Sugar is the devil. That cute little bowl that sits on your breakfast table might as well have horns and a tail, because sugar – the processed kind, not the naturally occurring stuff in fruits and veggies – can do a whole lot of damage to your body if you don’t consume it carefully.

We all know sugar can be harmful: consumed in moderation, it’s probably fine, but in excess, it promotes cavities, acne, weight gain, even heart disease. And guess what – the effects of sugar over-consumption are even more detrimental for women in menopause.

Why is sugar particularly bad in menopause?

As with many menopause symptoms, the problem is the loss of the protective properties of our reproductive hormones.

In menopause, as estrogen and progesterone diminish, our cells become more resistant to insulin, meaning the body has to work harder to manage blood sugar. Many women see their blood sugar levels rise during this time, making them more vulnerable to several ailments, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

And as a bonus, if you’re on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to reduce menopause symptoms like hot flashes, that insulin resistance may make HRT less effective. Even if you’re not on HRT, too much sugar can still worsen menopausal symptoms. Hoorah!

Translation: no more turning to Tootsie Rolls to get through a rough day.

Ditch the sugar …

Menopause, with its mood swings, disrupted sleep, and fatigue, may seem like the worst possible time to try to give up sugar, but there are so many pros to outweigh (no pun intended) the cons.

So let’s talk about the pros vs cons of giving up sugar:

Cons:

  1. Sugar tastes good.
  2. It’s in a lot of stuff I eat.

That pretty much covers it, right?

Well, yes, ditching the sugar is an adjustment, because it’s in bloody everything. It’s not just candy and baked goods, it’s in foods you wouldn’t expect, from ketchup to low-fat yogurt to spaghetti sauce. Reducing sugar may mean trading in pre-prepared foods for cooking or at least for label-reading.

We’ll get to the how-to in a sec, but first, the why:

Pros (your results may vary):

  1. Reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers
  2. Easier weight management
  3. Generally better diet overall (more room for the good stuff)
  4. Fewer spikes and troughs in blood sugar levels, reducing mood and energy fluctuations, aaaaaaaand
  5. Less dramatic menopause symptoms / HRT may be more effective

Balanced against all these health benefits, dipping into the kids’ candy stash on Halloween sounds a little less attractive.

… but keep life sweet

The good news is, you don’t have to entirely eliminate sugar if you’re able to control your consumption. The less good news is that most of us need some serious sugar reduction to get to the 5 teaspoons of “added sugars” recommended for a moderately active woman, 51 – 55. (For reference, a 12-ounce can of cola is about 8 teaspoons, already more than the daily limit.)

What to do to reduce sugar?

We’re challenging you. Pick one of the following things to do for one week. See how it goes. Report back. Then pick another.

  1. Read labels. Food manufacturers are sometimes a bit slippery about calling sugar “sugar” because they know we’re on to them. Proposed changes to nutrition labels will call out added sugar, finally separating them from naturally occurring sugars. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight, so if sugar comes at or near the top of the list for that spaghetti sauce, or if there are a lot of different types of sugar listed, buy another brand or make it yourself.
  2. Cook more. We live in the age of the Internet, so you have access to lots of great resources to help reduce the sugar in beloved family recipes or make new beloved family recipes. (genneve’s nutrition section has some great ideas for healthy eating!)
  3. Get informed. There are lots of great resources out there. For example, I subscribe to Greatist for tips on eating better and working out wisely.
  4. Eat real food (as opposed to processed, which can contain lots of hidden sugars). The closer you get to mother nature’s original recipe, the healthier the food often is. Join a CSA (community support agriculture) – when you subscribe with a local farm, you get periodic delivery of a box of whatever’s in season, and you help a small farmer stay in business. Or check out your local farmers’ market, should you be lucky enough to have access. In the absence of these options, haunt the produce section of your local grocery stores. Shopping “around the edges” of the store is a good way to avoid the overly processed stuff which tends to hang out in the middle (and my middle, when I eat it).
  5. Learn to love fruit again. Nature’s candy is diverse in flavor, texture, color, and benefits, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76% of us can’t even manage to cram in the measly cup-and-a-half we should be getting each day. Worried the sugar in fruit will make you fat? Don’t. Fruit comes packed with water and fiber, which help us fill up before we eat too much. Slice a banana on your oatmeal before you nuke it and let the natural sugar sweeten it much better than sugar does. Processed and added sugars are generally converted into fat, which winds up as the infamous menopausal belly bump– but you don't have to worry about that with fruit. Plus, smug points for eating well. 

Ready to take on the challenge? Let us hear how you’re doing! Share in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter, and remember, this isn’t about numbers on the scale (though that’s fine too), it’s about being healthier and happier and feeling ever-more fabulous in your body, no matter your age.