The average U.S. adult consumes an extra 145 calories from soft drinks on any given day. In fact, sugar-sweetened beverages provide approximately 37 percent of all the sugar consumed by Americans, according to a cohort study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2014.
Soda, starches and sugary foods are all major sources of calories. Removing them from your diet can make it easier to lose excess weight and keep it off.
Cutting sugar intake to lose weight can be effective. How much weight you'll lose by cutting out sugar and starch for two weeks depends on a number of factors. Your current weight and metabolic rate as well as your diet and activity level all come into play.
Sugar and Your Health
A high-sugar diet can affect your heart, brain and immune system. In the long run, it may increase your risk of chronic diseases and shorten your lifespan. As the researchers at Harvard Health Publishing note too much added sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease and cardiovascular problems. On top of that, it triggers inflammation and elevates blood pressure.
The same source states that more than 42 percent of added sugar comes from soda, sports drinks and energy drinks. Nearly 12 percent comes from grain-based products and desserts, such as granola and rice pudding. Dairy desserts, breakfast cereals, yeast bread, candy and fruit beverages are all high in sugar. These foods and drinks provide empty calories and contribute to weight gain.
No one is immune to the dangers of sugar. This popular food ingredient has been shown to increase triglycerides and blood pressure in children, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in April 2014. Therefore, a diet rich in added sugar may increase the risk of heart disease from a young age.
Another study that appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in August 2014 has linked sugar consumption to a greater risk of periodontal disease in young adults. As the scientists explain, added sugar causes inflammation and increases oxidative stress, which may lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and periodontal disease, among other health problems.
Did you know that sugar can also worsen depression and affect your mood? A large-scale study conducted on 23,245 subjects and published in Scientific Reports in July 2017 indicates a strong link between added sugar and poor mental health. When consumed in excess, this food may cause depression and mood disorders. On top of that, it can affect your immune system because of its inflammatory action.
Are Starches a Better Option?
Both sugar and starch are carbohydrates. Pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, whole grains and other starchy foods serve as a source of energy. Some are healthier than others, though. As the Cleveland Clinic points out, the best starchy foods to include in your diet are those rich in fiber and protein, such as chickpeas, quinoa, sprouted grain bread and beans.
White bread, white pasta and white rice, for example, contain starch too. The problem is that they're highly processed and have little nutritional value. One serving of cooked white rice provides 205 calories, 4.2 grams of protein, 44.5 grams of carbs and 0.6 grams of fiber. Wild rice, by comparison, boasts 166 calories, 6.5 grams of protein, 35 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber per serving.
All types of carbs, including sugar and starches, provide 4 calories per gram. If you eat too much, the calories will add up. Healthy starchy foods, such as wild rice and oats, are nutritionally superior to cake and cookies, but they can still cause weight gain when consumed in excess. To lose weight, it's necessary to create a calorie deficit, and one way to do that is to cut out starch and sugar for two weeks or longer.
Sugars, Starches and Your Weight
Low-carb diets, which limit sugar and starches, are proven to work. A research paper published in the journal Nutrients in April 2019 states that carbohydrate restriction not only facilitates weight loss but also improves glycemic control in people with type 2 diabetes.
An October 2015 study featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of low- and high-carbohydrate diets on diabetic patients. Both groups experienced a major reduction in body weight, blood pressure, bad cholesterol and fasting glucose levels. However, the low-carb group had greater improvements in blood lipids and glycemic control.
How much weight you can lose by limiting sugars and starches depends on several factors, including your metabolic rate, overall diet and activity level. If your daily meals are high in carbs, cutting out starches and added sugars will significantly reduce your calorie intake.
Let's say that you consume around 200 grams of carbs daily. That's 800 calories per day from carbs alone. Each pound of fat is roughly 3,500 calories. If you cut 800 calories per day by eliminating sugar and starch from your diet, you'll lose about one pound of fat in four days and 3.2 pounds within two weeks.
Beware, though, that this isn't an exact science. Some people have a faster metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day. Additionally, weight loss slows over time as your body adapts to a lower calorie intake.
Furthermore, it's extremely difficult to completely remove both sugar and starch from your diet. Except for unprocessed meat, fish and eggs, most foods contain sugar or starch in varying amounts.
Fruits, in general, are high in fructose (a natural sugar), while vegetables, legumes and grains contain starch. Nuts and seeds contain sugar too. Almonds, for example, provide 20.4 grams of carbs, including 4.1 grams of sugars per serving (1 ounce).
Carbs Are Not the Enemy
The good news is, you don't have to give up sugar and starch to slim down. Not all carbs are created equal. As mentioned earlier, some starchy foods are healthy and nutritious, while others provide nothing but empty calories.
Read more: 16 Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs
The same goes for sugar. Fruits, for instance, are rich in fiber, which slows sugar absorption into your bloodstream, as the experts at Harvard Health Publishing point out. In fact, most types of fruit contain bioactive compounds that may help prevent obesity, according to an October 2016 review published in the journal Nutrients.
Carbohydrate quality rather than quantity matters most, as reported in a January 2019 review in the Lancet. For example, healthy starchy foods like whole wheat and brown rice are high in fiber. The Lancet review reported that, in clinical trials, individuals with the highest fiber intake experienced a 15 to 30 percent reduction in the risk of all-cause mortality, heart disease mortality, stroke, colorectal cancer and diabetes, compared to those eating less fiber.
If your goal is to get leaner, avoid added sugars and refined carbs. Fill up on high-protein and high-fiber foods, watch your calorie intake and eat mindfully. Fatty fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables, low-sugar fruits, nuts and seeds are all excellent choices.
- CDC.gov: "Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Sweet Danger of Sugar"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Added Sugars in the Diet Are Positively Associated With Diastolic Blood Pressure and Triglycerides in Children"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Added Sugars and Periodontal Disease in Young Adults: An Analysis of NHANES III Data"
- Scientific Reports: "Sugar Intake From Sweet Food and Beverages, Common Mental Disorder and Depression: Prospective Findings From the Whitehall II Study"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Cutting Carbs? Don’t Say ‘No’ to These Starchy Foods"
- USDA: "Cooked White Rice"
- USDA: "Cooked Wild Rice"
- USDA: "How Many Calories Are in One Gram of Fat, Carbohydrate, or Protein?"
- MDPI: Nutrients: "Low-Carb and Ketogenic Diets in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Comparison of Low- and High-Carbohydrate Diets for Type 2 Diabetes Management: A Randomized Trial"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Should You Weigh Yourself Every Day?"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: "The 3500-Calorie Weight Loss Myth"
- USDA: "Almonds"
- MDPI: Nutrients: "Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity"
- The Lancet: "Carbohydrate Quality and Human Health: A Series of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses"