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The recent sugar tax announced in the latest budget comes not a moment too soon for a nation addicted to sugar; we eat an average of 238 teaspoons per person every week. We are on the verge of a type 2 diabetes epidemic, an obesity crisis and an explosion of other sugar related health problems. Despite knowing that sugar is bad and causes health problems, most of us still haven’t been given any advice on practical ways to reduce sugar in your diet.
That’s because it’s everywhere. Its hidden and carefully packaged in a way that is designed to keep it concealed from us. It’s hidden in a healthy looking soup. It’s packed into snack bars with the name “nature” on the front. It’s in many types of fruit (that, apart from the sugar, are really healthy to eat); it’s hidden in coffee drinks; it’s lurking in that healthy breakfast cereal.
Although cutting down is not easy, doing so has an immediate effect on health, especially in children. In a study at the University of California, 43 children, each with a chronic health problem like high blood pressure, were given foods low in sugar and had sugars replaced with starches. After only 9 days they showed improvements in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, improved blood glucose levels, lower insulin response (which causes type 2 over time) and improved liver function. The study definitively showed that sugar is bad for health not just in terms of weight gain but in a metabolic way.
So how do we go about removing it? Here are some key points:
1 – Don’t go overboard. You can’t remove all sugar from your diet. When training clients who want real definition or a 6 pack, we ask them to try and keep sugar to 30g a day or less. This is very hard. Sugar occurs naturally in many healthy foods, like vegetables and fruit. Instead focus on removing added and/or processed sugars and intense sweetness; these cause a dulling of the palette and sugar addiction. The less sugar you have, the faster and sooner your taste buds will re-adjust to normal levels, meaning that you will crave less sugar. It’s a healthy snowball effect.
2 – There’s no such thing as sugar addiction. Physiologically, you don’t need any sugar. Your body makes glucose to feed the brain and muscles from healthy carbohydrates, fats and proteins. You don’t need to add sugar. The premise that you need some sugar after or before exercise is a fallacy. It’s just marketing. Your body will make all the blood glucose it needs from other food sources.
3 – Check the label! Our advice is to avoid any food that contains more than 3g of sugar per 100g. Any liquid with any sugar in at all should be avoided. Why? Sugar in solid foods is mitigated by any fibre, protein and complex non sugary carbohydrate it contains, slowing its digestion. Liquid, however, just goes “straight in”.
4 – Some fruit is healthier than others. swap fruits high in sugar (grapes, cherries, oranges and bananas are the highest) for low sugar fruit. Anything with “berry” on the end will not only be low in sugar but will also be packed with vitamins and nutrients. In particular avoid fruit juice and smoothies. These have basically taken all the good things out and left behind a sugary fruit flavoured water.
5 – Avoid artificial sweeteners. Although there is no proof that these sweeteners cause blood sugar (and insulin) levels to go up, they do deaden the taste buds to excess sugar. Wean yourself off them and you will soon start to taste the natural sweetness in foods much more.
6 – Beware low fat foods. Fat doesn’t make us fat. We need fat. Sugar and processed carbohydrates make us fat. Translate “low fat” as “high sugar”. Avoid to reduce sugar in your diet.
7 – Use an app. Even if it’s just for a day, an app like weight loss resources or myfitnesspal can be uploaded to your smart phone and used to track calories (and sugar). At the end of the day have a look at the grams of sugar and where they came from.
8 – Be visual. take a food that you are about to eat. Look at the label. Work out how much sugar is in it. Then count out the equivalent amount of sugar onto a plate. For example, a pot of rachel’s organic yoghurt (healthy sounding, right?) contains 13g of sugar per 100g. There’s 500g in the pot. So Half a pot = 250g, or 2.5 times 13. That comes to 32.5. 1 teaspoon is 4g of sugar. Count 8 teaspoons onto a plate. Exactly. Shocking. The “healthy” bar pictured above contains 3 teaspoons of sugar. Yet it has the word “nature” on the front.
9 – Have treats, just reduce the sugar. Swap milk for dark chocolate. Swap sugary low fat diary for natural Greek yoghurt. Swap cereal for porridge. All these small changes will really add up. You will have more energy, avoid going through low blood glucose periods. These are pints in the day where you feel suddenly tired, hungry and in particular craving something sweet.
At first it might seem like you are depriving yourself, but after only a few days you will adjust and start feeling great.