TIME Diet/Nutrition

7 Amazing Things That Happen to Your Body When You Give Up Soda

soda-coke
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Dropping soda can even help you look younger

The Coca-Cola company has identified the culprit behind America’s weight problem. And it wants to put the blame on….you.

The world’s largest producer of soda is pouring money into a nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, a research group with the mission of proving that our diets have little to do with our obesity crisis. The group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, claims that “there’s really virtually no compelling evidence” that eating fatty foods and drinking sugary beverages causes weight gain. Instead, the fact that 2 out of 3 Americans is overweight or obese is just proof that we’re not working hard enough in the gym, he claims.

If that sounds like a desperation move to you, it is: The amount of full-calorie sodas drunk by the average American has dropped 25 percent since the late 1990s, according to a report last month in the New York Times. And while Coke isn’t about to go broke any time soon—it owns everything from Dasani water to Odwalla juice—reversing the decline of its premier brand is clearly a priority. Even if that means pointing a finger at you. But don’t be fooled. Giving up soda may be the single best thing you can do for your weight, and your health. The editors of Eat This, Not That! took a close look at the research and discovered these 7 amazing things that happen when you give up soda.

You’ll be less hungry

Despite what Coke says, their flagship product, made with High Fructose Corn Syrup, will cause weight gain—one can has the calorie equivalent of a pack of Sour Patch Kids, but with 10 more grams of sugar! Diet soda packs on the pounds as well—it’s just more passive-aggressive about it. It also makes you crave more sweets. “Artificial sweeteners affect our sense of satiety,” says Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, of Isabel Smith Nutrition. “Our bodies have evolutionarily developed to expect a large amount of calories when we take in something exceedingly sweet, and those artificial sweeteners are from 400 times to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar.” That causes a couple things to happen, says Smith. “The muscles in your stomach relax so you can take in food, and hormones are released. With artificial sweeteners, your body says, ‘Wait a minute, you told me you were going to give me all this high-calorie food.’ It can actually send some people searching for more food, out of lack of satisfaction.”

You’ll look younger

Americans spend millions of dollars on anti-aging products, multi-vitamins, and personal trainers to keep themselves young. If only they kicked the can. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that, as cells divide, telomeres—the buffers at the end of chromosomes that protect genes—naturally shorten, a process related to aging and age-related diseases. This findings show that sugar-sweetened sodas consumed once a day—in a 12-ounce serving—were associated with telomere shortness, a precursor to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. In fact, sugar-sweetened sodas increase cell aging (aka senescence) the same amount as smoking.

You’ll lose more weight

That Coke Zero is nutritionally no hero—it’s stopping you from losing weight. “Even though diet drinks are calorie-free, they cause insulin to be released in your gut because their artificial sweeteners are sweet like sugar, and that actually prevents weight loss,” says Miriam Jacobson, RD, CDN. “Insulin is your body’s primary fat-storage hormone, so it will have the body hold on to any extra fat,” she continues, adding, “Trying to lose weight by trading a Coke for a Diet Coke is doing the body just as much harm, if not more, because of all the chemicals in the calorie-free version.” In fact, over the course of a decade, people who consume two or more diet sodas a day experience increases in waist size that are 4 times greater than those who don’t.

You’ll get sick less often

The acidity in soda is bad news for your digestive system, eroding tooth enamel and worsening acid reflux. But diet sodas are especially treacherous for your gut—and the far-reaching bodily systems it affects. “Researchers are finding that artificial sweeteners may affect our healthy gut bacteria, which can affect everything from blood-sugar control to weight management to disease—how our immune system works and how our body responds to infection,” says Smith. In fact, for every 5 percent of calories you consume from sweeteners, your risk of diabetes increases 18 percent, and “bad” LDL cholesterol and heart disease risk increase after just two weeks of consuming corn-based sweeteners like those in Coke.

You’ll reduce hidden fats

Yep, we’re talking dangerous fats that are hard to detect with the naked eye, meaning, you might not know you’re in risk of certain health problems because you won’t see the changes in your own body. Danish researchers conducted a study of the effects of non-diet soda by asking participants to drink either sweetened soda, milk containing the same amount of calories as the soda, diet soda, or water every day for six months. Total fat mass remained the same across all beverage-drinking groups, but the drinkers of regular soda saw a drastic increase in harmful hidden fats, like liver and skeletal fat. And we mean drastic.

You’ll stop your bones from breaking

The caramel color in soda contains an artificially created phosphorus that can be bad for long-term bone health, says Smith. Phosphorous is a natural chemical found in foods like beans and grains, but the mutant variety found in dark soda is like a dinner guest who refuses to leave. “Basically, you’re taking something that exists in nature but making this hyper-absorbable form of it,” says Smith. “Your body doesn’t have the choice whether to absorb it or excrete it, so it can cause calcium to leach out of bones. It’s particularly bad for anybody with kidney disease,” she explains.

You’ll have more energy

Ironically, the main reason you’re drinking soda may be the very reason why you’re tired and want more. “Drinking too much caffeine can make you dehydrated, and it can overstimulate the nervous system, making you fatigued and exhausted,” says Smith. “I find that when people cut back on caffeine they have more energy because the caffeine causes very big highs and lows,” she adds. In her practice, Smith has seen that quitting soda can lead to a positive domino effect. “There is way more energy for our bodies in real food than in processed foods,” she says, adding, “When people cut back on processed items, they often look for more fresh foods and make better choices. By giving up soda, it may seem like you’re making one change, but it can actually change a couple aspects of your diet for the better.”

This article originally appeared on Eat This, Not That!

More from Eat This, Not that!

TIME Exercise/Fitness

How Coke Is Subtly Blaming You for Obesity

SEC Launches Investigation Into Coca-Cola's Earnings History
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Which is more important for weight loss: diet or exercise? While science has one answer, soda manufacturers have another

For years the message from medical experts to the increasingly hefty American population has been the same—watch what you eat, and exercise. But since everybody eats, but not every person is physically active, the focus has really been more on the former rather than the latter. Diet is an easier target, too, because the biggest culprits are simple to spot: fried favorites, calorie-dense fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods that pack a lot of fat-building carbohydrates and sugar. Eat less of these, the white-coat brigade keeps telling us, plus more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and it’ll be easier to control weight, avoid putting on extra pounds and bypass serious diseases like heart problems and diabetes. The problem is, the messaging hasn’t worked. Obesity rates have continued to climb in recent decades. (While they’ve started to level off, there still aren’t many signs that they are beginning to drop.) So some people are now changing the mantra: instead of focusing on what you put into your body, turn your attention to what you do with the energy, stored up in the form of fat, that you’ve packed away. Worry less about your diet, and get active so you can burn off the unwanted calories you consume to keep your weight in check.

MORE: Here’s the Amount of Exercise That Lowers Breast Cancer Risk

The sugar-sweetened beverage industry has hungrily adopted the message. Facing mounting pressure to improve their products, both when it comes to calories and overall nutrition, they’re eagerly shifting the attention—or blame—from their fare to the American public. It’s not us, they seem to be saying, but you. You’re just not moving enough to burn off all the calories you’re taking in. First, the makers of Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, and Pepsi, along with the American Beverage Association, launched Mixify, a campaign that encourages young soda drinkers to “mixify” their balance of sugared drinks and exercise, giving license to indulge more if they’re more active. But the latest soda-backed program is the Global Energy Balance Network, a collaboration of leading medical experts with a mission to urge Americans to focus on finding a better balance between what they eat and what they burn off (which, for the mainly sedentary American population, is about getting more active.) The network is supported by Coca-Cola, though initial invitations to scientists failed to mention that.

MORE: This Is Your Brain on Exercise

What’s particularly insidious about this new spotlight on exercise and energy balance is that it’s good medical advice that’s being promoted in a misleading and potentially harmful way. There simply isn’t strong evidence to show that exercise alone, at least at the level that anyone other than a marathoner maintains, can actually help people to shed pounds. “The notion that we can exercise away a bad diet is absolutely unfounded,” says Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center and professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard, “and contradicted by many research studies.” Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, assistant professor of family medicine at University of Ottawa, agrees. “The average person who sees me is definitely under the impression that the ticket to the weight loss express is exercise,” he says. “These are well-intentioned people who want to change their weight or health status predominantly through exercise without paying much attention to their intake, because they don’t believe their intake is an important or valuable contributor to their weight.” No doctor or public health official would argue with the soundness of getting more exercise. Loads of studies show the benefits of being physically active on the mind, heart, metabolism and more. But in these new campaigns, this scientifically solid advice is being tweaked to encourage the less scientifically valid idea that extra calories from processed foods or sugared drinks can be so easily worked off. “By grabbing onto causes that are beyond reproach and tough to argue with, like ‘exercise is good for you,’ Coca-Cola is getting involved in a way that isn’t in the best interest of public health,” says Freedhoff. The campaigns want us to believe that we can figure out how many calories we’re taking in, then exercise the appropriate amount to work off that additional input. But people are notoriously bad at measuring how many calories they consume and work off–and, even more significantly, our bodies don’t work that way. Calories that come in don’t simply turn into fat and sit inertly as a back-up source of energy if it’s not used. A body that gets exposed to a lot of excess sugar, such as from sodas or carbohydrate-rich processed foods, isn’t the same as one that only sees a smaller amount. Consistently high levels of sugar can change the way the body breaks it down. Like a car that’s repeatedly driven at high speeds and needs to rely on the brakes more often in order to stop, the biological metabolic brake system—in this case the insulin that processes sugar—starts to wear down and become less efficient. That’s the first step toward weight gain and diabetes.

MORE: Strenuous Exercise May Not Be That Bad for You After All

If weight were as simple as burning off the calories that come in, then foods that are high in calories, such as nuts, would be a “nightmare,” says Ludwig. Instead, study after study shows that people who eat more nuts, which are also brimming with protein, healthy unsaturated fats and fiber, tend to lose weight and weigh less than those who don’t consume them. The key, he says, is insulin. The more processed and refined a food is, such as baked goods and carb-heavy snacks like chips, the quicker the body digests it, and the more insulin the body pumps out to break down the food. The more insulin that circulates around, the more fat is sequestered away, since the excess calories far exceed what the body needs so it stores the fat away for future use. That’s why the idea of just working off the calories you eat doesn’t quite capture all the hormonal and metabolic changes that occur in the body when food comes in. “If you’re a toaster oven, then the calorie balance model is for you,” says Ludwig. “If you’re a human, it’s not helpful. By the calorie balance theory, we should cut back on everything. There should be no difference in cutting back on fruits and vegetables than from cutting back on soda. Instead, we all intuitively know that’s not the case. Eating too much fruit is not the road to obesity.” But there is a certain appeal to the notion of being able to compensate for that can of soda with a jog around the block. And the beverage makers know that, which explains why they’re backing the exercise message, similar to the way that the tobacco industry supported and ultimately biased results of studies claiming that light or low tar cigarettes were less harmful. In response to a recent New York Times article about Coke’s involvement in the network, the company released a statement: “At Coke, we believe that a balanced diet and regular exercise are two key ingredients for a healthy lifestyle and that is reflected in both our long-term and short-term business actions,” the company wrote. But the soda makers’ strategy of shifting responsibility onto consumers and making it their choice to work off what they eat or drink misses the point. Consumers do have choices to make, but Dr. David Katz, co-founder and director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, likens the American public to flood victims, caught in a dangerous current of sugar-sweetened beverages, fast food, calorie-dense but nutritionally barren options and forced to “swim” by adopting a healthier diet or becoming more physically active. But, notes Freedhoff, “Without a levy, even the best swimmers get tired.” Until the food environment in which Americans find themselves changes dramatically — such as with taxes on sugared sodas, bans on advertising sugared foods to children and stricter vetting of health claims, like the energy balance message being promoted now, Americans will continue to be carried along with the unhealthy tide toward obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. “If you want to live a healthful life and maintain a healthy body weight, you need to go out of your way to live abnormally in an environment where normal isn’t healthy,” says Freedhoff. “It should really be the other way around.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the affiliation of Yoni Freedhoff. He is at the University of Ottawa.

TIME

Big Soda Sues San Francisco Over Beverage Warnings

<> on June 10, 2015 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan—2015 Getty Images Bottles of soda are displayed in a cooler at a convenience store on June 10, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

The soda industry’s largest trade body is suing the city of San Francisco over rules that would require mandatory warning labels on soda advertisements and ban their display on city property.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Beverage Association on Friday, claims the regulations due to come into force July 2016 are unconstitutional. The city, the complaint said, “is trying to ensure that there is no free marketplace of ideas, but instead only a government-imposed, one-sided public ‘dialogue’ on the topic—in violation of the First Amendment.”

The legislation was passed unanimously by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in June and stands among the strongest laws in the country relating to sugary beverages. The label, which must be affixed to all soda advertisements, would read: “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.”

The plaintiffs in the complaint say forcing signs to carry that label “violates core First Amendment principles.”

Other parties to the suit also include the California Retailers Association and the California State Outdoor Advertising Association.

TIME Retail

Hug a Diet Coke Drinker, Because They’re Going Extinct

Diet Coke drinking is down 7%

Diet Coke drinkers are going the way of the dinosaur and BlackBerry users, according to Coca-Cola’s earnings report out Wednesday.

The Atlanta, Georgia-based company said the Diet Coke brand declined 7% over the last three months. That continues a trend of negative Diet Coke growth the company’s been seeing for a decade, TIME reported in February:

But soda drinkers aren’t giving up on the sweet stuff entirely. Coke’s low-calorie Coca-Cola Zero brand is up 6%, almost entirely making up for Diet Coke’s plunge.

It’s hard to tell exactly what’s driving the Diet Coke to Coke Zero shift. Some diet sodas have suffered from speculation over the health consequences of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, causing PepsiCo to remove that ingredient from Diet Pepsi. But aspartame is found in Coke Zero as well as Diet Coke. It could be simply a matter of taste: While Diet Coke has a distinguishable flavor, Coke Zero is intended to taste exactly like regular Coke.

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Sells Fewer Sodas With Happy Meals

General Images From Inside A McDonald's Restaurant
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A Happy Meal is displayed for a photograph on a tray at a McDonald's Corp. restaurant in Little Falls, New Jersey, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012.

The fast food giant made a pledge to curb kids' love of sugary drinks

McDonald’s is selling fewer sodas with its happy meals after removing the drinks from its kids menu.

The fast food chain agreed to remove sodas from the menu board and marketing material for its kids’ meals last July as part of a partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Between July 2014 and May 2015, 48% of patrons got soda with their Happy Meals, compared to 56% during the same period a year earlier. McDonald’s has been pushing kids to select healthier drink options such as milk and juice instead.

The anti-soda initiative is part of a broader pledge by McDonald’s to help families lead healthy lifestyles. The company has said it will offer side salads, fruits or vegetables as an alternative to french fries in 20 major markets by 2020.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME food&drink

San Francisco Approves Warning Label for Sugary Drink Ads

US-FOOD-BEVERAGE-HEALTH
Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty Images A woman shops for frozen foods on an aisle across from sodas and other sugary drinks for sale at a superrmarket in Monterey Park, California on June 18, 2014.

Measure is aimed at curtailing locals' consumption of high-calorie drinks

San Francisco lawmakers unanimously voted on Tuesday to put warning labels on all advertisements for sugary beverages in the City by the Bay. This first-in-the-nation law is set to go into effect this summer, which means billboards or taxi-cab ads for Coke or Gatorade will soon bear this message:

WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.

The new law, which the mayor has 10 days to sign or veto before it automatically goes into effect, was passed as part of a package aimed at curtailing locals’ consumption of high-calorie drinks linked to health problems such as weight gain and diabetes. The city’s board of supervisors also voted to ban advertisements for sugary drinks on publicly owned property—such as bus stops—and to prohibit the use of city funds for purchasing sugary drinks.

“Today, San Francisco has sent a clear message that we need to do more to protect our community’s health,” Supervisor Scott Wiener, who proposed the warning label, said in a statement. “These health warnings will help provide people information they need to make informed decisions about what beverages they consume. Requiring health warnings on soda ads also makes clear that these drinks aren’t harmless — indeed, quite the opposite — and that the puppies, unicorns, and rainbows depicted in soda ads aren’t reality.”

This victory for Wiener and his allies comes on the heels of a defeat for lawmakers last year, when they tried and failed to pass a tax on sugary drinks through a ballot initiative. (Berkeley, the liberal bastion across the Bay, succeeded in becoming the first city to pass such a tax.) This year and last year, a state lawmaker tried unsuccessfully to pass a California law that would have required sugary drinks or their location of purchase to bear a health warning label, much like packages of cigarettes.

When TIME asked Wiener whether advocates planned to try again for a soda tax, he said there was momentum for more of the same but no firm commitments yet. “There are discussions happening,” he said. “But it’s too soon to say.”

TIME coca-cola

The Iconic Coca-Cola Bottle Is Getting a Surprising Update

Coca-Cola Buys North American Bottling Operations Of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. For $12.3 Billion
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Coca-Cola can and bottle images appear on the side of a trailer outside the Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. bottling facility in Niles, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010.

It's pretty sweet

Coca-Cola has come up with a new bottle: one made entirely of plant material—including sugarcane.

It’s called the “PlantBottle.” Coke debuted it as the World Expo in Milan, Italy, a food-tech conference.

Coke said in a statement that the PlantBottle represents a “more responsible plant-based alternative to packaging traditionally made from fossil fuels and other nonrenewable materials.” The company will use the container across its beverage brands: soft drinks, water, juice, and tea.

PlantBottle is “the globe’s first fully recyclable PET plastic bottle made entirely from renewable materials,” said Nancy Quan, Coke’s global research and development officer, in the statement.

The bottles are still plastic, but made from plants including sugarcane and byproducts of processing sugarcane, rather than petroleum products, which leave a much larger environmental footprint. It was developed in partnership with Virent, a processor of biofuels and biochemicals.

Coke made something of a splash in 2009, when it announced that its containers would be made up of 30% plant material. It has sold 35 million of those bottles since then. Coke says those bottles have kept a total of 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from being released into the atmosphere.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Coke plans widespread distribution of the bottles by 2020.

MONEY Tax

More States Tax Tampons Than Candy in America

tampon-tax-more-states-candy-soda
Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Feminine hygiene products are taxed more often than soda too.

Forty states tax tampons and other feminine hygiene products, a new report from Fusion finds.

That’s odd given the fact that the 45 states with sales taxes typically allow exemptions for “necessities” like groceries—and, well, menstrual products are a necessity for about half the U.S. population.

Only five states with sales tax—Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey—have explicitly eliminated sales tax on tampons and pads, the report found.

That compares with 15 states (plus D.C.) that treat candy as sales tax-exempt groceries, according to recent data from the Tax Foundation. Eleven states don’t tax soda or candy, but 10 of those 11 do tax tampons.

The offenders?

1. Arizona
2. Georgia
3. Louisiana
4. Michigan
5. Nebraska
6. Nevada
7. New Mexico
8. South Carolina
9. Vermont
10. Wyoming

And it’s not just about candy and soda: Plenty of states tax feminine hygiene products but allow exemptions for much more seemingly frivolous purchases.

New York, for example, taxes tampons but apparently not dry cleaning, newspapers, American flags, admissions to live circus performances, or “wine furnished at a wine tasting.”

Perhaps we should take a cue from our northern neighbors: Canada’s government just announced that it will stop taxing feminine hygiene products this summer.

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Things You Should Know About Natural Sugar

Honey
Getty Images

How to enjoy sweets without disrupting your appetite

As a nutritionist, I advise my clients to avoid soda, eat fruits and veggies, and sweeten recipes conservatively with natural options, like organic honey or maple syrup. They’re less processed than refined sugar and they contain other beneficial substances, including antioxidants. Some new research, however, has left people wondering if these better-for-you sweet foods are actually okay to consume, particularly for weight loss.

Here’s a summary of the study and my bottom-line tips on how to sweeten up your life a little, without wreaking havoc on your waistline.

University of Southern California researchers looked at the responses of 24 volunteers who consumed flavored beverages that were sweetened with fructose one day, and glucose another. Brain scans revealed that when subjects looked at images of food after consuming fructose, there was greater activity in the area of the brain tied to reward. The participants were also asked if they’d rather eat the food immediately, or forgo it for a monetary bonus. When drinking fructose, more of the men and women chose the immediate food reward. The researchers said the results indicate that, relative to glucose, fructose has less of an appetite-suppressing effect, and may be more likely to trigger eating.

Why the difference between the two sweeteners? When you consume glucose, your pancreas secretes insulin, which allows cells to use it for energy. Insulin also tells your brain that you’ve received fuel, which curbs appetite. Since fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion, you brain may not be getting an “I’m good, stop eating now” message.

So how does all of this relate to honey and produce? Well, honey, maple syrup, molasses, fresh fruit, and even some veggies (like sugar snap peas), all contain fructose. But in my opinion the aforementioned study doesn’t mean you should eliminate the lot.

To reap the rewards without disrupting your appetite—or derailing your weight—follow these three tips.

With fruit, fresh is best

While fruit is a natural source of fructose, the sweetener is also bundled with fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And in fresh fruit the fructose isn’t concentrated. For example, one cup of blueberries naturally contains about 7 grams of fructose, along with 3.5 grams of fiber and several key nutrients. By contrast, a 12-ounce can of soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup contains about 22.5 grams of fructose, with no fiber or nutrients. The fluid and fiber in fresh fruit (in addition to the volume and chewing involved) also positively impact fullness and satiety.

In other words, the amount and form of the fructose you consume matter. If you’re concerned about fructose and appetite, stick with fresh fruit. If you eat dried fruit, remember that the portion shrinks by about three quarters, so you should eat a serving no larger than the size of a golf ball. The same holds true for juice. Some of my clients love fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice at breakfast, but I advise them to drink a shot, not a tall glass, and capture as much pulp as possible.

Don’t drink your sugar

The USC study was done with beverages. Previous research has shown that sugar in the form of a thin liquid isn’t as filling as solid forms, so you won’t compensate by eating less food when you drink a soda, lemonade, or sweet tea. That means the extra calories just add to your overall intake, and if you don’t burn them off, you’ll either prevent weight loss or further fill up your fat cells. For this reason, I advise clients to choose solid sweet treats, preferably made with ingredients that offer some nutritional value (check out my dark chocolate superfood pudding, which can also be made into a smoothie).

Other studies have shown that thickness also prompts eaters to perceive foods as more filling. In a University of Sussex study, researchers asked volunteers to rate how filling they expected various thick, creamy drinks to be. The subjects did this by identifying how much solid food they thought they would need to eat to experience the same level of fullness. The conclusion: thickness, not creaminess, impacted the expectation that a drink would better suppress hunger. In two additional studies, thicker drinks were found to suppress actual hunger (not just anticipated hunger, as in the Sussex study) more than thinner versions of beverages with the same calorie levels. This is one reason I’m a big fan of chia seeds—they soak up water to form a thick, gel-like texture, which adds a satisfaction factor to sweetened puddings, smoothies, and parfaits.

Limit sweets overall, from all sources

I’ve had many clients over the years who have tried to eliminate sugar completely only to experience intense cravings, and eventually break down, and binge eat sweets. If all or nothing doesn’t work for you, you’ll be happy to know that even the strictest recommendations on sugar, from organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA), don’t recommend banishing it completely.

According to the AHA, the daily target for added sugar (e.g. forms like honey and sweetened foods) should be no more than the equivalent of 6 level teaspoons for women, and 9 for men. That means adding a teaspoon of organic honey or maple syrup to Greek yogurt, having a few squares of dark chocolate each day, or enjoying an occasional dessert is well within the limits. It’s also far less the 22 daily teaspoons the average American takes in each day.

For more about sugar, including where it may be hiding, and how to limit your intake sanely and sustainably, check out my article The 4 Most Confusing Things About Sugar.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

More from Health.com:

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Group Wants to Ban the Word Diet From Diet Sodas

Diet soda
Getty Images

A consumer-advocacy group is calling today for federal regulatory agencies to investigate the use of the word diet by diet-soda manufacturers, calling the adjective “deceptive, false and misleading” and citing research that finds diet soda may actually lead to weight gain instead of weight loss.

“This looks like a classic case of false advertising,” says Gary Ruskin, co-founder and executive director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, Calif., which wrote two letters — one to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and another to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — demanding a sweeping investigation into the use of the word diet in advertising by companies that use artificial sweeteners. U.S. Right to Know claims that the use of the word violates federal law against false advertising, branding and labeling of food products. “We’re doing this to make sure that people don’t get sicker from these products and gain weight when they want to be losing weight,” Ruskin says.

MORE: Should I Drink Diet Soda?

Some research suggests that diet soda may contribute to weight gain instead of weight loss, possibly by decoupling the link between sweet taste and caloric consequences, thus leading to overeating.

“Previous research, including human clinical trials, supports that diet beverages are an effective tool as part of an overall weight management plan,” said the American Beverage Association, the trade association representing the beverage industry, in a statement provided to TIME. “Numerous studies have repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of diet beverages — as well as low-calorie sweeteners, which are in thousands of foods and beverages — in helping to reduce calorie intake. Furthermore, low- and no-calorie sweeteners have repeatedly been deemed safe by decades of scientific research as well as regulatory agencies around the globe — including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

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