One of the easiest ways to improve your health and lose fat is to cut as much sugar from your diet as you are able. Read on to learn how to quit sugar easily and the exact reasons this is the best thing for your health.
You need carbohydrates but you absolutely don't need sugar to be one of them.
Your body breaks carbs down into glucose and uses it for energy to survive. The carbs you get from natural foods is enough to provide all the energy that your body needs.
It is not necessary to include sugary foods or added sugars into the diet.
To start this story of sugar we first need to know what sugar is and where it is hiding.
What is sugar?
This is often called table sugar. Made up of glucose and fructose. The sugar we all know as the white grains we add to our coffee or tea is extracted from sugar cane or beet.
Natural sugar is also present in most fruits and vegetables.
Fructose and glucose
These are in simple forms of sugar and are found in fruits, vegetables and honey. Your body can absorb these better than sucrose which needs to be broken down in the body first.
Commonly called milk sugar because it is found in milk and dairy products. It is broken down in our bodies by an enzyme called Lactase. People with lactose intolerance are usually deficient in this enzyme.
The end result of this breakdown is glucose which can then be used for energy.
Also known as malt sugar and is found in malted drinks and beer.
Since maltose is made up of just glucose, not fructose, it might be slightly healthier than table sugar. However, no research has investigated the effects of substituting fructose for maltose, and more research is needed.
Which sugar is okay to eat
Fructose is a fruit sugar or carbohydrate found in fruits and can only be broken down by the liver.
Fructose in small amounts has been in our diets forever. When consumed in fruits and vegetables it’s absorption is slowed due to the fibre it is encased in and your body metabolises it efficiently.
These natural sugars are okay in moderation as they come with added nutrition and fibre. In their whole form fruit and veg also contain essential vitamins and minerals.
Here's the rub, our livers can only metabolise the amount of fructose contained in two small pieces of fruit a day.
Let’s not overload that important organ by giving it truckloads of fructose to deal with.
When too much fructose enters the liver it is unable to process it so sends it off to our thighs, bum, wherever, to turn into fat and sit until it is needed.
Fructose in high quantities also raises your bad cholesterol, may cause insulin resistance, and eventually, even type 2 diabetes.
To add insult to injury, hormones, associated with feeling full, will release in lesser amounts so appetite-regulating hormones aren't triggered— the end result is that you are constantly hungry and will experience cravings.
Guess what you crave?
Only high sugar foods will scratch that itch.
How much sugar is okay?
Cut as much sugar from your diet as you are able especially added sugar which will usually be sucrose.
Note that sugar can also be in disguise, hiding in plain sight as an ingredient in the processed goods we buy or one of the sugar substitutes such as Aspartame or High Fructose Corn Syrup. The dangers Of HFCS are talked about in this post by Mark Hyman - 5 Reasons Why High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You
Limit your natural sugars to one small serve of fruit and a good selection of non-starchy vegetables.
Dried fruit and juice are ridiculously high in sugar so if you are planning on losing weight these would be a no-go zone. Try a green smoothie instead, using whole vegetables and/or fruit.
Check out this green smoothie recipe in this post 5 Best Foods For Energy And Weightloss
Limit yourself to a maximum of 1 serving of fresh local seasonal fruit per day – particularly if you are trying to lose weight. My go-to fruit is a few raspberries or a kiwi fruit on my breakfast cereal in the morning.
Eat the whole fruit where you can as the skin contains nutrients and fibre.
Include plenty of non-starchy vegetables as they are naturally low in sugar and will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
The best low fructose/sugar fruits include:
- Lemons and limes
- Kiwi Fruit
- Blueberries and Raspberries
- Honey Dew Melon
The fruits to avoid are:
Some high-sugar foods to avoid are:
- Fruit juices
- Fizzy drinks
- High-sugar cereals
- Dried fruit
Low-sugar foods are fairly obvious:
- Leafy greens
- Healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil
- Unprocessed proteins
- Homemade salad dressing
- Natural nut butter
Some vegetables can be quite high in sugar and yes they are the ones we all love to eat!
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet potato
These veg are low to zero so go crazy and fill up.
As a bonus, these vegetables are chock full of vitamins and nutrients.
What does sugar do in the body
When you eat sugar or any other carbohydrate enzymes in your intestine break it down to glucose. The glucose is released into your bloodstream and distributed to cells in your muscles and organs and converted into energy.
Insulin is then released by the pancreas to control the sugar. That is the little kick of energy you feel for a short time after you’ve eaten a high sugar food such as a chocolate bar or fizzy drink.
When we have consistently high levels of sugar entering our bloodstream your insulin can become resistant to it which may result in diabetes.
Sugar stimulates the reward centre of your brain
When we eat sugar the brain releases dopamine and serotonin, two hormones that boost our mood. That then stimulates the reward centre of the brain. And much like a drug addict becomes addicted we seek out more sugar to get that same high.
With regular consumption we need even more sugar to get that feeling so without realising it we eat more. Sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine.
As an added twist the fructose that many foods are sweetened with doesn’t subdue our hunger hormones like glucose does so we don’t get that same feeling of being full.
The sugar industry spends an obscene amount of time and money on developing foods that our brains will become addicted to.
What does excessive sugar do to your health?
Eating sugary foods makes you hungry and tired, and causes weight gain.
Refined sugar may increase inflammation in your body.
Sugar has been associated with depression, increased triglycerides, lower HDL (good cholesterol), and higher LDL (bad cholesterol); it also feeds cancer cells.
A diet that includes excessive sugar – and this includes all refined carbohydrates, can lead to significant hormonal imbalance in women. A factor that should be considered as you enter perimenopause and menopause.
Too many carbohydrates in your diet can lead to insulin resistance which can cause a whole host of health problems not least of which is Type 2 Diabetes.
Insulin resistance can also cause a charming excess growth of hair and dark patches on the skin.
Sugar molecules, when eaten, can attach themselves to protein molecules and become advanced glycation end products or the appropriately named AGEs. AGEs attach themselves to the collagen and elastin in the body causing wrinkles and inflammation as well as worsening the effects of skin conditions such as acne and rosacea.
How does sugar affect you in Perimenopause and Menopause
Hormonal imbalance is a key factor in the fight to control menopause symptoms such as weight gain and hot flushes. As mentioned excessive sugar can cause hormonal imbalance. If you are in perimenopause, menopause or postmenopause cutting sugar from your diet will help ease symptoms including lack of energy, weight gain and hot flushes.
Cutting sugar from your diet can also help you have a better night’s sleep.
How to quit sugar
Quitting sugar may not be the easiest thing to do but it is certainly worth it to avoid the proven negative effects that sugar can have your body.
I am not going to lie and say giving up sugar is a snap. There will be a few tough moments. Remember sugar is addictive and giving up an addiction will cause withdrawal symptoms. But, in this case not for long.
Symptoms may last a few days or a few weeks and will depend on how much sugar you were eating.
The detoxing experience is different for everyone but some of the things you might expect are:
- Feeling down, anxious, or tired. Or all three.
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Sleep issues
- Cravings, either for sugar or other comfort foods.
- light-headedness and dizziness
I gave up sugar a long time ago and these are my tips to make it easier.
Go cold turkey. The slope steeper is but you will get to the top quicker.
Do you give sugar up all at once or do you start with say, cutting the 20 Cokes a day habit down to 10?
Eating sugar, even in small amounts, makes you crave eating more sugar as surely as if it were cocaine.
In my own experience, I gave up overnight. One day I’m snacking on brownie and ice cream the next, nuts and seeds.
The cravings fall off quickly making it easier to resist the urge for sweet treats.
Any attempt at eliminating sugar should also include eliminating refined carbohydrates.
Kale contains carbohydrates and fibre and so does a doughnut, the difference is, one you will take pleasure in and the other won’t make you fat and spike your blood sugar levels.
This is a good way to tell which carbohydrates you should and shouldn’t eat. If it is something you crave; hot chips with gravy, pastry, ice-cream, you can bet your sweet life it’s full of refined carbohydrates.
In your pre sugar addiction world, food that wouldn’t have entered your head as something you would rush home for is likely full of good carbs; kale chips, farrow and lentil salad. The carbs in these foods are packaged with fibre so take longer to digest and therefore give you sustained energy over a longer period of time and make you and your body feel good.
Take heart, the longer you are on this diet the more the farrow and lentil salad will appeal.
Keep fructose to a minimum.
Glucose is essential to life, fructose is not.
You will not die, cutting out fruit and quitting sugar although the future could be grim if you don’t.
Unless you are an athlete burning mega calories all your energy needs can be derived from healthier choices.
Sugar-containing fructose comes in many forms
Become an expert at reading labels and keep an eye out for;
- High fructose corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Agave syrup
- Coconut sugar
If you feel you can’t cut out fruit altogether stick to the fruits that are low in fructose and high in fibre. As an example, the only fruit I include in my diet is raspberries or kiwi fruit and both have great antioxidant properties and are nutrient powerhouses.
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If you drink alcohol stick to low carbohydrate choices where you can
Now before you go all ‘looney tunes’ on me, I am not about to suggest you give up alcohol. That would be a little like a lawyer calling a politician dishonest. I love a glass of wine and I am not about to give that up. I do find however that I can’t drink as much as I used to, could be my age but I like to blame it on my diet.
If you are going to drink alcoholic beverages, remember that it too is addictive and swapping one addiction for another is a slippery slope.
Stick to dry wines, spirits with either soda or neat and beer. Remember though that some of these drinks contain high carbohydrates so go easy.
Lindeman’s make some low kilojoule wines that aren’t too shabby and Fat Head beer which is virtually zero carbs is very acceptable. How about vodka with a squeeze of lime and maybe a dash of stevia. On a hot summer's day top it up with soda and ice.
Avoid sugar-filled mixers like the plague.
Use sugar alternatives to get you over that craving hump
This is controversial as most will tell you to avoid alternative sweeteners, their reasoning being you are still stimulating the reward centre of the brain so the need for sugar won't drop away.
But if it is a means to an awesome healthy life why not use something to get you over that hump. Just be aware of what you are doing and monitor your usage.
To help you through that initial period where you are still craving sweet stuff you may want to make use of some of the fructose-free sugar alternatives that are out there. My go-to choices were Rice Malt syrup, stevia and xylitol. They are less sweet than sugar but it doesn’t take long to prefer the taste.
Rice malt syrup is made from brown rice that has a culture introduced to it to break down the starches and is then boiled until it becomes syrupy. It is high in carbohydrates so moderation is recommended.
Stevia is plant-based and comes in many forms.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol.
There are many substitutes that should be avoided. This is a big topic all on its own but for now, I suggest you go here or perhaps buy David Gillespie’s ‘Sweet Poison’ to get the low down (it comes in a digital version).
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BONUS TIPS TO HELP YOU QUIT SUGAR
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Eat the full-fat version of foods and avoid low-fat alternatives
Avoid foods labelled as fat-free or low-fat.
Sugar or sodium are usually used to replace the fat and that is to prevent the product from tasting like yesterday’s veggie peelings.
Bonus Tip To Eliminating Sugar
Eat protein, at every meal especially breakfast it is the key to balancing blood sugar and insulin. It will also help to lessen cravings.
Protein sources include lean, grass-fed meat, nuts, seeds, eggs and legumes.
There are no hard and fast rules here.
If you slip up, you won’t break anything, just get up and carry on. Every new day is your chance to ‘hit the refresh button’ and start again.