Going sugar-free is having its moment in the sun. It’s to 2016 is what eating low-fat was to the 70s (and 80s, 90s, and 2000 onwards). I’m not going to tell you that you should do it, or even why it’s a good idea. But while it doesn’t have to be complicated, cutting down on the sweet stuff takes more than ditching biscuits and soft drinks. Here are 20 practical and easy ways you can eat less sugar, starting today.
HOW TO EAT LESS SUGAR
1. Start slowly.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Identify sources of sugar in your diet and remove them slowly. Do this by finding out the sugar content of foods you eat most often (muesli, milk, yoghurt, bread, salad dressing, pasta sauce, dips, crackers, muesli bars, etc) and the ones high in sugar – I’d say anything more than 10g per serving or more than 5g per 100g – pick one a week to cut out.
2. Prepare for when cravings strike.
If you know you get a craving for something sweet after lunch, drink flavoured herbal teas. A favourite of mine is the organic Pukka “Love” tea with rose, chamomile and lavender.
3. Remember why you’re doing it.
Make a list of all the reasons you want to cut down sugar and all the benefits you’ll get. Refer to this when temptation strikes.
4. Surround yourself with supportive information.
Read blogs like I Quit Sugar. Watch fascinating lectures. Arm yourself with the latest science about why sugar is damaging. Research what to do about sugar cravings. Learn from the experts. Buy books like the 21 Day Sugar Detox. When you educate yourself and believe in something on an intellectual level, it’s much easier to put your knowledge into action and stick with it.
5. Be skeptical of “health foods”.
Just because they’re in the health aisle, it doesn’t mean they’re actually healthy. Packaged almond milk and those tiny ‘raw’ nut bars can still be high in sugar. (Even if it’s marketed as ‘natural’ in the form of dates, honey or raw organic cane sugar, it’s still sugar.) And even “sugar free” dark chocolate can still contain sugar alcohols (low-calorie sweeteners) like maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol that are just as bad for you, and continue the cycle of craving sweet things.
6. Learn to read labels and identify what sugar is.
There’s over 300 different names for sugar. THREE HUNDRED!! No wonder manufacturers can sneak it into products without us knowing. Common aliases include dextrose, glucose, inulin and maltodextrin. Avoid products with these, and definitely don’t buy a product that has any form of sugar listed in the first three ingredients on the label. But another sneaky trick manufacturers use is to use different types of sugar so it can be listed as separate ingredients, confusing you as to the total amount of sugar in a product. This is because that ingredients labels by law have to list the ingredients with the highest weights in descending order. So instead of a chocolate bar reading “50% sugar, 30% cocoa powder, 20% milk” – where sugar is half the product – the same packet could actually read “30% cocoa powder, 20% milk, 19% organic agave nectar, 16% honey, 15% barley malt” – and someone may think there’s limited (or no) sugar!
7. Remove workplace temptations.
Many offices have a box of fundraising chocolates – you know the ones, the cardboard boxes overflowing with $1 Kit Kats. They’re for charity, so you can’t ask the person who put them there to get rid of them just for you. But if they’re close to your desk or within your line of sight, it’s perfectly acceptable to politely ask if they can be moved to another location.
8. Keep your fridge or pantry clear of sugary treats.
The saying “if you buy it, you will eat it” has never been truer than for me. I used to think I could buy a family block of chocolate and make it last a week if I just ate three or four pieces each day. Nope! Once I start, I can’t stop, and most people are the same. Just don’t keep sugar in the house and you’ll be much better for it.
9. Get support from the people around you.
At home, ask that your partner or family don’t eat chocolate or lollies in front of you. If you’re out with girlfriends who are ordering coffee and cake, it’s okay to say “I’ll stick with tea thanks, I’m not having sugar at the moment” instead of silently sucking it up and ordering what they order. Verbalising your choices makes them more concrete. Remember you have a right to believe want you want and eat the way you want, and that you deserve respect.
10. Use flavours to your advantage.
Make your food interesting with flavour, not sweetness. For example, add half a teaspoon of cinnamon in a smoothie instead of honey, or add grated orange rind to your homemade granola instead of maple syrup.
11. Make your own condiments and dips.
Store-bought ones are full of sugar, not to mention other nasties like vegetable oils, preservatives, additives, colours and stabilisers. It doesn’t take long to make a big batch of mayonnaise, tomato relish, pesto or beetroot dip yourself, and they taste so much better than the packaged ones.
12. Cut down on the amount of sugar you add to recipes.
You can train your palate to enjoy foods that aren’t so sweet. If your favourite muffins call for a cup of honey, use half a cup. Or if that bliss ball recipe calls for half a cup of dates, use a quarter of a cup. Then the next time you make those recipes, halve the sugar again. It won’t take long before you’ve cut the sweetness dramatically, without missing it.
13. Keep it simple.
As much as raw vegan gluten-free sugar-free three-layer cheesecakes are amazing, you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen baking extravagant desserts in your quest to get your non-sugar dessert fix. Those treats are nice for special occasions, but day-to-day, stick low-sugar fruit like strawberries or kiwi fruit, or make an easy batch of bliss balls.
14. Buy plain foods and flavour them yourself.
When buying any packaged foods, keep them sugar-free by buying plain versions and adding flavour yourself. Instead of buying blueberry flavoured yoghurt – which is more processed, more expensive, and has more sugar – buy full-fat Greek yoghurt and jazz it up with a small handful of blueberries, a few drops of vanilla essence or the zest/juice of an orange.
15. Choose vegetable-based juices and smoothies over fruit-based ones.
A smoothie with one mango cheek, a small banana and one cup of coconut water can have up to 45g of sugar (over 11 teaspoons). Whoa! Choose drinks that have green vegies as their base that are sweetened with lemon and ginger instead.
16. Cut out your takeaway coffee habit.
Even if you don’t add sugar, an average regular takeaway latte has 28g of sugar (7 teaspoons), no matter if you choose full-fat, low-fat or soy milk. Better options are coffee with almond milk, a long black or an espresso. If that seems daunting or you’re a four-a-day coffee drinker, start by switching just one of those to green tea, which still has caffeine (25-30mg, or about 1/3 of what a cup of black coffee has) but also has plenty of health benefits.
17. Snack on fat.
Fat fills you up. Instead of reaching for crackers or rice cakes or biscuits, have something high in fat instead. Good options are celery and nut butter, half an avocado with a sprinkle of sea salt, homemade bliss balls, a can of tuna in oil (choose one with olive oil, not vegetable oil) or mixed nuts.
18. Cut out anything “sugar-free”.
Artificial sweeteners aren’t any better and will only make any sugar cravings worse. As a result, try to cut down products like diet soft drinks and cordial, chewing gum and sugar-free chocolate.
19. Get more sleep.
Not sleeping enough drives sugar cravings by affecting your hormones – it increases ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite, and decreases leptin, which tells your brain when you’re full and don’t need to eat any more. More sleep equals less cravings!
20. Visualise the sugar content.
The amount of sugar in foods and drinks becomes really scary when you picture it: a normal iced tea can have 35g sugar (NINE teaspoons!) and a Boost Juice original ‘Blueberry Blast’ smoothie has a whopping 87g of sugar – that’s 22 teaspoons or almost ½ a cup!! When you think of it like that, it’s pretty off-putting.
RESOURCES TO GET YOU STARTED
- Sugar: The Bitter Truth by Dr Robert Lustig
- The Men Who Made Us Fat
- Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes
- Sweet Poison and Big Fat Lies
- I Quit Sugar: A lifestyle encouraging the removal of sugar, particularly fructose
- David Gillespie: Author of Sweet Poison: Why Sugar is Making Us Fat
- Is Sugar Toxic? by Gary Taubes
- Still Believe ‘A Calorie is a Calorie’? by Dr Robert Lustig
- How fructose affects your brain differently than glucose by Dr Jospeh Mercola
- Artificial Sweeteners – More Dangerous than You Ever Imagined by Dr Jospeh Mercola
- Is There Any Room For Sweeteners In A Healthy Diet? By Chris Kessler
- Why we got fatter during the fat-free food boom by Allison Aubrey
- The Hidden Truths about Calories at Scientific American
- Sugar Love (a not so sweet story) at National Geographic
- Foolproof homemade paleo mayo from The Healthy Foodie
- Egyptian beetroot dip from Delicious Everyday
- Roast beetroot and walnut dip from Vegan Sparkles
- Sugar-free tomato chutney recipes from Yummly
- Fruit-free green smoothie by In Sonnet’s Kitchen