Sugar got a bad reputation since people started calling type 2 diabetes other names. It is common to hear these patients have “sugar in the blood.” But who doesn’t?
The problem is way beyond sugar. It has to do with the function of the pancreas and the development of insulin resistance. Left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to fatty liver disease.
Other severe consequences include diabetic retinopathy, kidney problems, and hypertension. That’s why a low sugar diet is recommended for diabetic people.
But what about non-diabetics? In general, we are living in a world full of sugar. If we don’t try to cut back on sugar, we will likely consume too much without realizing it.
So, even if you do not have diabetes, consider the following recommendations. They may reduce your cardiovascular risk and the chance of developing diabetes in the future (1).
1) Cut back on sugary drinks
It is truly impressive how sugary drinks affect your blood sugar levels. A remarkable study evaluated the effects of consuming one sugary drink serving of 250 mL every day.
For each serving, the risk of suffering diabetes increased by 18%. This includes fizzy drinks, high-carb sports drinks, and even fruit juices with added sugar.
Sugary drinks are absorbed extremely fast by the human gut. Instead of being complex carbs, they are readily available for absorption. This might be good news for other nutrients, but not for carbohydrates.
What it does is increasing insulin levels in dangerous spikes. In time, these violent spikes may end up causing insulin resistance and impaired pancreatic function.
Sugary drinks are the easiest way to absorb hundreds of calories without realizing it. We don’t even feel satiated and keep drinking. Since they are palatable, we become addicted to them in an ongoing vicious cycle. Thus, one of the most critical pieces of advice we can give you is to stop drinking this type of beverage (2).
2) Avoid sugary desserts
What about sugary desserts? They are next to the blacklist. The worst thing about them is actually what makes them attractive. They are palatable, tasty, creamy, and tempting. But don’t fall into their trap.
One of the usual ingredients is high-fructose corn syrup. This carbohydrate is different from refined sugar, but not one bit healthier. Consumption of high-fructose corn sugar is associated with a long list of conditions (3):
- Weight gain leading to overweight and obesity
- Type 2 diabetes
- Dyslipidemia (abnormal levels of fatty acids in the blood)
- Cardiovascular disease and an increase in cardiovascular risk
- Increases in the blood level of uric acid
- Immunity problems
It’s a very high price to pay, don’t you think? That’s why we advocate for a low sugar diet. It will maintain normal glucose levels in the blood and help you remain healthy for long.
3) Be wary of sauces
If you ever had a meal plan, you know they are usually flexible on what condiments you can use. They won’t usually say much about how you cook or prepare food. But you can ruin a perfectly healthy meal by using the wrong combination of sauces.
Some of them contain an excessive amount of carbs, saturated fat, and very high-calorie content. So, if you’re eating a low-sugar diet, be wary of sauces and read about their carb contents.
In most cases, ketchup and BBQ sauces are very high in carbohydrates. If you’re buying them, check on the labels and follow the instructions we will mention below.
4) Eat full-fat foods
This particular advice can be tricky and challenging to understand at first. People usually think fatty foods are bad for you, but it always depends. Fat is required by your organism to create hormones.
They are found in and frequently replaced from cell membranes. It is also possible to produce energy by using fat as a source. Thus, we always need a healthy intake of healthy fats.
As opposed to fatty acids, carbohydrates are only used to provide an energy source. They are not required for any other metabolic process. Carbohydrates are only a faster source of energy, which we can get by eating fats. That’s the principle of the famous keto diet. However, there are easier low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets you can try besides keto (4).
There are three macronutrients in foods: carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. Low-fat diets are usually higher in carbohydrates and proteins. So, instead of going straight for low-fat dairy products and other low-fat products, use whole foods and always read their labels.
5) Eat whole foods
If you’re following a keto or another type of low-carb diet, you need to include more vegetables. However, be wary around non-starchy vegetables, because they have more sugar. Still, the majority of them have dietary fiber, which contributes to slowing down sugar absorption.
That’s the benefit of whole foods. You might be eating a bit more carbohydrates than expected. But some whole foods contain plenty of dietary fiber, which counters the harmful effects of sugar.
Always opt for whole-grain foods instead of highly processed picks. For example, we can mention whole-grain pasta. It is still pasta and has plenty of carbohydrates. But it is not highly processed and preserves the bran and the germ of the original grain. These components provide additional nutrients, and they are rich in dietary fiber.
According to studies, dietary fiber can help people with diabetes to achieve better glucose control. Insulin levels improve, and the same happens with their fasting glucose levels. Even if you’re consuming more carbs, they are absorbed slowly and won’t cause insulin spikes (5).
6) Scrutinize “healthy package foods”
You can find many products in the market with the label “healthy,” “light,” or “low-fat.” Be careful with these products, and don’t trust automatically on their claims. You would be amazed to know how food companies justify this type of claim.
Some of their products contain a bit less carbohydrates or fat. But they are advertised as low-carb because they are reducing the volume or weight of servings. All they need is to achieve a lower score.
These tricks sometimes cannot be penalized by regulatory agencies. The manufacturers would claim carb or fat content is undoubtedly lower. And they are recommending a given serving size to eat, which nobody even reads.
So, don’t fall into this trap and give yourself some time to check on your packages. Scrutinize health claims, and don’t be fooled by falsely advertised low carbohydrate packages. Moreover, according to data by the USDA, low-fat foods usually contain more sugar. Keep that in mind for the next time you visit the grocery store (6).
7) Avoid sugar-laden breakfast foods
Breakfast foods are another topic we should cover. They seem harmless, and some of them may pose as a sugar-free option. However, they are everything but sugar-free.
You can consider the nutrient label and compare it with other high-sugar picks. 100 grams may reach near 400 calories, and you get around 70 grams of sugar. This is a very high sugar intake if you’re cutting down carbs.
Therefore, do not automatically trust breakfast foods as healthy food or afternoon snack. They may increase your sugar intake considerably and without any notice. Moreover, if you consume with a dairy product and added sugar, the result will be a complete disaster.
The ideal breakfast cereal should contain a ratio of carbohydrates and fiber of 10:1. You will realize that breakfast cereals with low carbs will have higher levels of fat. What you need to make sure is that they have low saturated fat and medium to low sodium levels (7).
8) Opt for dark chocolate
Every once in a while, we deserve a snack or sweet. Dark chocolate goes perfect if you have a sweet tooth. In many cases, it will also reduce your sweet craving without actually causing harm to your low-carb diet.
But you should be very picky when it comes to choosing your dark chocolate. Not all of them are healthy, and some may be falsely advertised as such. Telling the difference is essential, especially if you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
In this regard, dark chocolate works similarly to the examples above. It has higher levels of fat but lower levels of carbohydrates. So, if you’re looking for low-carb options, you need to understand they are usually high-fat. This is not bad at all. Otherwise, dark chocolate would not be considered a healthy food. It contains a type of fatty acid that contributes to lower inflammation and improve cardiovascular health (8).
9) Read labels
You might want to cut down carbohydrates for weight loss or to improve diabetes control. Regardless of your reasons, reading labels will be a valuable skill every time you make a decision. You don’t need to turn yourself into an expert in food chemistry. Just keep in mind a few concepts and recommendations.
For example, if you’re trying to follow a low-carbohydrate diet, look for added sugar. This means “extra sugar” included by the manufacturers to make it taste better. As you might guess, that’s not very healthy.
Other names of added sugar you can find are mannose, dextrin, or evaporated cane juice. Don’t be fooled by unfamiliar names like these. They all mean “added sugar.”
Another thing you need to consider is the glycemic index. Even if a given food contains more carbs than the other, it will be absorbed slowly on a lower glycemic index. On the contrary, a low-carb pick can raise your blood glucose rapidly if it has a high glycemic index.
Other vital data in nutritional labels is sodium content and fat proportion. We mentioned that the majority of low-sugar picks have a higher fat content. However, it is important to check it is not based on saturated fat. Studies show that being able to read labels can help you make better decisions. So, keep that in mind and avoid added sugars and saturated fats (9).
10) Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is fundamental for your low-sugar diet, or at least to get the results you want. It is an excellent add-on, even if it does not have to do with nutritional choices. When you sleep properly, there are countless benefits around the corner.
Your immune system works as it should because your hormones remain stable. Your metabolism maintains a healthy and fast pace, and your mind works better.
These benefits of sleep are just a short summary; we would take a complete article to discuss. In short, whatever your health concerns are, or whatever reason you have to start a low-sugar diet, sleeping properly will be an additional aid (10).
11) Don’t keep sugary foods in the house
This advice might seem pretty straightforward, but most of us fail to implement such an easy change. Just don’t keep sugary foods in your house, as simple as that.
We have mentioned how sugary foods can be palatable, creamy, delicious, and quite tempting. If you’re on a low-sugar diet, what are they doing out there? Why are you keeping them around?
Having sugary foods in your pantry will only increase your sugar cravings. You know there’s something out there. Something sweet within your reach. You start imagining the taste, and when that happens, you’ve already lost the fight.
Don’t underestimate sugar cravings, and try to keep healthy snacks around that you actually like. They will be precious when you’re about to throw all of your efforts into the dump.
But you probably already knew about healthy snacks. What is happening, then? Impressively, almost 25% of people who know about healthy snacks choose an unhealthy snack. So, what you need to do is increasing your self-control and stop buying sugary foods in the first place (11).
12) Don’t shop when hungry
This recommendation is also straightforward and easy to follow. However, we often do not pay attention and still shop when hungry. When you’re hungry, your brain relates to hunger with sugar cravings. That’s our first reaction as biological beings.
The brain circuitry is made to preserve human species. Since hunger is perceived as low energy, the brain tries to find a quick energy source. That’s why unhealthy foods seem more attractive when your shopping on an empty stomach.
The recommendation is to eat properly before going to the grocery store. Your primitive brain won’t obstruct your judgment, and you will be more likely to buy vegetables (12).
13) Limit takeaways
Overweight and obesity have plenty of interesting areas of study. One of them is social factors that contribute to obesity. Many potentially modulating factors promote weight gain. Takeaways and convenience foods are a clear example. According to studies, the more takeaway foods you have available around you, the higher BMI in the neighboring population (13).
That only means you should be aware of takeaways. Even if they are advertised as healthy, they are often not. One of the most common reasons people eat takeaway foods is because they need to eat something really quick and get back to work. But that problem will be solved by careful meal prepping.
Buy some plastic containers -make them glass containers if you care about testosterone-. Prepare your food in advance. Try to be practical and don’t cook very complicated meals unless you enjoy the experience. In time, meal prepping will become natural every day, and you will be creating a new habit.
14) Do not completely remove all sugar at first
Refined sugar is a powerful temptation and a challenging vice. Similar to certain drugs, you will cut off dependence on sugar by removing it slowly. Take it as a slow sugar detox process that will take some time. Don’t try to make a violent turn in your diet, especially if you’re used to sugary foods. These emotional changes are often not sustained over time.
Instead, try to reduce your sugar consumption progressively. This is a slow but steady change that you will more likely maintain. In this process, you need to find a balance between your self-control and a few indulgences. Make sure you’re making progress and have a consistent goal.
One thing that usually helps is buying low-sugar snacks. They will be helpful in those difficult sugar craving moments. Of course, the goal here is to be able to eliminate them after a while. But remember baby steps in this particular will be better than a violent and relentless decision (14).
Foods to include in a low sugar diet
- The majority of fruits and vegetables: You are free to eat the majority of fruits and vegetables. Just be aware of starchy vegetables, which should be limited.
- Whole-grain foods: That includes whole-grain pasta and bread. Brown rice is also acceptable but control your portions.
- All types of meat: You’re free to eat meat, but try to choose lean cuts. This will reduce your saturated fat consumption. Eat fish at least twice every week.
- Artificial sweeteners: They do not contain carbohydrates and give a sugar-free taste to cookies, cakes, and drinks. But be wary and do not overdo.
Foods to exclude in a low sugar diet
- Sugary fruits: There will be a few fruits that you will need to avoid—for example, pineapple, peach, papaya, and watermelon.
- Refined bread and pasta: They have a very high carbohydrate level and glycemic index.
- Alcohol: If you’re trying to maintain your sugar levels in check, avoid alcohol. Some types of red wine may be acceptable, but not in excess.
- Table sugar: Of course, consuming sucrose is wholly forbidden.
- Sweets, fizzy drinks, and baked goods: Needless to say, they are tasty but not included in your low-sugar diet.
Example of a low sugar 7-day diet plan
A great example of a low-sugar diet plan is the sugar busters’ diet. Instead of being a no-sugar diet plan, it emphasizes on the glycemic index of foods.
- Breakfast: One orange and oatmeal with no added margarine and sugar
- Lunch: Turkey breast sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and light mayo
- Dinner: Green and yellow zucchini, a cup of salad, and whole-wheat pasta with red sauce.
- Breakfast: An omelet made with vegetables
- Lunch: Brown rice with roasted asparagus and chicken
- Dinner: Chicken meatballs and zucchini noodles
- Breakfast: A smoothie made with almond milk, strawberries, whey protein, and spinach.
- Lunch: Salmon with potatoes and broccoli salad
- Dinner: Chicken salad with tomatoes, onions, spinach, feta cheese, cucumbers, and olive oil.
- Breakfast: Yogurt strawberries and blueberries, and oatmeal
- Lunch: A bell pepper stuffed with chicken, cheese, and vegetables
- Dinner: Beef with whole-wheat rice, and broccoli salad.
- Breakfast: One orange and oatmeal with no added margarine and sugar
- Lunch: Artichoke and spinach salad with turkey breasts
- Dinner: Whole wheat pasta with pesto sauce.
- Breakfast: One orange and vegetable omelets with feta cheese
- Lunch: One veggie wrap made of whole-wheat bread
- Dinner: Vegetable soup and two whole-wheat pita bread with hummus.
- Breakfast: One cup of kefir with raspberries and muesli
- Lunch: Turkey breast sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and light mayo
- Dinner: One cup of lentils and artichoke and spinach salad.
List of snacks
- A handful of grapes or almonds
- Celery sticks
- 1 medium apple or banana
- Rice cakes and peanut butter
It is not easy to cut sugar from your diet, but it is possible to do it progressively. There are many benefits, which is why so many people are trying this sugar-free approach.
To start a low-sugar diet, you need to say goodbye to fizzy drinks and other sources of carbs. You must start reading labels and avoid added sugar. On the contrary, try to find foods with a low glycemic index.
Whatever you do, don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry and take it easy. One day at a time and baby steps will achieve much more than trying a violent sugar detox.