Sugar-Free September: Can you give up all added sugars for a whole month?

Dr. Jennifer Ashton breaks down why you should try this wellness challenge.

September 11, 2018, 8:40 AM

Could you cut out all added sugars from your diet for a whole month?

After indulging in a sweet summer, this September, ABC News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton is going sugar-free, giving up all added sugars and sticking to a strict limit of 25 grams of naturally-occurring sugar each day.

"I'm really trying to cut my sugar down as low as possible.... I'm really trying to watch the sugar. This my little wellness tweak for the month of September. I've been doing a different one every month," Ashton said. "When I got my degree in nutrition, it's pretty clear now, that right now that the focus is on sugar. Added sugar in our diets really doing more harm than good."

Plus, she is inviting "GMA" viewers to join her on the Sugar Free September challenge.

To participate, you can join Ashton and cut out all added sugars. That means no sugar in your coffee, or even honey in your tea, according to Ashton.

Natural sugars, such as in fruits, are still okay, but Ashton is limiting how much of even naturally-occurring sugar she is consuming. For those who may not be ready to give up all sugar, Ashton recommends at least challenging yourself and sticking to the recommended daily intake from the World Health Organization: Just 25 grams of sugar per day, or about six teaspoons.

The task may not seem that difficult, but there are so many hidden ways that added sugars may sneak into foods that may even appear to be "healthy."

For example, in a low-fat strawberry yogurt, Ashton said she found that after reading the back of the label, the single snack clocked in a whopping 26 grams of sugar -- more than the recommended amount for a whole day.

What does sugar do to our bodies?

Our cells run on sugar, but too much can be very bad for your health, according to Ashton.

Too much sugar can cause inflammation, weight gain, increased risk of diabetes and reduced energy, Ashton said.

And it's not just your body that sugar affects, but also your brain. Sugar stimulates the reward center in your brain in the same way as drugs, and can cue increased hunger and stress. As a result, consuming too much sugar can cause increased sugar cravings and increased tolerance to sugar.

"My patients -- both nutritional and medical -- all feel better when they reduce -- not totally eliminate -- but reduce the sugar in their diets," Ashton said.

PHOTO: Sugar is measured out in this stock photo.
Sugar is measured out in this stock photo.
STOCK/Getty Images

What are some unexpected sources of added sugars?

Even seemingly healthy options at the grocery store are often loaded with hidden sugars, according to Ashton.

Among some of the sneakiest culprits that you may not expect to contain lots of sugar are bread, yogurt, cereal, salad dressing, ketchup, granola bars and dried mango.

What are some other names for sugars to look out for?

Don't just look at the nutrition labels, but also take a look at the ingredients list. There are more than 50 names for sugar, some of which we may recognize (molasses, cane sugar, etc.), but some we may have never heard of.

Here are some of them:

- Agave nectar
- Barbados sugar
- Barley malt
- Barley malt syrup
- Beet sugar
- Brown sugar
- Buttered syrup
- Cane juice
- Cane juice crystals
- Cane sugar
- Caramel
- Carob syrup
- Castor sugar
- Coconut palm sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Confectioner's sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Corn syrup solids
- Date sugar
- Dehydrated cane juice
- Demerara sugar
- Dextrin
- Dextrose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Free-flowing brown sugars
- Fructose
- Fruit juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Glucose
- Glucose solids
- Golden sugar
- Golden syrup
- Grape sugar
- HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)
- Honey
- Icing sugar
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Maltodextrin
- Maltol
- Maltose
- Mannose
- Maple syrup
- Molasses
- Muscovado
- Palm sugar
- Panocha
- Powdered sugar
- Raw sugar
- Refiner's syrup
- Rice syrup
- Saccharose
-Sorghum Syrup
- Sucrose
- Sugar (granulated)
- Sweet Sorghum
- Syrup
- Treacle
- Turbinado sugar
- Yellow sugar

Ashton will be updating her sugar-free journey this month on the We Are GMA Facebook group, where you can join in the conversation with hashtag #GMASugarChallenge and share how it is going for you!