The evils of sugar aren’t news to anyone. A well documented cause of medical conditions from obesity and tooth decay to heart disease and diabetes, the dangers of excessive sugar consumption are so prevalent that campaigners even managed to outdo Big Food to get the so-called Sugar Tax passed. It’s also one of the biggest factors preventing you getting that six pack you always wanted. If you’re looking to make 2020 the year you finally beat your cravings and get in the best shape – and health – of your life, here’s what you need to know about kicking your sugar addiction.
Know what you’re up against
At its most basic sugar is a class of carbohydrates that tastes sweet – but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only the white stuff in 1kg bags counts. Sugar comes in many forms – there are no fewer than 10 listed on the NHS website – both natural and processed, but at their base all sugars are going to have the same effect on your health. The simple thing to remember is, if it tastes sweet, it more than likely has sugar in it.
All sugars – even those that have gone through a refining process – originate from a naturally occurring source. So why are they bad for you? Much of the harm caused by sugar is due to its propensity to make you gain weight. Fructose (often found in sugary drinks) can actually increase hunger while all sugars contain high amounts of calories with little nutritional benefit (the only exception being that found in whole fruits and vegetables). Weight gain, in turn, can lead to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. The spikes in blood sugar levels caused by eating high sugar foods has also been linked to an increase in acne, skin ageing, mood swings, depression and kidney disease. Do we need to go on?
Reassess your diet
The tricky thing with trying to exclude sugar, of course, is that it’s present in almost everything we eat in one form or another. However, you can drastically lower the sugar in your diet without too much trouble. The NHS defines a low sugar food as containing less than 5g of sugar per 100g. This information should be available on every food packet – which is good, because you’re probably consuming far more than you think.
While we all know sweets and chocolate are full of sugar, it is lurking in some surprising items too. Fruit, for example, while having other health benefits, is often high in sugar while smoothies and juices that present themselves as healthy options often contain more sugar than fizzy drinks. Seemingly savoury foods, especially highly processed fast food, ready-made sauces and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, are not only high in sugar to begin with but are also broken down into glucose (a form of sugar) by the body.
Like a pint after work? Well you’ll be consuming less sugar than those opting for cider, cocktails or liqueurs at least but – bad news – all alcohol negatively impacts blood sugar levels as the toxin interrupts the production of sugar regulating hormones. If you’re not ready to give up both alcohol and sugar then make sure you only drink after eating as this will slow alcohol absorption and help your body maintain equilibrium.
If you’re serious about going low sugar then you’re going to have to start cooking at home – or run the risk of disguised added sugars. Simple rules to follow: up your intake of green vegetables and high fibre grains such as oats and barley, always choose a whole-wheat or granary version of breads, pastas etc, swap juices and fizzy drinks for water, choose fruits with high water content (oranges are a greta example), avoid condiments and spreads and, where possible, make your meals from scratch so you know exactly what is in them. If you need a regime to follow, the paleo diet is often thought to be the best for lowering sugar.
Go cold turkey
It’s referred to as a sugar addiction for a reason. You wouldn’t suggest a smoker dabble now and again and, if you really want to give up a sugar, you shouldn’t either. The simple fact is, you’re never going to kick your cravings if you don’t give your body a chance to get used to the new regime. You don’t need sugar but, if you indulge even occasionally, your body will begin craving it again, putting you back to square one. We’re not saying it will be fun but we do promise you’ll eventually get to a place where you don’t really think about it anymore.
We know, we know. You’re useless in the morning without a cup. But your caffeine habit could be fuelling your sugar addiction. Caffeine raises the level of stress hormones – adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol – in the body to give you energy. And, while the fast-acting adrenaline and noradrenaline initially suppress appetite, the longer lasting cortisol has the reverse effect, producing cravings for carbohydrates and sugar.
Night owls should also beware. Using coffee to keep you artificially alert late into the evening – and thus lowering amount and quality of sleep – will also leave you craving quick energy hits from sugar the following day. The best advice? Switch to green tea if you can’t quit caffeine (or herbal if you can) and get plenty of sleep to banish unnecessary cravings.
Try not to substitute
From stevia to saccharin, there are a multitude of artificial sweeteners on the market promising all the flavour of sugar with none of the side effects. But be cautious. Many sweeteners commonly found in processed foods have been linked to increased cancer rates while experts also suggest that the potency of sweeteners can overstimulate taste receptors, leading to increased cravings for sugary foods and an intolerance for healthier, savoury options. This is one case where it’s best not to fake it ’til you make it.
Likewise, discard the many, many recipes from online ‘clean eating’ health gurus suggesting you use honey or dates as a ‘sugar free’ alternative. As explained above, just because sugar has not been processed or refined does not mean it isn’t bad for you. In fact, the NHS classes the sugar in honey as a ‘free sugar’ – the same category as granulated white sugar – and we know who we’re going to trust on the matter.
Want more good news? Alcohol is your worst workout enemy…
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