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June 21, 2013

Why quit sugar, you might ask? Sugar’s natural! Well, yes. But so is petroleum. And surely you don’t mean fruit and honey? Yes, yes, I do.

Let’s be clear: it’s fructose that’s the enemy when we talk about sugar. Your body transforms table sugar into fructose (and glucose), and the sugar in fruit is also fructose. Honey’s 40% fructose and agave is up to 90%. Now here’s the untechnical gist of the matter: every single molecule we stick in our mouths has a corresponding appetite hormone that, when we’ve eaten enough of said molecule, tells our brains “OK, we’re full now.” Our bodies are good that way; we’re designed to eat only as much as we need.

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Every molecule, that is, except fructose.…

This is because back when we were cave people, sugar was both highly valuable (as insta-energy for chasing wildebeast) and extremely rare (a berry here and there). Thus we evolved with no fructose "full switch," so that when we did stumble on a berry bush we could gorge ourselves silly (and store it as instant fat). Our digestion and metabolisms haven’t changed in over 100,000 years. Our sugar intake, however, has. In just 150 years it’s gone from 0kg to about 60kg a year.

But here’s part two of the dastardly deal. The way fructose is converted in our bodies means it’s not used upfront as energy, but converted directly to fat. It also becomes like a porridge in our arteries, leading to cholesterol and cancer. And the rest. Eating fructose is like eating fat that your body can’t detect as fat.

Essentially, quitting sugar means quitting fructose, for good.

If you're looking to give it a try, why not start with some simple swaps.

The top five foods you need to ban from your plate when you're quitting sugar are:

  1. Fruit juice. A glass of apple juice — whether it's freshly squeezed or from a carton — contains 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar. Which is the same amount as in a can of soda.
  2. Dried fruit in mueslis and health bars. It's 70% sugar!
  3. Low-fat dairy. When the manufacturers take out the fat, they put sugar back in to make up for the lost flavor and texture. Beware: this added sugar is not always listed as "sugar"; it's often disguised with other names, such as inulin.
  4. Packaged sauces. These often contain more sugar than chocolate sauce, particularly the tomato-based ones.
  5. Many "healthy" treats, like muffins and banana breads. Also watch out for anything saying "sugar free" that contains agave.
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Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson
New York Times bestselling author

Sarah Wilson is a journalist, entrepreneur, and the New York Times best-selling author of many books and cookbooks including I Quit Sugar. She is the former editor of Cosmopolitan Australia, and now writes about philosophy, anxiety, minimalism, toxin-free living, and anti-consumerism. Wilson was ranked in’s 100 Most Influential Health Experts in 2015 and as one of the top 200 Most Influential Authors in the world in 2017 and 2018. She lives in Sydney, rides a bike everywhere and is a compulsive hiker, and is eternally curious.