There’s no easy way to say this: Too much sugar in your diet can make you look older and more tired because it damages the support structures in your skin, which can accelerate wrinkling and sagging. And that, my friends, is the truth! There are other reasons why sugar is bad for your skin, as well. High-glycemic foods—which include sugary items, as well as foods like French fries, white bread, cereals and other grain foods that aren’t whole grains—can lead to hormone spikes and inflammation that can contribute to acne and aggravate other common skin concerns, like rosacea.
How sugar makes you feel old
On top of being bad for your skin, sugar can make you feel older. Because it leads to hormone spikes, it can make you feel irritable and moody, and on top of that, it lowers your energy levels. When was the last time you associated low energy and irritability with youthfulness? That’s a rhetorical question because I’m pretty sure the answer is never!
While some people think of sugar as an energy booster, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The latest research suggests that sugar actually make you feel more tired and less alert. (If you want more energy, be sure to check out my recent blog about natural energy boosters.)
How to cut back on added sugars
The truth is, even if you aren’t indulging in sugary desserts, there’s a good chance that you’re eating too much sugar. The latest government stats suggest that on average, Americans are consuming about 17 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is much more than the recommended caps of six teaspoons per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men.
In order to cut back, the first step is to figure out where sugar is. Sure, you know it’s in candy and other dessert goodies, but it’s also in some seemingly healthy foods, like yogurt, granola, whole grain cereal, plant-based milk (such as almond or cashew milk), jerky and deli meats, condiments, soups, and more. There’s also the sugar you may be adding to your coffee, sugar coming from coffee-shop beverages (like lattes and matcha lattes), and the sugar in other sweetened drinks, like teas, sodas, lemonade, and sports drinks. This adds up to a lot of sugar!!
Reading a food label for added sugars
Now that you know that sugar is bad for your skin and you know some possible sources of added sugar, it’s time to do some label reading. Here’s where things get a little confusing. Currently, labels don’t need to tell you whether the sugar is added or whether it’s naturally occurring. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits, yogurt, and to a lesser extent, in some veggies. These sugars are in a totally different camp, and are fine to consume, but it’s what makes reading labels for something like yogurt (which has natural sugar from lactose and may contain added sugar) really tricky.
Here’s how you can make the job easier:
Do a side-by-side label comparison. Sticking with the yogurt example, look at a plain Greek yogurt alongside a flavored one. You’ll get a sense of how much extra sugar the flavored version supplies. You can also examine two flavored versions and pick the one with fewer added sugars. You can also mix plain and sweetened yogurt to lessen your sugar load a bit.
Do the math. A teaspoon of added sugar is about 4 grams, so if you’re looking at a cap of six teaspoons per day (for women; nine for men), that’s roughly 24 grams. Now let’s go back to a food label. I’ve seen a vanilla almond milk with 13 grams of sugar, which means that if you’re using a cup of that to make your smoothie, you’re already above the 50% sugar cap for the day—and you’ve barely gotten out of bed!
Find added sugars in the ingredient list. Again, this is a little tricky because sugar comes in many forms, but some common ones are apple or pear juice concentrate, brown rice syrup, organic cane sugar, cane juice or cane juice crystals, agave, and honey. Some of these seem innocent (like fruit juice concentrate or honey), but they all spell sugar to your body. Zoom in on the ingredient list to find these sources of added sugar, and if you see multiple sources, it likely means that a product contains excessive amounts of added sugar.
How to cut back on added sugar without feeling miserable
Here’s the best news! You’re probably feeling more miserable now than you will just by cutting back on the day-to-day sugar in your life! As I said, sugar is bad for your skin, bad for your mood, and bad for your energy levels, so by cutting way back, you’ll be taking a giant step toward feeling and looking better! (Is that the best news? It depends on how you look at it!)
Also, these sneaky forms of added sugar start to hijack your taste buds, which means that your taste buds expect foods to taste unnaturally sweet. I want you to take back your taste buds so you can enjoy food in its more natural state. When you do, you may find that the desserts you used to be so fond of are overly sweet, or you may find that you can get by eating a little less of them because you’re not used to the sweetness.
As you embark on reducing the sugars in your diet, explore how you feel in a non-judgmental, but curious way. How are your energy levels? How is your skin looking? How are you enjoying your food? How do you feel when you have dessert?
Cutting way back on added sugars doesn’t mean you have to live without dessert (because that sounds miserable!), but it means examining your intentions and being choosy. After all, when you do have dessert, it should be in the form of something truly delicious and memorable instead of a fruit-flavored yogurt mixed with granola!