If you have your sights set on losing weight, you probably know that your diet has a big part to play. To make a long story short, you’ll want to eat more whole foods (fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains, protein-rich lean meats) and less ultraprocessed ones, especially refined carbs and added sugars.
If weight loss is your goal, or if you’re just trying to eat healthier in general, we have good news: you don’t have to stop eating sugar completely. But it’s still worth taking a closer look at the amount and kinds of sugar you’re consuming. Let’s talk about why.
Does Eating Sugar Make It Hard to Lose Weight?
It’s true that eating lots of sugar can make it hard to reach your weight-loss goals, said Anna Kippen, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic. “Sugar does many harmful things to our bodies, including making us crave more sugar,” Anna told POPSUGAR. These cravings occur because excess refined sugar spikes your blood sugar, she explained; when it comes back down (aka “the crash”), you feel fatigued and want to eat even more sugar.
Higher blood sugar also increases your levels of insulin, Anna added, which is a fat-storage hormone, instructing fat stores to store fat and preventing it from being broken down. “We also know that high insulin levels do tend to increase our sugar cravings,” Anna said.
She pointed out that refined sugars are “very different” than the sugars you find in whole foods like fruit. A sweet apple, for example, has sugar in it, but it is also “rich with fiber and nutrients, which keep you full, and does not spike your blood sugars like a cookie,” Anna explained. If you’re trying to lose weight, you want less of the refined, added sugar, not less of the natural kind.
Can I Eat Sugar and Lose Weight?
Yes, you can still eat added sugar if you’re trying to lose weight, but “it’s best to limit it overall for your health,” Anna said. “Sugar is very inflammatory for the body and increases your risk of many chronic illnesses,” such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. She recommends aiming for 20 grams of added sugar or less per day.
How Can I Cut Back on Sugar and Lose Weight?
Twenty grams of added sugar isn’t a lot, but Anna said if you’re truly struggling to limit sugar in your diet, the best way to do it is by cutting back on sugar or cutting it out completely for a short time. “This often will help you feel more in control going forward,” Anna said, adding that “the decision on whether to cut it back or out is very personal.”
If you don’t want to give up on sweets altogether, Anna said her favorite strategy is to eat a piece of dark chocolate (72 percent cacao or more) at the time of day when you have the heaviest sugar cravings. One piece won’t get in the way of your weight-loss goals, Anna explained, but it will satiate your sweet tooth, help prevent overeating of other sweets, and even give you some antioxidants along the way.
You can also look at what you eat during the rest of the day and make a couple of healthy swaps to cut down on sugar. Here are a few Anna recommends:
Ditch sugary cereal. “So many of my patients start their morning with a sugary cereal or pancakes, which spike their blood sugar and leave them craving more sugar all day long,” Anna said. Swap sugary breakfast options for low-sugar cereals like these.
Swap flavored yogurts for plain. “Flavored yogurts almost always have a large amount of added sugars or artificial sweeteners,” Anna explained. Switch to plain yogurt with half a cup of berries instead – just as sweet and even healthier.
Trade granola and fruit snacks for nuts, raisins, or peanut butter toast. Trading sugary snacks for whole foods will keep you full for longer and help you avoid sugar cravings.
You can still enjoy added sugars, but it’s best to make them just a small part of your diet, both for weight loss and your overall health. Confronting your sugar cravings isn’t easy, but if your goal is dropping pounds, improving your health, or just feeling better day-to-day, it’s a good place to start.