Sweet Temptation: Understanding and eliminating hidden sugars

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Every day, Hoosiers are dieting and exercising and not losing a pound. Others are experiencing fatigue and body pains.

A lot of these issues are driving the trend to eliminate sugars from everyday diets. However, do you know how your body is really breaking down the sweet substance?

Dustin Nichols is one of those Hoosiers who has slashed sugar from his meals.

“I was diagnosed with a bulging disc and compressed nerve,” Nichols explained.

It was that serious back pain that had Nichols and his wife Emily looking for serious change. The Brownsburg couple decided to tackle their diet.

“We had some other family members doing something called Whole 30,” said Emily Nichols. “A big part of that is to cut out refined sugar from your diet.”

It wasn’t easy for them and their busy lifestyle.

“My big thing was coffee creamer,” said Emily. “It’s so addictive.”

They said the results were surprising.

“After that 30 days I lost 10 pounds,” said Emily. “My husband lost 15 pounds.”

Even bigger for Dustin was the back pain that disappeared.

“When we eliminated sugar, a lot of the inflammation just kind of disappeared and the pain got a lot less,” he said.

Dr. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber with Eskenazi Health explained why Dustin’s back pain seemed to go away after changing his diet.

“We know the fat cells themselves have inflammatory mediators," she said.

Dr. Rohr-Kirchgraber, who typically works on promoting healthy lifestyles with younger patients, said she is not surprised because added sugar is to blame for a long list of ailments.

“Two out of every three Americans are overweight or obese which therefore leads to an increase in diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis,” said Dr. Rohr-Kirchgraber.

The diet change wasn't easy. The Nichols family had to do quite a search for a hot sauce without sugar.

“There is sugar in Sriracha,” Dustin pointed out.

So how much sugar should you have a day?

“I hate to say there’s a recommended amount because people think you have to get to that level,” said Dr. Rohr-Kirchgraber. “Usually that’s a few teaspoons a day, but unfortunately we eat enough sugar on average to go over five pounds of sugar every year.”

Experts believe there is a lack of understanding when it comes to sugar.

Amanda Kruse is a registered dietitian with the Indiana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Kruse said we shouldn’t just be looking at added sugars.

“It’s all about your glycemic index,” Kruse pointed out.

You should also look at how healthy foods break down in your body which is called glycemic load. When the glycemic load is lower that means the food is better for you.

“Things that are lower take longer to digest, take longer to spike you blood sugar,” Kruse explained. “When we look at an orange, an orange doesn’t necessarily have as much fiber and it’s going to raise your blood sugar a little faster than an apple.”

Honey has a lower glycemic index compared to regular sugar. Honey is also natural, and that cleaner option helps drive businesses like Ezra’s Enlightened Café in Broad Ripple which is owned and operated by Audrey Barron.

“I think we’ve hit that crucial point now in our society where there are enough of us into the clean eating,” said Barron.

Barron prides herself on not adding any processed sugar into her foods and the kitchen still cranks out cakes, cookies and brownies.

“We’re using local raw honey and local maple syrup,” said Barron. "We also use dates--fresh, organic dates. What happens when you’re eating a lot of the processed sugar, you just crave more and more of it.”

The Nichols kicked their cravings sticking with fruit and black coffee. Even their kids are on board. Dustin is now down 38 pounds, his back feels great and he’s successfully run several races.

“I feel great and I have a lot more energy, but with him it’s just been amazing,” Emily said.

Starting next year, the food companies will be required to show the amount of added sugar on food labels. Doctors said the amount should be ten percent of your daily calories.

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