Benefits of cutting back on sugar

Published 12:27 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

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This week, let’s continue our study of sugar. You know, sugar is so prevalent in our society, it’s difficult to believe that in the not-so-distant past, it wasn’t readily obtainable. The earliest available evidence suggests it was discovered in India around 500 BC when a sugar-syrup called khanda was commonly used. In fact, the word “candy” derived from the ancient Indian word “Khanda,” which translates to “a piece of sugar.” Today, India, as a nation, is the largest consumer of sugar on the planet at 26 million tonnes per year. The top sugar-producing country in the world is now Brazil, which accounts for approximately 20% of global production and more than 40% of world exports. 

Most of us learn to love sugar at a very early age. When we were kids, we were offered sweets on special occasions like birthdays and holidays, or as a reward for a job well done in school, or for performing well in sports or other activities. Couple that with the fact that sugar can be as habit-forming as cocaine, and it’s pretty easy to see how sugar’s addictive grasp can be difficult to break. Even if you’re one of those folks who doesn’t have a sweet tooth, and do a good job avoiding sweet indulgences, you’re still most likely consuming more sugar than you think. 

So, what happens to the body when we stop eating sugar? Well, at first it might be a bit difficult, as the body will go through at least mild withdrawal symptoms. These might include feeling physically run down, having headaches, lightheadedness, or dizziness. However, once you’re over the hump, there are several amazing health benefits that occur. 

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Better memory: That foggy, sluggish feeling might not be from lack of sleep. Sugar could be to blame. Eating lots of added sugars can actually damage communication processes among brain cells. One study by UCLA demonstrated that a diet high in sugars can negatively affect memory and learning, too. 


Lowered risk of coronary disease and stroke: Too much added sugar in the diet can lead to arterial inflammation. As blood vessel damage occurs, the body sends cholesterol as a healing agent to the affected area for repair. Over time this cholesterol can start to build arterial plaque, leading to atherosclerosis, the narrowing of blood vessel walls. Atherosclerosis can give rise to coronary artery disease, angina, heart attack, heart failure, or stroke. 


Clearer skin: One of the most obvious signs of reducing sugar intake is clearer skin. Sugar causes acne and other skin irritations for the same reason it causes blood vessel damage…inflammation. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that “when non-soda-drinkers consumed one 12-ounce can a day for three weeks, their inflammation levels increased by 87%.”


You’ll lose weight: According to the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, the average individual consumes around 22 teaspoons of added sugar each day. That amounts to about 350 calories, and that’s just “added” sugars. Sugar can be addicting, so when you decrease the amount you ingest,    cravings tend to subside. When you consume fewer calories from other foods, you lose weight. Also, dropping excess weight can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol blood levels and triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. 


Now, when we speak of cutting sugars, we mean “added sugars.”  So, why are added sugars bad, and natural sugars good? Fruits and dairy contain fructose and lactose, natural sugars that are digested more slowly than added simple sugars, which keep metabolism stable, and blood glucose levels more balanced. Also, fruits and vegetables provide the added benefit of dietary fiber, technically a carbohydrate, but do not add calories or raise blood sugar levels as it isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream. Fiber aids in weight control because it helps you feel fuller, keeps the digestive tract running smoothly, and provides a suitable environment for beneficial gut bacteria (probiotics). 

Added sugars are refined forms of sugar, combined with packaged food items during processing, typically to make the food taste better. Even though sugar is used for energy, when it’s not all utilized, the body will store it for later use, much in the form of fat. Next week, we’ll continue our study of sugar. 

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David Crocker of Landrum is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at or text to 864-494-6215.