The anti sugar camp is growing in size and popularity, thankfully. The increased awareness fuelled by celebrity champions such as Jamie Oliver, and leading government scientists issuing new warnings and guidelines around consumption. Although confusion still reigns over which sugars should be avoided. I’m often faced with questions around the merits of diet over full sugar fizzy drinks, whether honey is that better than Tate and Lyle, or if you can eat fruit and use a Nutribullet.
Demanding schedules, misleading marketing, and a lack of awareness, contribute to many lurching from one sugar fix to another. Not driven by genuine hunger, but the brains desire for another dopamine hit. Dopamine is the happy hormone released when you feel love, elation and excitement. This dopamine hit of pleasure is released when we eat sugar, and it’s as addictive as cocaine.
This cycle is cemented by foods associated with being wholly nutritious; e.g. granola and orange juice, and those selected on the run as a healthier snack; e.g. sushi and skinny muffins.
The truth is a sugar-laden culture has been established for decades. Misled by food manufacturers and diet clubs, who have nagged us to reduce fat in our diets, instead slipping sugar in many products to make it palatable. Whether it’s table sugar, honey, maple syrup or fruit juice; in excess they metabolise to fat and increase triglycerides in the blood, which are leading contributors to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
So instead of swapping one type of sugar for another, or seeking a laboratory made alternative sweetener, the best way forward is to cut back or cut out sugar, instead embracing a savoury palate. The natural sugar alternative xylitol offers a nice way to wean yourself off sugar if you can’t go cold turkey.
I have been sugar free for 2 years and never felt better. I gave up the sweet stuff following treatment for breast cancer when I was 38 years old. Initially challenged by unexpected withdrawal symptoms including headaches, dizziness, cravings and irritability, but with strong motivation and perseverance it’s possible to live a sugar free lifestyle.
It takes time for the body to recalibrate, but the benefits are compelling; increased consistent energy, better sleep, healthier skin, less bloating, fat loss, increased sense of wellbeing, and a feeling of pride.
It takes approx. 21 days to change a habit. Temptation will test motivation, but determination will reap wholesome rewards.
The approach to getting started on the road to cutting out sugar should be personal. I went cold turkey on all sugars, short-term pain from withdrawal led to progressive gains within a week. If you are looking for a slower approach, go step by step:
Step 1 – Cut out the obvious
Eliminate chocolate, sweets, biscuits, cakes, added sugar to cereal, tea & coffee, fizzy drinks.
This will be enough to get going. Turning down cake in the office, not reaching for a bar of chocolate to cheer you up, and changing your beverage palate can be hard. Cutting out sugar in coffee was an unexpected challenge. Adding more milk, naturally sweet from lactose, helped and now I hardly use any.
Step 2 – Time to swap
It’s important to look at your carbohydrate intake as well as the obvious and hidden sugars. White (simple) carbs, act as sugar once consumed, and should be tackled as part of the process. Here are some suggestions to begin with:
- White bread to Wholemeal bread
- White pasta to Wholemeal pasta
- White rice to Brown basmati rice
- Jam or Marmalade to Peanut butter or mashed banana
- Biscuits & Cakes to Oak cakes
- Salad Cream to Full fat mayonnaise
- Fruit juice to Fizzy water with slice of lemon
- Chocolate nut spread to Nut butter (almond, cashew, peanut)
- Soy sauce to Tamari Sauce
- Dried fruit to Fresh fruit
- Bottled salad dressings to Oil & Vinegar dressing
Step 3 – Fruit and Alcohol
Fruit is an essential part of a balanced diet, containing vitamins and minerals. Fruit contains the sugar fructose, a sugar metabolised adequately in its original state and in moderation, however, we have evolved without an appetite hormone ‘off switch’ for this sugar, which can lead us to gorge without our body complaining initially. Therefore avoid fruits in large proportions and without the fructose anti dope – the fruits fibre. Leave the juices and smoothies on the shelf, and enjoy 1-2 pieces of whole fruit daily. Berries contain the least fructose, grapes and bananas the greatest.
Alcohol is the other thing to be wary of. There is sugar in all alcoholic drinks, some drinks contain a little, others substantial amounts. For example, a 175ml glass of red wine only contains half a teaspoon of sugar whereas a pint of cider contains as much as 5 teaspoons of sugar
Alcohol with the least amounts of sugar:
- Red wine
- White wine (dry not sweet)
- White spirits
- Mixers: soda water
Alcohol with the greatest amounts of sugar:
- Dessert wine
- Baileys & other creamy drinks
- Mixers: tonic water, fizzy drinks, fruit juice
Living a sugar free lifestyle may seem idyllic but unachievable for some. Be reassured that if you eat less sugar tomorrow than you did yesterday you are undoubtedly going in the right direction.
Note: If you have a major health problem, are very overweight or diabetic, you have a lot to gain from making these changes. But you may need some help from a qualified nutrition professional to provide personal guidance.
About Claire White
Sugar Snub was established when Claire White became sugar free following treatment for breast cancer at 38, when her son was only 18 months. She learnt of the link between cancer spread and sugar, and has since developed a passion to help raise awareness of the dangers of excess sugar consumption on health and lifestyle, and provide educational resources to aid sugar reduction. Working closely with the Sugar Smart Campaign, backed by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Claire is the author of the acclaimed Sugar Snub Food Guide and Sugar Snub Eating Out Guide which Mail on Sunday called “essential reading”. Both are available from www.sugarsnub.co.uk, and Amazon