A straight­for­ward dietary swap can make a huge dif­fer­ence in your ener­gy, focus and per­for­mance.

5 min read

Opin­ions expressed by Entre­pre­neur con­trib­u­tors are their own.

Right now, with the world turned upside down due to COVID-19, you prob­a­bly want to dive into a pile of baked goods or self-soothe with a beer or some ice cream. I get it. And even if you’re resist­ing the siren call of your favorite treat, keep­ing your busi­ness run­ning dur­ing this time of uncer­tain­ty means you’re even busier than usu­al. You bare­ly have a moment to go to the bath­room, let alone make lunch, so a fist­ful of gra­nola or store-bought smooth­ie will have to do. You can’t make it through the after­noon with­out your reg­u­lar pick-me-up cup of cof­fee. You keep a stash of pro­tein bars in your desk (or pantry) for nights when you’ll be work­ing through din­ner. 

While these seem like healthy enough options, these grab-and-go foods are prob­a­bly fill­ing your diet with way more sug­ar than you real­ize. Pro­tein bars are often worse than can­dy bars when you look at the amount of sug­ar they con­tain, and cof­fee drinks and smooth­ies pack more of the sweet stuff than a can of soda. Accord­ing to researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at San Fran­cis­co, 74 per­cent of pack­aged foods con­tain added sug­ars, includ­ing savory options and prod­ucts mar­ket­ed as “nat­ur­al” or “healthy.” Because of this, the aver­age Amer­i­can con­sumes near­ly twice the dai­ly rec­om­mend­ed sug­ar intake of the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion and the Amer­i­can Heart Asso­ci­a­tion.  

And all of this secret sug­ar is harm­ing your health. A recent New York Times piece urg­ing peo­ple to make 2020 the year of less sug­ar made so many impor­tant points about the ways sug­ar affects you neg­a­tive­ly. Phys­i­cal­ly, it caus­es every­thing from faster aging to liv­er dam­age to increased risk for Type 2 dia­betes, can­cer, stroke, heart dis­ease and even Alzheimer’s. 

Excess sug­ar is also detri­men­tal to your men­tal health. And it’s prob­a­bly mak­ing you a less effec­tive entre­pre­neur. Stud­ies show that excess refined sug­ar may impair mem­o­ry, low­er our abil­i­ty to learn new things and increase feel­ings of anx­i­ety. And that’s on top of the ener­gy roller coast­er we’re all famil­iar with when deal­ing with con­stant sug­ar crash­es.

Relat­ed: How Sug­ar is Sab­o­tag­ing Your Suc­cess as An Entre­pre­neur

And it’s not just table sug­ar that we should avoid. Before found­ing my unsweet­ened, fla­vored water com­pa­ny, Hint, I was hooked on Diet Coke, assum­ing it was the “health­i­er” option. I’m con­vinced that because I was pound­ing fake sug­ar, it gave me acne worse than most teens and made my ener­gy lev­els plum­met. As soon as I switched to water, every­thing turned around, and I felt more on my game than ever before. That’s why I’m not just push­ing for a year of less sug­ar, but advo­cat­ing that peo­ple embrace the #unsweet­enedlife. 

I’m not say­ing you have to go to zero sug­ar entire­ly. That would be almost impos­si­ble. Plus, your brain needs some nat­ur­al sug­ars to func­tion. Here are some steps that helped me reduce my intake of added sweet­en­ers and live a sharp­er, health­i­er life. 

1. Watch out for sneaky sources.

Since sug­ars and arti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers go by many dif­fer­ent alias­es, you might not even real­ize some­thing sweet is in the ingre­di­ents list of your favorite foods. The best place to start is by just watch­ing close­ly for the areas sweet­en­ers are show­ing up in your life. My friend and food expert Mar­i­on Nes­tle, whom I’ve chat­ted with on my pod­cast, always reminds me to take any mar­ket­ing claims with a grain of salt. Instead, get com­fort­able read­ing food labels.

“The new food labels require list­ings of added sug­ars and give a dai­ly val­ue,” she explains. “If the dai­ly val­ue is a high per­cent, choose some­thing else or share it with a friend.”

2. Pay attention to how foods make you feel.

Try to become more aware of how dif­fer­ent foods affect your mood, ener­gy lev­els, con­cen­tra­tion and more. Pay atten­tion to how you’re feel­ing in gen­er­al to estab­lish a base­line. Then look for moments when you feel “off.” 

Did you feel like your brain was in a fog dur­ing that last investor meet­ing? Have you noticed your ener­gy dips every after­noon? Look at the fuel you’re putting into your body lead­ing up to these moments and see if you can iden­ti­fy any trends that might be drag­ging you down. I’m will­ing to bet that sweet­en­ers are a com­mon thread. 

Relat­ed: To Opti­mize Your Per­for­mance, Cut Out the Sug­ar

3. Do some self-experiments.

Once you’ve got a han­dle on what you’re eat­ing and how it’s mak­ing you feel, you can start test­ing out some changes to see if they help. Swap your store-bought smooth­ie with one made at home for a week, so you know what’s going into it and can reduce added sug­ars. Replace the bars in your desk draw­er or pantry with some bags of nuts for ener­gy with­out the sweet­ness. See how you feel. This approach feels much less intim­i­dat­ing than just try­ing to cut out sweet­en­ers indef­i­nite­ly. (Con­grat­u­la­tions — you’re now a bio­hack­er.)

When I first ditched diet soda, I con­sid­ered it an exper­i­ment. I was going to do this for a few weeks to see what hap­pened. Once I felt the dra­mat­ic effects on my health and men­tal well-being, it moti­vat­ed me to keep going. I bet you’ll feel the same way. And who knows? You might get inspired to invent some­thing, as I did with Hint in 2005, that changes your life for­ev­er.


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