Who doesn’t like something sweet after a meal? And this craving is even worse if you are born with a sweet tooth. From an early age we’ve been taught to expect a reward once we finish our food.

Sugar is found in its natural form in fruits and vegetables for example. But added sugar, especially found in sugary drinks or processed foods, is not a requirement for a healthy diet. Too much sugar can adversely affect your health. Here’s how.

Sugar leads to weight gain

Sugar does not contain any nutrients and is an empty calorie. Adding it to the foods you consume increases its calorie content. The body digests the sugars quickly, so you’ll be hungry sooner. Sugar may also affect leptin, the hormone that regulates hunger. Not only are you consuming a lot of calories, but you are also eating more because you feel hungry.

Sugar gives you cavities

It wasn’t just something your mother said – too many sweets do damage your teeth. When you eat sugar, the bacteria in your mouth form a layer around your teeth called plaque. As the bacteria interacts with this sugar, an acid is released that can cause cavities.

Sugar drains your energy

When you eat sugar, your insulin and blood sugar levels skyrocket. We’re all too familiar with a sugar high. But this high disappears just as quickly as it appeared, leaving you sluggish and without energy.

Sugar affects your organs

  • A diet high in sugar puts you at a higher risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar is broken down by the liver, so excessive amounts over time can eventually lead to a fatty liver.
  • Your skin is your biggest organ. Not only is a high intake of sugar linked to acne, it may also cause your skin to age faster.

How to reduce your sugar intake

Sugar is entrenched in our lives – it is obvious in foods like donuts and cakes, and less noticeable in foods like pasta, cereal and bread. Here are simple ways that you can cut your sugar intake:

  • Swap flavoured low fat yogurt for plain, full fat yogurt. Full fat or Greek yogurt has fewer carbs and less sugar. Be wary of low-fat products – these often contain a lot of sugar to give it flavour.
  • Skip the sugary drinks like sodas and juices, and rather drink water.
  • Eat more veggies than fruits. Fruits are a great source of fibre, but contain a lot of sugars – especially grapes, peaches, papaya etc.
  • Cook your own food from raw ingredients. You’ll know what goes into your food and you’ll skip the processed foods.
  • Don’t add sugar to starchy vegetables like butternut or sweet potato. These veggies have their own sugar and are delicious if you just roast them.
  • Cut down on sugar in your tea or coffee – try sugar alternatives if possible.
  • Read food labels. 10 grams of sugar is more than 2 teaspoons of sugar.