It's pretty hard to deny it: sugar tastes amazing. Unfortunately, it's not that great for you, and if you eat too much sugar (especially from unnatural sources), your body and mind will definitely feel the consequences. Noticing signs you're eating too much sugar is helpful, as you can then limit yourself and grab something with a bit of protein or healthy fats to quell the cravings and stabilize your mood and blood sugar levels.
It feels awesome when you're in balance, and excess sugar can throw your body off. As a certified health coach, I work with clients on monitoring their sugar intake (especially if they're diabetic, pre-diabetic, or suffering from heart complications), and figuring out ways to incorporate healthy foods, from protein and fats, into their diets. "The recommendation for added sugar intake is to stay below 9 tsp/day for men and 6 tsp for women. This is comes out to be about 10% of total calories, assuming the average 2000 calorie diet. Keep in mind this is added sugar, not naturally occurring sugar like that in fruit, unflavored dairy (like plain milk & plain yogurt) or veggies. Currently the average person eats about 3 times the recommendation, or 22 tsp per day," advises Dr. Chris Mohr, PhD, a Reebok nutrition expert, over email with Bustle. Here are 13 signs you're eating too much sugar and some pointers as to how to ween yourself off in a safe and effective manner.
1. Whacky Energy Levels
"Experiencing highs and lows in regards to energy level and mood due to too many empty calories. This is especially noticeable if you are not eating adequate whole foods like whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables," says Lori Williams, R.D at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center over email with Bustle. Instead, have healthy snacks on hand. "A piece of fruit is always a better snack choice than an on the go bar, for example. Replace soft drinks with sparkling water. Make sure your breakfast includes protein as the 'base' and not some other, on the go muffin, croissant or something similar," advises Mohr.
2. Unexplained Bloating
Williams also cautions against a slight increase in abdominal bloating, as sugar can lead to a less effective metabolism and water retention. If you feel symptoms, check in with yourself and your diet and decide if it's wise to cut back on the sugar overload and have more filling, nutritious foods with meals.
3. Scarfing Down Food
Sugar gets processed incredibly fast, without us registering fullness, explains Williams. Such mindless eating can lead to excess sugar intake. "Practice mindful eating practices to recognize if you are using sugar for an energy boost. Many of use empty calorie foods like cakes, cookies, pies, candy, sugar laden beverages (like coffee drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks) to get us through the work day," recommends Williams. "However, the body processes these very fast, sending our blood sugar up quickly and then back down leaving us feeling tired again and wanting more added sugar products to get that boost again," Williams explains.
4. Not Reading Labels Carefully
Whether you're not reading labels carefully or you're unsure of what certain ingredients mean (which is totally understandable), eating too many processed foods without knowledge of what's in them can contain hidden sugars and artificial sweeteners that are bad for you. "Read labels for hidden sugars to identify foods that are not obvious sources of added sugar. Look for these not so obvious terms in the first few ingredients: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, anhydrous dextrose, malt syrup, maltose," advises Williams. "Sugar lurks in sauces (like BBQ or pasta sauces or salad dressing)," further cautions Mohr.
5. Overloading Smoothies With Fruit
Fruit smoothies are delicious, but if you're drinking a smoothie that's practically 100 percent fruit based, you're bound to be taking in way too much sugar. While natural, fruit is still high in sugar and should be paired with protein, fats, and veggies in smoothies for a better mix. "A small smoothie made with 8 oz. low fat milk or 6 oz. low fat plain yogurt, handful of blueberries and a handful of spinach," recommends Williams, is a nice combination.
6. Not Sleeping Well
If you're not sleeping well, it could be due to having too much sugar in the day (especially at night time) and throwing off your body's balance of hormones, advises Kaitlin Holliday, Chief of Staff of Exo over email with Bustle. "Sugar can have a residual effect on your sleeping patterns, and consuming too much sugar throughout the day or closer to bedtime can keep you awake," says Holliday.
7. Head Pain
A headache isn't always from your boss yelling at the office; it could be from eating too much sugar at lunch. "Having a 'sugar hangover' - eating too much sugar, can spike your energy levels and take you on the highest highs, but leave you with something similar to a normal hangover: headaches, bloating, foggy minds and other symptoms," says Holliday. Eat protein and fats mid-day to balance out sugar.
8. Acne Flareups
"You're breaking out more than usual - there have been studies that link acne with high-sugar diets, so if you start breaking out and you can't figure out why, sugar might be the culprit," says Holliday. If you notice your skin freaking out, ditch sugary foods and swap for clean eats, such as vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats instead.
9. Dry Skin
Over email with Bustle, Dr. Lisa Ashe, Medical Director of BeWell Medicine advises that dry skin can appear when you're eating excess sugar. If you notice your skin losing moisture, consider cutting back on sugar and eating more hydrating foods that nourish the skin.
10. Depressed Mood
Ashe cautions against depressed mood, as when you reach that sugar "crash," as Ashe calls it, you're likely to feel low in energy and happiness, as well fatigued. These symptoms of depression can be helped by limiting sugar and also focusing on activities to bust stress, advises Ashe.
11. Irregular Bowel Movements
Ashe says that irregular bowel movements, such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and other conditions can occur when you're eating excess sugar, due to improper digestion. Bad bacteria in the body feed on yeast from sugar, which can throw off digestion. If you do eat sugar, take a walk to balance blood sugar and smooth digestion.
It's common to experience inflammation in the body if you're eating too much sugar, so if you feel swollen or puffy, it might be a clear sign, advises CEO and co-founder of FOODSTAND app, Rachna Govani and Shauna Keeler, NYC-based Chef, and RD, as well as a Foodstand contributor and member, over email with Bustle. If you notice symptoms, "cut back by eliminating sugar at breakfast - swap in protein like eggs or plain greek yogurt," or "cut back by swapping dessert for fresh fruit," say Govani and Keeler.
13. Intense Cravings
If you're "craving food soon after you've eaten a full meal," or experience "intense cravings," say Govani and Keeler, it could mean you're eating too much sugar each day. A good way to check: "if you've had 1 soda or juice in a day, or a sweet yogurt, you're probably at, or over the daily limit," advise Govani and Keeler. "Cut back by eliminating sugar in liquid form - no soda or juice sugary drinks are the biggest contributor of added sugar in our diet - even this one change can have a major effect," Govani and Keeler recommend.
If you notice any of these conditions in your lifestyle, it might be time to rethink your go-to snacks and make some healthier swaps that will keep your blood sugar, mood, and energy levels balanced in the day.
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