January 5, 2017

This NYT writer went a month without added sugar. Could you?

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on July 10, 2019.

    Cutting added sugar out of your diet, even for a short period, can "reset [your] sugar-addled taste buds" and make you aware of "the many products that needlessly contain sugar," op-ed contributor David Leonhardt argues in the New York Times.

    "Like me, you've probably just finished a couple of weeks in which you have eaten a whole lot of tasty sugar," Leonhardt writes. And while he says you shouldn't "feel too guilty about it," he also makes a suggestion: For one month, commit to eating no added sugar.

    According to Leonhardt, "research increasingly indicates that an overabundance of simple carbohydrates, and sugar in particular, is the No. 1 problem in modern diets." Citing research on the harmful effects of eating too much added sugar, he writes, "Our national sugar habit is the driving force behind the diabetes and obesity epidemics and may be a contributing factor to cancer and Alzheimer's."

    Leonhardt points to some incremental progress in the "anti-sugar movement." For instance, Chicago, Philadelphia, and several other large cities are implementing taxes on sugar-added beverages, and data from the Agriculture Department show that U.S. residents have cut their added sugar consumption rate by 14 percent since 1999.

    But the anti-sugar movement has a long way to go, Leonhardt writes. He explains that the added sugar consumption rate needs to drop an additional 40 percent to return to a healthy level—the average adult should have "no more than 50 grams (or about 12 teaspoons)" of added sugars per day, Leonhardt writes, citing the U.S. dietary guidelines. And the World Health Organization says "closer to 25 is healthier," he adds.  

    "You don't have to cut out sugar for a month to eat less of it," Leonhardt continues, "but it can be difficult to reduce your consumption in scattered little ways." In comparison, the 30-day, no-added-sugar challenge "gives you a new baseline and forces you to make changes," he writes.

    According to Leonhardt, the challenge can help people "relearn how a diet that isn't dominated by sweeteners tastes" and establish new, healthier habits that will stick even after reintroducing added sugars. For example, over the course of his last two 30-day challenges, Leonhardt has swapped his breakfasts of sweetened cereal and granola for "a combination of eggs, nuts, fruit, plain yogurt, and some well-spiced vegetables." He writes, "It feels decadent, yet it's actually healthier than a big bowl of granola."

    And even though there are "unpleasant parts of a month without sugar," the downsides are temporary and tolerable—especially when you consider the lasting benefits, Leonhardt writes. "If you try it and your experience is anything like mine, I predict that your new normal will feel healthier and no less enjoyable than the old" (Leonhardt, New York Times, 12/30/16).

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     How six hospitals launched diabetes management programs

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