There is a lot of negative talk about sugar these days. And for good reason! Sugar is everywhere.
Food production companies seem to slide hidden sugar into every food they can. This is because sugar is so palatable. We come out of the womb, craving sweet foods like fruit. We love sugar, and we can’t help it.
But we can do something about all the added sugars in our diet. With all the various health conditions and diseases linked to consuming sugar excessively, this is something that many people want to do.
Along with a drastic change in diet always come risks and considerations alongside the benefits. If you want to know how to stop eating sugar, we’re here to discuss all of it. Let’s kick that sugar habit once and for all.
Why cut back on sugar?
Sugar overconsumption is on the rise. And this isn’t just happening in North America. This is going on all over the world.
Nutritionists are recommending we restrict our consumption of simple sugars. Sugar is purely a source of calories. It doesn’t appear to have any other property that contributes to health or well-being. Simply put, sugar is not an essential part of our diet.
Too much sugar in the diet can be detrimental to oral health. This is because high sugar diets lead to dental cavities and tooth decay.
Excessive sugar consumption in the human diet is linked to the following conditions and disorders:
Nutritionists used to think that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (called NAFLD for short) was due to eating too much and exercising too little. However, recent evidence suggests that diets high in sugar increase the risk of NAFLD as well as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (called NASH for short).
Clinical studies suggest that reducing sugary beverage and fructose intake can have a significant benefit in reducing liver fat accumulation.
For people trying to lower their calorie intake, eating and drinking less sugar is a good place to start. Researchers have said that limiting consumption of all sugars and added sweeteners may be the best health advice.
Studies have shown that a low sugar diet is the best dietary approach for reducing hemoglobin a1c. This was compared to a control diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the Paleolithic diet. A low sugar diet was also able to reduce high blood sugar levels compared to a control diet.
Tips for cutting out sugar
1) Take it slow
Sugar truly is an addiction. Going cold turkey can lead to withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and brain fog.
Keep in mind that slow and steady wins the race. Try to cut back on sugar addiction in a gradual fashion.
This isn’t about doing a low sugar crash diet. This is about adopting a new lifestyle and diet that is low in sugar and high in nutritious, whole foods.
Start by replacing your refined sugars with natural options like agave nectar, for example.
2) Read the label
When purchasing food and drink products, it’s important to read the label first. Nutritionists do say that there should be better labeling of free sugars in food and beverages. But do your best with the label that is in front of you.
Food and drink labels can be confusing. Especially when it comes to sugar. This is because the sugar content is listed in grams, which many people have difficulty understanding. This is especially true of countries that don’t even use the metric system, like the United States!
The abstract information on the label will say that there are 70 grams of sugar in a product. To translate this into more concrete information, think of this as 28 sugar cubes.
One study had adolescents attend two 45 minute nutrition lessons to assess sugar literacy. Before the lessons, their knowledge of added sugar in foods and beverages was limited. They also were unsure about servings per food group in a healthy food diet.
However, this improved significantly after the lessons. After the lessons, they also had a higher label reading confidence and more intention to consume less added sugar. This goes to show that education works!
Keep in mind that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends restricting sugar consumption to less than 10 percent of daily caloric intake. They have also proposed lowering this to five percent or less for optimal health.
You may see the names of some nutritive sweeteners on a label. These include the following:
3) Avoid artificial sugar
Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes. People typically use these as a sugar alternative. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than naturally occurring sugar.
Many consumers prefer the taste of artificial sweeteners. High-intensity sweeteners are regulated as food additives. These include the following:
Unfortunately, substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners does not seem to have desirable health effects. The rise in obesity coincides with an increase in the widespread use of artificial sweeteners in food products. This can lead to glucose intolerance and difficulty losing weight.
In fact, research studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may contribute to weight gain. They increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Artificial sweeteners seem to be linked to various metabolic effects. These include resistance to insulin levels and altered gut microbiota composition.
4) Watch liquid sugar
The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has many adverse health effects.
Sugar-sweetened beverages contain added caloric sweeteners. These include sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrates.
High sugar beverages increase the risk of overweight, obesity, and dental cavities. In fact, excess added sugars in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages are a leading cause of tooth decay in American children. High sugar beverages can also result in poor nutrient supply. They increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular risk, and other health effects.
The term “free sugars” includes all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to beverages by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer. It also includes sugars naturally present in unsweetened fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
Nutritionists say that intake of free sugars should be reduced. This especially goes for children. The goal is less than five percent of calorie intake from free sugars in children and adolescents aged between 2 and 18 years. However, the intake of free sugars should be even lower than this for infants and toddlers under two years of age.
Health experts say that adults and children should not consume sugar as sweetened beverages, fruit juices, smoothies, or sweetened milk products. They recommend replacing all of these with good old fashioned water instead. One study showed that reducing the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools decrease sugar consumption.
There was also evidence that more availability of drinking water and fruit programs in schools is linked to decreased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Having more low-calorie beverages available to children at home helps as well. Research showed that children who had non sweetened beverages available at home consumed less sugary drinks. And you know what else? They weighed less!
A different study looked at the effects of sweetened beverages and the risk of death in adults. They evaluated 37,716 men from the Health Professionals’ Follow up study.
They also looked at 80,647 women from the Nurses’ Health Study. They found that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to a higher risk of total mortality. This was true for cardiovascular death and cancer death as well. The association was dose-dependent, meaning that the more sugary drinks they consumed, the higher the risk of death.
5) Avoid simple carbohydrates
The rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity worldwide is partly due to the overconsumption of added sugars. Recent guidelines call for limiting simple sugar consumption to less than 10 percent of daily calorie intake.
The authors of recent studies emphasize the importance of reducing simple sugar intake. Simple sugars include refined sugar and processed sugar. They say this is especially to be avoided from sweet drinks, sweets, and excessive fruit juice consumption.
Many studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of consuming complex, low glycemic index carbohydrates rich in fiber.
6) Plan meals
When you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. If you are thinking about cutting sugar out of your diet, you must have a healthy alternative on hand. If you don’t buy sugary foods, then you won’t be as tempted to eat them.
Don’t shop while hungry. Research has shown that shopping hungry doesn’t just increase the amount of food you purchase. It also increases the likelihood that you will put less healthy options in your shopping cart.
Keep healthy snacks on hand instead of sugary snacks:
- Fresh fruit: This will satisfy your sweet tooth and full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other good for you nutrients. Dried fruit has even more sugar than fresh fruit, so choose fresh where you can.
- Greek yogurt with cinnamon and fruit: This snack is rich in calcium, protein, and vitamin B12. Bonus: cinnamon helps to reduce blood sugar!
- Dark chocolate: As long as you have chocolate high in cocoa percentage, the sugar content will be lower.
- A handful of dates: Dates are naturally sweet and full of good nutrition.
- A handful of nuts: Nuts are packed full of good calories, protein, and healthy fats.
- Trail mix: Mix some nuts and dark chocolate to make a tasty but healthy snack.
- Jerky: This is full of protein and low in calories.
- Hardboiled egg: Eggs are a superfood. They are high in protein, as well as various vitamins and minerals.
7) Swap the sauce
Instead of sugar-laden sauces and salad dressings like ketchup, barbecue sauce, and sweet chili sauce, try the following alternatives.
Keep in mind that just one single tablespoon of ketchup can have up to one teaspoon of ketchup!
- Fresh or dried herbs and spices: These contain no sugar and no calories. They can actually benefit your health, too! And they add great flavor to any meal.
- Fresh chili: This can give your food some spice but without the sugar of sweet chili sauce.
- Mustard: This can give your food an interesting taste with negligible sugar or calories.
- Vinegar: Vinegar doesn’t have sugar or calories, but can give you that ketchup-like zing you may be searching for.
- Harissa paste: This is a good replacement for sweet chili sauce. You can even make your own at home!
- Pesto: Pesto sauce is fresh, nutty, and delicious. It is also easy to make on your own at home. You can use it as a spread or sauce.
- Mayonnaise: Mayonnaise does not contain sugar. However, it is quite high in fat, so do keep an eye on that if your goal is weight loss.
- Nut butters: Read the label and make sure your peanut, almond, and cashew butters are free of added sugars. Then you can use them as spreads.
When it comes to preparing breakfast, many of us get off on the wrong foot. It’s the most important meal of the day, so it shouldn’t have too much sugar.
Certain breakfast foods are notoriously laden with sugar, like pancakes, maple syrup, cereal, waffles, jam, and muffins.
One report found that some of the most popular cereals contain more than half their weight in added sugar. In fact, one cereal had more than 12 teaspoons per serving. This made it 88% sugar by weight! Try having the following breakfast foods in the house for healthier options:
- Greek yogurt
The next time you are at the grocery or health food store, get some natural sweeteners to have on hand as a better option than sugar. Look for stevia, erythritol, or xylitol.
8) Include protein
Research has shown that low sugar high protein diets can lead to greater improvement in glycemic control. One study found that hemoglobin a1c went down by 0.12% compared to control diets with a low carbohydrate high protein diet.
This was also effective in improving various markers of cardiovascular risk in people with diabetes. Researchers concluded that this type of diet should be considered in the overall strategy of diabetes management.
Health benefits of reducing sugar
- Lower body mass index (BMI)
- Lower body weight
- Smaller skinfold thickness measurements
- Lower waist to hip ratio
- Lower fat mass
- Reduces the prevalence of fatty liver
- Reduces prevalence of cirrhosis (scarring on the liver)
- Reduces prevalence of hepatocellular carcinoma
- Lowers risk of obesity
- Lowers risk of type 2 diabetes
- Lowers risk of coronary heart disease
- Lower burden on the health care system
Risks and considerations
In studies looking at sugar-free diets, adverse events were minor.
People who are drastically reducing their glucose intake need to make sure they do not reach hypoglycemia.
One study found that people who cut sugar out of the diet ended up buying higher calorie groceries.
Be sure if you are cutting back on sugar that you do not make up for non-sugar high-calorie junk foods. When you are grocery shopping, keep in mind that low sugar, real, non-processed food tends to be more expensive.
People are starting to substitute sugar and artificial sweeteners with naturally occurring rare sugars. These include D-allulose, D-tagatose, D-sorbose, and D-allose.
However, more research and randomized controlled trials are required in order to really know the long term safety and efficacy of these sugars. They are fairly new, so we don’t know much about them yet.
Conditions like type 2 diabetes require a paradigm shift. The focus should not be solely on cutting out sugar. Other important considerations for people with type 2 diabetes include the following:
- Ensuring access to adequate diabetes care
- Aligning glycemic targets to patient goals and situations
- Minimizing short term and long term complications
- Reducing the burden of treatment
- Improving the overall quality of life
Satisfying a sugar craving with an ice cream cone now and again isn’t the world’s end. But most of us are having added sugars at every meal! And then there are the sugar binges in between. Because of the effects this can have on our heart, weight, gut, liver, and oral health, it might be time to consider cutting back.
Remember to take it slow and read your labels. And don’t forget that artificial sweeteners can be just as bad (if not worse) than sugar! Keep in mind that there are added sugars not only in food but in many beverages as well. Avoid simple carbs, include protein, and plan ahead for best results.
As with any change to your diet and lifestyle, you may want to cut back sugar with a health care professional’s guidance like a naturopath or nutritionist. We wish you the best of luck on your journey to quitting sugar!