingredients, you should be able to read and understand what the ingredients are, if not, you likely do not want to consume much of this. 
  • Avoid higher sodium foods.
  • Be mindful of sugar and sugar substitutes and try to avoid them. These include: corn syrup, corn sweetener, cane sugar, other syrups, cane juice, fructose, juice, evaporated sugar, maltodextrin, stevia, malt, molasses.

The key is moderation. Whether you are consuming real sugar in the forms of juice, fruit, sweets, or any foods containing sugar substitutes, consumption should be in moderation in order to have optimal health benefits and avoid long-term health concerns.