This week on The Plus Factor, we’re delving deep into the world of healthy Instagram—and why all the foodies you follow are cutting down on sugar.
A few years ago, it wouldn’t be out of the norm to see smoothie after smoothie loaded with bananas and dates when scrolling through food bloggers’ Instagram feeds. But now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a recipe without a scoop of almond butter, handful of spinach, and—gasp!—even a cup of frozen cauliflower in place of that banana.
Call it the sugar effect. As word spreads about the potential negative effects of too much sweet stuff (many cite brain fog, decreased energy, and a lax metabolism, to name a few), wellness gurus across social are raising awareness with creative recipe hacks and sugar-replacement tips.
While the ubiquitous smoothie epitomizes the shift, it’s not the only place you can find bloggers talking about the common additive. The new attitude is a holistic one.
“Nothing is more irksome than when sugar slithers its way into products like ketchup, tomato sauce, or soups—traditionally savory dishes that have no need for added sugars,” says Boston-area blogger Katie Lemons (AKA @twist_of_lemons, who shares her views with more than 100,000 followers). “I’m also very wary that sugar comes in unsuspecting subjects. Processed and refined grains, for example, essentially break down in the body as sugar.”
“I have been beating the sugar drum for over five years, so I am honestly just relieved news is finally spreading.”
For long-time experts in the nutrition space, this is a more than welcome change. “I have been beating the sugar drum for over five years, so I am honestly just relieved news is finally spreading,” says Kelly LeVeque, author of Body Love and holistic nutritionist to celebs like Jessica Alba and Molly Sims. “I used to get really frustrated when food influencers (with hundred of thousands of followers) would post smoothies loaded with dates and bananas or apples topped with granola and honey because so many of my clients were following them for ‘healthy’ recipes.”
For the record, LeVeque doesn’t preach cutting out fruit all together, just keeping portions small, scrutinizing nutrition labels for added sugar, and reaching for whole foods—all things she sees happening in Instagram’s new guard. “If bloggers like No Bread, The Balanced Blonde and Realfoodology continue to stand up for what they believe in, brands will…come around.”
In the dairy aisle, that’s already happening. Realizing it occupied a unique spot in the marketplace, siggi’s—the Icelandic-style yogurt with less added sugar—began spreading the word about its short ingredients list and much lower sugar content when compared to leading options (yep, some yogurts contain as much sugar by weight as a can of soda). And the Instagram community noticed.
“The fact that siggi’s is made with no artificial ingredients and is lower in sugar is why I choose to eat their yogurt.”
“So many yogurts on the market are packed with sugar, which is so disappointing,” says Leah Goldglantz, a Florida-based health enthusiast known as @leahsplate to her nearly 90,000 followers. “The fact that siggi’s is made with no artificial ingredients and is lower in sugar is why I choose to eat their yogurt.” Her preferred method? As a topping on grain-free bread (which you can see on her Instagram, of course).
Like LeVeque, Goldglantz doesn’t shun fruit entirely—but lately, has been adding zucchini and cauliflower to her morning smoothie to cut down. “It’s a great way to sneak some more vegetables into your diet,” she explains. “Almost every blogger I know is doing it.”
Scroll down for three reasons why Instagram stars are seeking out less sugar—and how you can do the same.
1. Instagram is becoming more educated
“The drive to cut down on sugar is a huge trend right now on social media,” says Becky LaChance, a nurse and marathon runner who clocks 62,000 followers on her account @becks_liveshealthy. “A lot of these influencers on Instagram are registered dietitians or in the medical field, so a lot of their followers look to them for their nutritional advice.”
“A lot of these influencers on Instagram are registered dietitians or in the medical field, so a lot of their followers look to them for their nutritional advice.”
To that end, Lemons proves her point: The healthy Instagrammer holds a masters in functional medicine and is currently studying to become a physician assistant. “I see it less as a trend (indicating fleeting behavior) and more as dogma that is here to stay,” Lemons notes of the low-sugar shift. “Bloggers who are well versed in functional or alternative medicine and integrative nutrition are realizing this and shouting it from the succulent-lined rooftops.”
2. More information is available than ever before
With studies hitting the internet seemingly daily and high-profile health figures like LeVeque using their platforms to talk about sugar’s downsides, it’s hard not to pay attention.
“I coach my clients to look at carbohydrates, fiber, and sugar,” says LeVeque. “They need to understand what is breaking down to blood sugar to grasp the rollercoaster they are signing up for… If you can support your body to elongate and balance your blood sugar curve through your food choices, you can avoid crashes that have you craving junk.”
“If you can support your body to elongate and balance your blood sugar curve through your food choices, you can avoid crashes that have you craving junk.”
To illustrate a balanced meal, LeVeque created the Fab Four Smoothie, a formula designed to ensure those who sip get a balance of protein, fat, and fiber (and limiting fruit to 1/4 cup). Her 125,000 followers can snag the recipes right alongside pics of LeVeque posing with Chelsea Handler.
And for their part, high-profile influencers are sharing their anecdotal experience, too. “Cutting down on sugar is vital to the way I feel on a daily basis,” says Goldglantz. “When I’m consuming a lot of sugar my skin breaks out, I’m sluggish, I have mood swings and my brain feels foggy. I notice an incredible difference in my mind and body when I eat low-sugar.”
3. There are healthier—and more creative—options
For influencers, smoothies have to have just as much double-tap capability as they do health cred. But that doesn’t mean that loads of frozen fruit is necessary to score the creamy effect.
“Adding frozen cauliflower, frozen peas, or frozen zucchini not only adds to the thick consistency, but also gives you a killer nutrient-packed smoothie,” says Natalie Amboyan, the brains behind @justkaleit_.
The tips don’t end at smoothie swaps. To up sweetness, Lemons reaches for cinnamon, cacao, and vanilla extract. Goldglantz makes her own chocolate with cacao powder, coconut oil, and a touch of maple syrup. And LaChance adds siggi’s yogurt to her breakfast for a filling boost without much sugar.
“Adding frozen cauliflower, frozen peas, or frozen zucchini not only adds to the thick consistency, but also gives you a killer nutrient-packed smoothie.”
“[It’s not only a] lower sugar option, but I like that it has higher protein as well,” she explains. “Siggi’s helps keep me full after my workouts and during my long shifts at work. It’s made with real fruit and no artificial sweeteners so I won’t have a sugar crash hours later.”
But at the end of the day, Lemons says you need to be your own advocate when taking control of your health. “I tap into my inner Nancy Drew sleuth while checking out nutrition labels,” the wellness enthusiast says. “Even if you think you’re making a good choice…the product could still be bloated with added sugars. So be mindful of this and check the ingredient list.”
Top photo: Stocksy/Julien L. Balmer