It’s a scary thought isn’t it…
That there’s seven teaspoons of sugar in a can of cola.
But this is old news. Something that shocked me even more was how much sugar is in orange juice.. Only about one teaspoon less than cola!
This realization got me considering the quantities of sugar in lot’s of other foods and beverages, which lead me down the path of an experiment.
Now, I may not have been the healthiest person in my teens or early 20’s but who is?
I have however become healthier as I reached my 30’s but there’s always room for improvement.
The Diet That Changed Everything
The experiment or challenge I guess you could call it – all started after I tried the ketogenic diet for the first time.
I was interested in the keto diet for a few reasons but the main ones that stood out for me were improved brain function, like more energy and deeper levels of focus.
One thing that struck me during this diet was how much I craved sugary foods at the start. I never realised I even eat that much sugar to get a craving for it, after all I never craved sugar when on my regular diet. After a few days of no sugar, the high fat diet curbed my cravings of sugar completely and I was no longer hooked.
I continued the keto diet for a further 4 weeks and when I reverted back to carbs again, I knew how beneficial healthy fats were so wanted to stick to a good balance of fats and carbs.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that even though I was consuming carbs again, I was no longer interested in sugary foods anymore. No more cravings for cakes, sweets or even white bread.
I couldn’t even drink coffee with my usual one teaspoon of sugar anymore! I was a changed man and I felt so much better for it.
My keto journey is a completely separate story in itself but it’s thanks to this diet that enabled me to lower my sugar intake and then completely quit sugar altogether.
It lead me down the path of setting myself challenges of eating and drinking zero sugar containing food and drink for months at a time. Now I just find it natural to opt for eggs in the morning over a bowl of cereal.
Since this time, I’ve been fasinated in finding new ways to help cut sugar out of my diet and bust those cravings for good.
Here’s my tips that you can try yourself to change your tastebuds and kick sugar for good.
15 Tips to Cut Sugar From Your Diet (#9 is my favorite!)
Whilst doing futher research for my sugar detox, I found lots of science-backed tips on how to quit sugar. Here’s my top 15 on giving up the sweet stuff.
#1. Understand Why Refined Sugar is Bad for Your Health
The best way to quit something bad, is to understand why it’s bad. Yes, your body needs fuel in the form of glucose, but this doesn’t mean it needs white, refined sugar.
Your body breaks down the carbohydrates found in food into glucose for energy and glycogen to store energy and these foods can be healthy whole grains such as brown rice and oats.
Refined sugar contains no essential nutrients and is bad for our teeth and liver, it’s addictive and leads to type II diabetes. Why choose to eat something with so many negatives, and absolutely no benefit? Once you make peace with the fact it’s bad, it’ll become easier to cut refined sugar from your diet.
#2. Quit Sugary Snacks and Drinks
It’s pretty obvious but it depends on how you define junk food and sugary drinks, as it’s not just sweets and cola that are the bad guys.
‘Healthy’ foods such as some cereal bars can contain as much as 20.3 g of sugar per portion and smoothies marketed as healthy on-the-go snacks can contain four times the amount of sugar the World Health Organisation recommends an average person should consume in a day.
I think that’s shocking and it isn’t until you begin to look into the amounts of sugars in foods and drinks that you realise how much we’re really consuming. It is mainly fruit from sugar, and I’ll talk about that kind of sugar later, but cutting out these kinds of snacks will have a dramatic impact on your sugar detox.
#3. Learn About Hidden Sugars
There are other foods that surprisingly contain hidden sugars, particularly low fat foods, which generally replace fat with sugar. Even foods we know are savoury often have sugar added to them such as ready meals, jars of cooking sauces, soups and condiments such as ketchup and salad dressings.
Even bread has its fair share, with some shop bought sandwiches containing up to half a teaspoon of sugar per slice, regardless of whether it’s wholemeal or white bread.
So it’s not hard to see how easily this added sugar mounts up in our day to day life. All you need to do is eat a shop bought sandwich and a smoothie for lunch and you’re well over the recommended six teaspoons a day limit set for adults.
#4. Cook From Scratch
Cooking meals from scratch using fresh, clean ingredients means that you know exactly what you’re eating and that it doesn’t contain added sugar.
I plan my meals weekly, making most meals from scratch and ensuring I leave no meal or snack unplanned. This means that even when I’m out and about, I don’t need to resort to eating anything I’m uncertain contains sugar. Having sugar free snacks on hand will help the sugar cravings when they hit and once you get the hang of the preparation it becomes second nature.
There is plenty of inspiration on the internet for recipes free from refined sugars from cereal bars to tomato soup and pizza sauce.
#5. Think Twice About Fruit
Fruit is a tricky one, because it’s full of fibre but contains fructose, or fruit sugar. This naturally occurring sugar is definitely more preferable to the refined, added kind but is still sugar. Quitting sugar therefore means cutting out fruit sugar too but it’s worth noting which fruits have the most sugar. Mangoes, cherries and grapes are all very high in sugar which makes sense when you think of how sweet they are.
And it doesn’t stop there, when fruit is dried, its takes out all the water which concentrates the sugar, making it much easier to get a huge amount of sugar without even noticing it If you’re quitting sugar gradually and you’re in two minds about fruit, it’s definitely advisable to cut dried fruit from your diet completely.
#6. Know Your Grains
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or any other cereal is a grain product including bread, pasta and breakfast cereals. These foods are mainly carbohydrate and as we learned in tip #1, the body converts carbohydrate to sugar.
Not all grains are created equal however and it’s here that we need to understand the difference between refined grains and unrefined grains. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ which also removes the dietary fibre, iron and B vitamins. Think white flour, white bread and white rice. These are the bad guys and when you consume them, send your blood sugar levels temporarily sky high, causing an inevitable subsequent crash.
Unrefined grains are whole grains such as oatmeal, whole wheat flour and brown rice and contain the entire grain kernel – the bran, germ and endosperm and therefore all of the fibre and vitamins. If you’re quitting sugar completely, then you should also cut out all grains.
#7 Try the Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet is based on the same foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, namely fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood and nuts and focusses on a diet rich in protein and good fats. It’s a diet naturally lower in sugar than today’s diet as it eliminates all cereals, grains and legumes, and advises only low amounts of (lower sugar) fruits.
It’s widely recognised that refined sugar isn’t paleo and neither are processed sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar. But some natural sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup, molasses and Stevia are “considered paleo because they’re not processed and are naturally occurring”.
#8. Use Sugar Alternatives with Caution
Whether you’re following the paleo diet or not however, if you’re quitting sugar then you should avoid all sweeteners altogether. But, we’re all human, and sometimes need a sweet, sugary fix. If you do, then natural sweeteners are better than refined ones.
Honey contains slightly higher amounts of nutrients than refined white sugar and also has antimicrobial properties and is a great alternative in baking.
Stevia is around 300 times sweeter than sugar yet it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. It is good in hot drinks, and due to its sweetness, you only need to use a tiny amount.
Molasses is a byproduct of cane sugar production and is a thick, dark liquid that can be used in baking, but use it sparingly.
#9. Indulge in Raw Cacao Products
Raw cacao products are my favourite sugar free snacks. Cacao is the raw ingredient of chocolate, before all the fats and sugars have been added, it’s packed with immune boosting antioxidants and has the highest source of magnesium of all foods.
It comes as a powder, nibs or butter and all three can be used to make delicious sugar free, ‘chocolate’ snacks. My favourite health blogger and recipe book author, Deliciously Ella, has lots of sugar free cacao recipes that also incorporate good fats such as those found in nuts, avocados and coconut oils to boost your energy and satisfy any chocolate craving.
#10. Eat Your Greens
Cutting out fruits as part of a sugar detox means that you might lack fibre in your diet which can be replaced by eating lots of green leafy vegetables. Most vegetables are low in sugar but non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens and mushrooms, onions, asparagus, squash and broccoli are the best for a sugar free diet.
Vegetables higher in sugar and therefore best to avoid include carrots, beetroots and potatoes (and not just sweet potatoes, but white potatoes too, whether fried, mashed, boiled or baked).
Fill half of your plate at each meal with these low sugar veggies and the rest with lean protein (add some whole grains if you’re eating them).
#11. Try Bitter Foods
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), sweet and bitter flavours are considered opposites and therefore one can be used to balance out the other. The more sweet foods we eat, the stronger our sugar cravings, but eaten regularly, bitter foods such as dandelion greens, green tea and cacao can cancel out sugar cravings.
What’s more, research has shown that bitter foods can help regulate hunger and blood sugar levels which can lead to a reversal in obesity related type 2 diabetes.
So try adding something bitter to your diet every day; rocket leaves, kale and turmeric are all good to try, and see what difference it makes to you.
#12. Keep Hydrated
It’s well known that staying hydrated has many health benefits but did you know it can also help control sugar cravings? Being dehydrated will cause you to feel tired and in this state it can be so tempting to reach for a sugary snack, when actually all your body needs is water.
As green tea is bitter and great at preventing dehydration, drinking it daily has a double impact on beating sugar cravings!
Sour probiotic drinks such as kombucha, a fermented tea based drink made with bacteria and yeast can dramatically reduce food cravings in general but sugar cravings in particular by influencing our gut bacteria.
#13. Use supplements
Filling your diet with protein rich lean meat and non-starchy vegetables will keep you fuller, for longer. The more hungry you feel, the less likely you are to have sugar cravings. But what about taking supplements to help quit sugar?
Chromium is a mineral required for normal blood sugar control and although it’s not yet clear how, chromium supplements can reduce carbohydrate and sugar cravings and promote stable sugar levels.
It’s still science in its infancy but glutamine supplements have been linked to reduced sugar cravings. Glutamine is an amino acid, a building block of protein and is turned into glucose by the body really quickly and therefore reduces sugar cravings. Protein is also known to reduce sugar cravings and could therefore be a reason people who take glutamine supplements record a reduction in these cravings.
#14. Be realistic
Quitting sugar is a difficult and time consuming process so you need to be gentle with yourself and expect to slip up sometimes. Take it slowly, maybe try being sugar free once a week, then building up a day at a time when you feel ready.
Even when you quit sugar completely, you may still be faced with a kids birthday party where the food table looks like a bowl of sugar, or a forgotten lunch or a dinner date with a limited menu. It’s important not to let cutting out sugar rule your life (a potentially dangerous condition called orthorexia indicates an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food) and to not feel too bad if you have to give in every now and again.
#15. Follow Social Media Accounts of Sugar Quitters
Reading someone else’s account of how they quit sugar is a great way to get inspiration and guidance. Kate Quit Sugar – and so can you is a site dedicated to Kate and her journey and contains lots of guides and recipes to help you on your way.
Following social media accounts and signing up to blogs such as I Quit Sugar will also help boost any low moral and make you realise that anyone quitting sugar will have their bad moments. YouTube is a great source of quitting sugar videos and support. You could even set up your own blog and Instagram and Twitter accounts to chart your own progress, because there’s nothing better than getting virtual high fives from readers and followers, and being able to look back over your own journey!
The Sugar 101 Complete Guide
So now we’ve learned how to quit sugar, here’s my lowdown on the science behind sugar, sugar addiction and the best sugar free foods.
What is Sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate found naturally in many different foods from lactose in milk to fructose in fruit. It’s best known form is sucrose, which is the white, refined sugar we add to our hot drinks and baking and is found in most shop bought sweet treats. Sucrose comes from sugarcane or sugar beets and is turned into the white crystals we recognise by a refining process.
Is Being Addicted to Sugar a Thing?
Yes, it is. A study published in 2007 found that although it is in the best interest for humans to have an inherent desire for food for survival, certain people may develop an unhealthy dependence on palatable food that interferes with well-being and gives credit to the idea of food addictions. The same study said that in some cases, intermittent access to sugar can lead to behaviour and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of a substance of abuse, evidence that sugar can be addictive.
Why is Sugar Bad For You?
The main reason added sugar is bad for us is that it has none of the good stuff in it. It’s literally a high number of calories with no essential nutrients and feeds the bacteria in our mouths that causes tooth decay. Sugar also causes insulin resistance which in turn causes blood sugar levels to rise which eventually leads to type 2 diabetes.
Which Sugar is Good For You?
It’s generally accepted that our body needs a form of sugar for energy to survive, and will turn carbohydrates from food into glucose, the form of sugar our brains use the most. Too much of any sugar is bad, but sucrose, or white, refined sugar that we add to our diet by the spoonful is the bad guy, and the one that we’re all being advised to cut down on. Naturally occurring sugar such as that found in honey is better for us, but still in moderation.
Why we Crave Sugar
Evolutionary biologists have an answer for this. Apparently, we can thank our primate ancestors for our innate need to consume sugar. Millions (and millions) of years ago, apes evolved to prefer ripe fruit over unripe fruit because it had a higher sugar content and therefore provided more energy. Sugar makes our bodies want to hold onto fat, and in ancient times when food was scarce, ancient humans knew this to be a good thing. Therefore, biologically, we’ve trained ourselves to crave sugar. It’s just that nowadays, this sugar is in a much more refined form than then.
Simple Tips to Curve Cravings
There are plenty of tricks for curbing sugar cravings. Eating a diet high in protein, fibre and good fats will keep you fuller for longer. Staying hydrated is crucial for avoiding reaching for the high sugar snacks, and drinking water and green tea (for its bitterness) throughout the day will help. The less sugar you eat, the less severe your cravings, a virtuous cycle, so don’t give up!
Couldn’t I Just go Cold Turkey With a Sugar Detox?
Yes, but it’ll be tough! The internet is full of stories of cold turkey sugar detoxing and almost all of them give the same advice – if you want to quit all forms of sugar, eat lots of protein, good fats (avocados, oily fish etc), and non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli and greens and be prepared with sugar free snacks such as almonds and pumpkin seeds. Stay calm, get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated.
Sugar Free Food List
Here are some of my favourite sugar free foods:
Lean chicken breast
All fresh herbs (that pep up any meal!)
Grass fed butter
Did you enjoy my list? How about the science bit? I really enjoyed putting it together, it’s already kick started me into quitting sugar, and hope it will become my norm as I head through my forties. I hope you got as much from it as I did, let me know what you think on the whole subject in the comments below and feel free to share this article on your social media. Together we can combat our sugar demons!