For anyone seeking a healthier lifestyle, cutting down sugar is usually near the top of the ‘to do’ list. However, in reality, cutting down on the sweet stuff, or even going completely sugar free, can be easier said than done. In this article, we offer a few tips for those of you who want to phase out or cut out sugar from your daily diet.
Our bodies need energy, and carbohydrates are one valuable source. However, eat too much of certain types of sugar and you run the risk of such unwanted effects as excess weight (and its associated health problems) and tooth decay.
Not all sugar is created equal. There are naturally-occurring sugars that are already present in foods (such as fruit, syrups and milk) and refined sugars, which are added to food during the cooking or manufacturing process. The NHS uses the term ‘free sugar’ to refer to the types we should cut down on. These include refined sugars and those found in such food/drink as fruit juices, smoothies and honey.
So, how much of this ‘free sugar’ should we be aiming for? Well, official guidance suggests no more than 30g per day, making up no more than 5% of your daily energy intake (i.e. the percentage of calories you consume).
If you want to start cutting down your free sugar intake, here are a few things to try:
Maple syrup, stevia, honey and agave syrup are a few popular alternatives to refined sugar. You can incorporate these into your diet and food prep. For example, try replacing sugary shop-bought yoghurts with plain unsweetened yogurt and honey. As the NHS lumps these types of sugar in with refined sugar, you should consume them sparingly. However, if you are looking to reduce or phase out refined sugar, they can form part of a balanced diet.
Some foods are obviously sugary. However, ready meals, soups, crisps, peanut butter and pasta sauces are just some examples of foods that do not need sugar, but to which it is routinely added. Check the label and look at how high sugar appears in the ingredients list. Most prepared foods also contain a ‘per 100g’ column in the nutritional content list. Use this to work out the sugar content as a percentage. For example, if something contains 20g of sugars per 100g, that means it is 20% sugar.
When cutting down sugar, it is important to take a realistic look at your daily diet and see where you can reduce your intake of the sweet stuff. Substitutes you could consider include:
- dark chocolate for milk chocolate
- herbal teas for normal tea or coffee with added sugar
- porridge or sugar-free muesli with fresh fruit for sugary cereal
- sparkling water with a dash of fruit juice or no-added-sugar squash for fizzy drinks
- low fat soft cheese or sugar-free peanut (or other nut) butter for jam or chocolate spread
Snacking doesn’t have to be a sugar minefield. There are now brands out there that offer sugar-free snack bars that use natural sugars and can satiate a sweet craving. You can also opt for fruit and raw vegetables. However, be careful not to replace sugar with something equally unhealthy. So, choose unsalted nuts rather than a handful of dry roasted peanuts!
Eliminating sugar has lots of health benefits, including helping you to shift excess pounds, mellow out mood swings and improve your skin, so it may be something to consider. When people talk about going sugar free, they usually mean cutting out all refined sugars. Along with obvious candidates (cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks, etc.), this means certain processed foods, as well as things like white bread and flour.
If cutting down on sugar is not enough and you want to eliminate it from your diet, here are a few tips:
- Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts and salmon, can make you feel fuller for longer so can help ward off sugar cravings.
- Enjoy a variety of fruits; as well as satisfying a sweet tooth, they help you get a good supply of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Plan ahead to ensure you have plenty of sugar-free snacks and meal options to hand.
- If you have a heavy sugar habit, be prepared to feel a bit rough for a few days; this should soon lift to leave you feeling much better.
- A few days of detox can help you kickstart your sugar-free regime.
Finally, if the effect of sugar on your teeth is a concern, here are some tips to minimise any damage:
- Stay away from ‘sucking’ sweets as these keep sugar in contact with your teeth over a prolonged period of time.
- Practice good dental hygiene but wait an hour after eating or drinking something sugary before brushing to prevent spreading the resulting acid around your mouth.
- Use a straw when drinking fruit juices and sugary drinks, so the liquid doesn’t ‘wash over’ your teeth.
- Sip plain water throughout the day to help neutralise any acids that build up in your mouth.
- Go for regular dental check-ups so you can nip any decay or gum disease in the bud.
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