Sugar is a drug. A sweet but vicious drug. No one who removes sugar from their diet for any significant period of time can fail to notice the effects it has. These effects can vary from physical to mental and (very much so) emotional, but they are surely there. Those of you who claim sugar has no impact on them – wake up. It has a big impact. You’re just totally unaware of it.
I learned my own personal lesson when I decided to join the first ever Group Detox I ran for my clients. As you might imagine, as a nutritionist who seriously walks her talk my sugar consumption was already very minimal (non existent by average standards). Still, I wanted to see what it would be like to go cold turkey on even minimal amounts of sugar. Boy was I in for a lesson. I could not believe how indifferent I became to sugar’s temptations by cutting it out altogether. That admittedly rare urge (certain moments of the month?) to indulge in sugary treats, the self discipline required to stop myself from having that daily 9pm chocolate moment, the anticipating thought of the dessert rather than the meal in our next restaurant visit – all of these have disappeared. I felt lighter, cleaner and, most importantly, less dependent. And that was with me having minute quantities of the stuff.
So how do you minimise sugar? (because cutting it completely out for life is probably not sustainable for 99.99% of us). Well, there are no quick fixes for that. You have to become a knowledgeable consumer who reads Nutrition Facts Labels, limits processed and packaged foods, and begins to make – and eat – most of your own food at home. For many it will be a lifestyle transition, so start slow and change where change comes easy. If you make one small change every week, within a few months, you’ll have made significant progress. Here are some tips to help you along the way.
- Don’t drink your calories. Replace sweetened coffees and teas, fruit juices, lemonade, milky drinks, sports drinks etc. with water. Add lemon, lime or mint to jazz it up if you like.
- Consume as little packaged food as possible. Sugar is always added to packaged foods: consumers have grown to expect the much-loved sweet flavour, so manufacturers give it to them galore. Even “low-sugar” versions of packaged foods are heavily sweetened with sugars and artificial sweeteners. Don’t believe me? Check the ingredients lists of your weekly shopping next time you go to the supermarket. Stick with foods in their most natural forms – foods that have a maximum of five ingredients, none of which is sugar in any form. Now how will that change your weekly shopping?
- Eat more ‘real food’ - vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses, whole grains, fish, and lean proteins. These foods are nutritious, tasty, and don’t have additives (read the labels just to make sure). Instead of buying pre-sweetened foods, buy plain versions and add your own flavourings with fresh herbs, citrus, spices, fruit, etc.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Many sugar addicts, worried about calories, regularly under-eat. The thing is, under-eating usually leads at some point to out-of-control over-eating. It’s best to plan and consume smaller, more frequent meals and snacks throughout the day to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Choose from the above list of high-nutrient foods, and make time to eat. Even 5 minutes is better than shoving something in a hazed rush.
- Snack smart. Nuts, seeds or a piece of fruit are good snack options as opposed to cookies, sweetened coffee or a chocolate bar. Or try a savoury, protein-rich snack if you’re especially prone to sugar sensitivity: a hard boiled egg; celery sticks with a bit of cottage or cream cheese; or half a ripe avocado.
- Buy plain dairy – yoghurt, milk products, and unsweetened dairy alternatives. Yogurt and milk drinks (considered healthy by most) are some of the sweetest products on the market – many commercial yoghurts, especially those directed at children, contain 2-3 times the added sugar of a serving of ice cream! Buy the plain or unsweetened versions of these, and if you wish, sweeten it yourself with chopped fruit, dried fruit, or even a little drizzle of honey or maple syrup (still sugar, but it will be much less than pre-sweetened).
- Make sauces and salad dressings from scratch. These products are some of the most sugared in the market, with sugar more often than not ranking number one or two on the list of ingredient. It’s not hard or time consuming to make your own at home, and most of them will happily live in your fridge for a few weeks at a time. Find a good recipe for 3-4 basic sauces you regularly use (salad vinaigrette, stir-fry sauce, pesto) and prepare your own creations.
- Eat out not too often. Eating out frequently is a health-killing habit. Sad but true. Restaurant food tastes good for a reason – they add huge amounts of fat, salt, and sugar – amounts you’d never feel comfortable adding at home. Cooking methods are also often the kind you wouldn’t use at home, like deep frying. So the more you shop for your food and eat at home, the more control you have over what goes into your mouth.
- Eat a sweet treat once a week. It’s hard to give up sugar altogether, and no one should live in total deprivation. So allow yourself a small portion of your favourite indulgence once a week, assuming you can stop at one portion. Plan your treat ahead of time, so you “spend” it on something you truly love.
- Brush your teeth thoroughly after dinner. This is not a tactic that will get to the root cause of your sugar cravings, but it is a way of getting out of the habit of late night sweet eating, which is such a common phenomenon. You’re less likely to snack on sweets when you know you have to clean your teeth all over again.