My Practical Guide to Cutting out Sugar
The 1 thing we can do to help minimise our risk for obesity, early onset diabetes and a plethora of chronic disease states is to reduce our daily intake of sugar.
Easier said than done, right?
I understand that sugar is nostalgic. Our favourite treats can remind us of special memories, of comfort and childhood but sugar is also addictive. For many of us, sugary treats are part of our daily behaviour, a seemingly harmless treat after lunch that leads to ten more.
What makes it all the more difficult is the additional hidden sugar lurking in our foods that we don’t consider to be sweet at all. From your morning coffee and cereal, to the salad you have for lunch, and the energy bar you grab before hitting the gym, that healthy diet of yours is actually jam packed with sugar. Lots and lots of sugar.
Read on for my top tips to help you break up with — and by break up with, I mean divorce forever — the hidden (and not so hidden) sugar in your diet.
1. Start your day strong
There’s a good chance that the granola you’re adding to your yogurt, or the “good-for-you” high-fibre cereal you’re forcing yourself to eat, has a whole lot of added sugar. You might as well be eating chocolate muffins for breakfast instead. Be sure to check for ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane syrup, brown rice syrup, or carob syrup. Many of these are just deceptive names for sugar.
My tactic for avoiding sugar altogether at breakfast is opting for a no-sugar, starchy protein-packed morning meal. This can be a slice of sourdough toast topped with smashed avocado and a sliced hardboiled egg, or a bowl of plain oatmeal with a tablespoon of chopped nuts and a dash of cinnamon, scrambled eggs or my favourite, chia pudding. The protein in any of these options will help keep you satisfied and reduce sugar cravings later in the day.
2. Skip the skinny vanilla latte
Beware your favourite coffee shop and the alluring smell of that morning vanilla latte? It could be costing you up to 30 grams of sugar, or 5 grams per pump. The good news is you don’t have to quit caffeine. Simply skip the syrups, the gourmet frozen drinks, and of course, the extra packets of sugar. Instead, go for coffee or tea with milk, or an unsweetened alternative, and sprinkle a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon on top to help regulate your blood sugar.
If you’re a sugar or artificial sweetener junkie, it’s OK to take it slow. Cut your sugar intake in half for one week, then cut it again the next week, and keep at it until you’ve completely forgotten about your latte routine. This may be one habit you have already curbed in lockdown? Enjoying a cup of regular tea instead? Keep it up when you return to work.
3. Hydrate right
Watch out for the so called healthy green smoothies too…your morning kale and spinach glowing green may be loaded with more fruit and sugar than actual greens! Some smoothies are blended with apple juice and as high in sugar as a can of coke! Read the labels carefully or ask to see what goes in it? If you’re consciously consuming the fruit for the benefits of the fruit itself, be aware that one piece of fruit can have 15 grams of sugar. So, if that healthy morning smoothie has a few whole fruits blended together, you’re already way past your recommended intake for the day.
Far better to carry around your 32-ounce water bottle. Fill it up twice per day and you’ve hit all, if not more or close to, your hydration needs. If plain water doesn’t excite you, make your own by adding fresh mint and lemon slices. If you’re having a tough time fighting the soda habit, go for bubbles, just make them chemical and calorie free.
4. Packed Lunches are not just for kids
I always caveat this with permission to go out and buy a stylish packed lunch cooler made from environmentally friendly steel, glass or bamboo. The money you save on buying out will more than cover this cost in a week or two. There is no excuse for a soggy sandwich wrapped in tin foil and a toxic plastic dish!
Before you reach for the low-fat dressing to pour on your lunch salad, think again. Your “healthy” salad topping might be a total sugar bomb. When manufacturers make low-fat products, they often substitute sugar for fat. And guess what? The fat is actually far better for you. It helps you absorb the awesome nutrients in the salad, and keeps you feeling full longer.
Instead of opting for store-bought dressings, make your own: Combine ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and a ¼ teaspoon cracked pepper together in a sealed jar. This makes six servings, and you can store what you don’t use in the fridge. Not only will you save calories and sugar, but you’ll likely be saving some money by making your own too.
The supermarkets sell pouches of ready cooked grains, add these to your stainless steel lunch box with some ready chopped veg, a few slices of cooked chicken or mackerel and keep a jar of toasted seeds on your desk to sprinkle over the top.
5. Pack in the protein
This is the holy grail of quitting sugar. A lunch filled with lean protein and veggies will keep you satisfied longer, which will make you less likely to dive head first into the birthday cupcakes. Protein keeps you satisfied by reducing ghrelin, the hunger hormone that gives you the false sense that you might waste away if you don’t snack NOW. The cold truth about restrictive dieting? When you’re not properly fuelling yourself with an adequate amount of calories, the very first thing you crave is sugar.
My go-to protein snacks are:
• mixed nuts, such as pecans, cashews, walnuts, and almonds
• Greek yogurt topped with almonds and ground cinnamon
• two sliced hard-boiled eggs
• half a cup of shelled edamame beans with a twist of sea salt
6. Avoid a sugar sandwich
An average slice of multi-grain bread has about 1.6 grams of sugar, and making 2 slice sandwich quickly doubles this amount. This secret source of sugar may not seem like a lot, but you can avoid it altogether by reading the ingredients.
You don’t need to avoid bread entirely but choose wisely; I like a traditional sourdough or Biona Vitality Rye with sprouted seeds and Biona Gluten Free Millet is delicious toasted.
7. Beware of the sugar-fuelled workout
Chowing down on pre-workout fuel is beneficial to your fitness goals. But choosing a sugary yogurt, a packaged energy bar, or a machine-made smoothie may add far more to your waistline than you’re working off. Again, read those labels carefully and choose accordingly.
8. Upgrade that shop-bought pasta sauce
Pasta is a staple in most busy households. You don’t have to avoid it altogether but try to think less about the pasta itself, and more about what you’re putting on it. Just a ½ cup of traditional tomato sauce can pack as many as 10 grams of sugar. Make sure to buy a store-bought pasta sauce that has zero sugar in the ingredient list.
Or, better still, try my homemade pesto (check out my recipes)
9. Snack your way to health
Certain snacks like peanut butter and crackers or trail mix can be great on-the-go options. Or, they can be sugar bombs. Similar to low-fat salad dressing, reduced-fat peanut butter may contain added sugar to make up for the flavourful fat that’s taken out. Keep reading those packages carefully and do your best to enjoy the natural flavours and sweetness of foods without the added sugar.
Here are some of my favourite low-sugar snacks:
• sliced apple + 2 teaspoons almond butter + dash of cinnamon
• 6 olives + red pepper sticks
• 10 cashews + 6 oz. Greek yogurt + drop of vanilla
• 2 tablespoons guacamole + endive
• 1 cup mixed berries + 1 tablespoon shredded coconut
10. Hormones, emotions and sleep
Hormones, emotions, and memories can create a magnetic pull toward sugary comfort foods — sensory cues that causes us to crave certain foods. This is why even the aroma of cookies baking can cause a sugar craving to kick in. Acknowledge these moments for what they are when they happen and move on. On the flip side, it’s OK to indulge from time to time. Just don’t let the craving and indulgence control you.
A final note on cravings, have you ever noticed when you have a hangover that you crave carbohydrate dense foods the following day? Not only is alcohol a calorie dense, nutrient poor source of fuel, the aftermath of excessive drinking can derail you for days to come. I see many people in my clinic who eat healthily from Monday to Thursday only to binge their way through the weekend and their efforts to lose weight and improve their health are thwarted.
There you have it: 10 simple ideas to help you break up with sugar. A successful sugar break-up should be focused on moderation and being mindful about what you really want. I won’t promise the process will be easy. But I can promise that if you set your purpose, to lose weight, feel great and reverse the risk factors for chronic disease, you will notice a difference. And, with that, you’ll likely up your energy, improve the glow of your skin, reduce bloat, sleep better, think more clearly, and perhaps improve your immune system too.