You’ve swapped your morning granola bowl for Joe Wicks’ overnight oats; your Diet Coke break was long ditched; and those pre-workout energy bars? You’d rather one of your own homemade protein bars, instead.
All in a bid to rid your diet of sugar.
But, although your daily diet may seem sans sugar on the surface, take a closer look and the 50 plus types of sugar are, in fact, lurking at every turn. Like in those ham salad sandwiches, for example; your lunchtime soup bowl; and that mid-afternoon banana.
Suddenly, how to go sugar-free, seems more of a challenge than you’d first realised.
Research has been linking sugar to serious health issues for years now – inflammation, high blood pressure, weight gain, symptoms of diabetes, sleep issues; a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, even found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease – so why, when it’s obviously so bad, is sugar still a surprisingly big part of your daily food plan?
“Sugar causes your body to crave more sugar,” says Lee Mullins, founder of the Workshop Gymnasium. “It does this through your hormones and through your brain. When we eat sugar, the hormone leptin (which tells your body to stop eating) is not elevated, which means you’ll crave more.”
“And don’t forget, sugar comes in many forms, such as refined sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, juice concentrates…”
Basically, it’s everywhere, which makes quitting the white stuff completely, nigh on impossible. Realising that when it comes to how to go sugar-free, life is harder than the CrossFit ultimate burpee, we’ve enlisted the big guns to share some of the steps you can take to avoid the main sugar pitfalls and set yourself up for sweet success.
HOW TO GO SUGAR-FREE: THE ONE-DAY DIET PLAN
HOW TO GO SUGAR-FREE AT BREAKFAST
SWAP FRUIT JUICE FOR A PIECE OF FRUIT. “Fruit juice is void of any of the fruit’s fibre, which is essential to lowering the impact of the juice on your blood sugar levels,” says Mullins. “Opt for whole, fresh organic pieces of fruit, instead.”
Berries (cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries) are the best low-sugar fruit options.
DITCH SUGAR, DON’T REPLACE IT. “Many people make the mistake of simply replacing white sugar with unrefined alternatives such as maple syrup, coconut sugar, rice syrup and honey,” says Freeletics training specialist David Wiener. “Whilst these do have some nutritional benefits over processed white sugar, containing certain vitamins and minerals, they have the same effect on our blood glucose and can be just as addictive, so it’s best to steer clear for a while, until cravings are under control.”
PREPARE YOURSELF THE NIGHT BEFORE. “Low blood sugar could be to blame for your morning sugar cravings,” says Wiener. “If your blood sugar isn’t properly managed and maintained, it can fall during the night when you’re not eating, meaning on waking, your body craves sugar as a quick fix. Rather than reaching for sugary cereals or pastries, opt for fruit or whole-grain toast and peanut butter. Poor quality sleep can also result in morning sugar cravings (which could last all day).”
HOW TO GO SUGAR-FREE AT LUNCH
RE-HYDRATE. “Dehydration can mask itself as sugar cravings,” says Wiener. “This is especially true if you’ve been exercising because when you exercise in a ‘dehydrated state’, your body uses stored carbohydrates (glycogen) faster, diminishing your stores more quickly. Once you’ve finished exercising, your body will crave foods which can help to replenish those glycogen levels, most commonly carbohydrates and sugary foods. To help combat these cravings, make sure you’re drinking at least two litres of water each day.”
THINK BEYOND CALORIES. “It is easy to get side-tracked by the cheap and readily available sandwiches or salads from your local supermarket or coffee shop,” says Jade Pearman, head trainer and owner of F45 Chelmsford. “But what you do not realise is that although they might be under 300 calories, it might be packed with your sugar intake for the day. If bringing in your lunch is simply not an option for you, choose brown bread sandwiches instead of white, as these often have much less sugar in them, and you could also try opting for wraps, as plain white tortilla wraps have little to no sugar.”
SWITCH UP YOUR DRESSING. “In terms of opting for a salad, which is usually the ‘healthier’ option, you can turn this into a disaster if you choose to smother it in dressing,” says Pearman. “Sweet French dressings and vinaigrette, in particular, can have up to 7g of sugar in just one serving, while oil-based dressing which claim to be low in fat are often pumped full of sugar to compensate and enhance the flavour. This is why you need to be looking at the ingredients on the back of the things you pick up, looking out for things like dextrose, honey, glucose and maltose, which are variations of hidden sugars. For a lower-sugar option, I would recommend opting for a light homemade vinegar and olive-oil dressing, or full- fat mayonnaise, which also tends to contain less sugar than a reduced-fat option and has the added benefit of being rich in calcium.”
HOW TO GO SUGAR-FREE AT DINNER
GO BACK TO BASICS. “The simplest way to cut down on sugar is to eliminate processed foods from your diet and instead cook from scratch using whole food ingredients and lots of vegetables,” says Wiener. “This way you know exactly what is going into your food and you can adapt recipes by reducing the sugar content. You don’t need to be the best cook in the world to do this. Simple salads and soups are quick and easy to make. Or avoid slaving over a hot stove entirely and simply throw some ingredients in a slow cooker for a few hours, whilst you to get on with the rest of your day.”
And Pearman agrees. “The most important piece of advice I can give for how to go sugar-free is that you need to make sure you are consuming adequate nutrition and calories during the day,” says Pearman. “This will ensure that you do not have unwanted cravings, especially for something sweet in the evenings. By ensuring that each meal contains a serving of protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, you will feel full and be prevented from ruining your hard work during the day when it comes to your post-dinner snack.”
DON’T DEPRIVE YOURSELF. “Many sugar lovers have the issue of needing to have something sweet after a meal, particularly dinner,” says Pearman. “This is an incredibly common issue and one that you need to fight in order to curb the cravings and get out of the habit. To do this, I would say that you should not deprive yourself. You should allow yourself something small, yet satisfying. For example, a piece of fresh fruit or a low sugar yogurt.”
HOW TO GO SUGAR-FREE AT SNACKS
READ THE LABELS. “Apart from the obvious sugars such as brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup and honey, be careful of any ingredient containing the letters ‘-ose’, such as ribose, dextrose or xylose, which are also all sugars,” Mullins says.
REFUEL LITTLE AND OFTEN. “Sugar cravings can be a sign that your blood sugar levels are unbalanced,” says Wiener. “To help maintain normal blood sugar levels, it is important to eat regularly and to consume snacks throughout the day. Opt for those which release energy slowly, such as an apple with some peanut butter or a handful of unsalted nuts.”
HOW TO GO SUGAR-FREE: THE WORKOUTS
TAKE YOUR TRAINING UP A NOTCH. “Studies have shown that short bouts of intense exercise (HIIT) can help to reduce sugar cravings,” says Wiener. “This is likely to be because after a strenuous workout, the hunger hormone ghrelin is lowered. Ghrelin stimulates the appetite, so lower levels will see a reduction in appetite and sugar cravings.”
BE CONSISTENT. “One reason you may crave sugar is because you’re lacking energy, and energy levels can be boosted by regular exercise, even if exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing,” says Wiener. “Regular exercise can also provide a distraction from your cravings and encourage you to feel good about your body, encouraging you to want to look after it, and think twice about what you’re putting in to it.”