Everyone loves sugar free life: However, most of us eat too much of it, actually about twice the daily recommended dose. High-sugar diets can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, and weight gain. Not only that, but too much sugar can also affect your mood and daily performance too. Maybe you have experienced tiredness, irritation, or almost a hungover-type feeling after eating a meal with a high content of sugar? That’s known as a sugar crash, and what happens is that the glucose level in your blood quickly goes way up, and then equally fast goes way down again, resulting in the crash.
Do I need to cut down on sugar?
If you haven’t given this much thought and have a casual attitude towards what you eat, it’s a fair assumption that if you want to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, you most likely need to cut down on your sugar intake.
Sugar occurs naturally in fruits and most dairy products, and there’s no urgent need to cut down on these types of sugar. What you need to reduce is your intake of added sugars. These are sugars that are added to a wide range of foods such as sweets, cakes, bread, biscuits, chocolate, soft drinks, and juices as well as fast food and pre-prepared meals.
How much sugar is ideal?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, your intake of added sugars should be less than 10% of your daily energy consumption, and ideally less than 5%.
What does that mean? Well, to keep sugar intake to a maximum of 10% of daily energy intake you should not consume more than an equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar (50 grams of sugar), and to keep it below 5%, you should not exceed 6 teaspoons (25 grams of sugar). As a reference, a typical soft drink could contain about 40 grams of sugar, which equals 10 teaspoons.
Handling foods and sweets
To make it simple for you we will list some general advice and rules of thumb on how to handle foods, desserts, and drinks. Since there’s a number of diets and food lifestyles out there, some of our suggestions might come across as unhealthy or simply wrong to you. Bear that in mind when you read the advice and examples and adapt the ones that are applicable to you and your dietary preferences.
Breakfast, lunch & dinner
Mind the hidden sugar! Things like yogurt, juices & many of the common condiments (yes, ketchup as well) and other pre-made foods often contain added sugar. Things like ready-made soups, stir-in sauces, and pre-prepared meals can be higher in sugar than you think, so make sure to always read the nutrition labels and keep this in mind:
- Anything lower than 5g of sugar per 100g is considered low.
- Anything higher than 20g sugar per 100g should be avoided.
Dishes that are typically high in sugar in themselves are things like sweet & sour dishes, sweet chili dishes, etc. Keep an extra eye out for products marked as “Low in Fat” often compensate for the loss of flavor with more sugar. When it comes to lunch & dinner, the biggest sugar-villain in your meals are often the condiments. Dressings, sauces, glazes, and other things you eat right out of the package can contain plenty of sugar. For instance; 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 1 teaspoon of sugar, and honestly, how often do you settle for one tablespoon of ketchup?
Switch soft drinks and juices for water. If you cannot live without your soft drinks, try drinking carbonated water, the bubbly sensation is enough to satisfy your taste buds, and the fact that its water will quench your thirst and remove your soda cravings. If you still HAVE to drink soda, drink a big glass of water first, and then ask yourself if you want the soda because of thirst or because of something else. This will help limit your intake.
Don’t put sugar in your tea or coffee, or at least swap the table sugar for a sweetener
Pre-made fancy coffee drinks and commercially produced bottled smoothies and vitamin-water are often loaded with added sugars. Make your own fresh smoothies and find a coffee drink you like without flavored syrup or chocolate-caramel drizzle.
Snacks & Desserts
In general, try to avoid snacks with added sugars. If you are hungry in between meals, go for nuts, fruits, rye bread sandwiches, cottage cheese, or whatever is available near you with a low percentage of added sugar as possible.
Switch desserts for fruits. Instead of eating a cake or cinnamon bun, make a simple fruit salad or put frozen banana with raw cocoa in your blender and mix away to get a delicious ice cream alternative.
If you feel that cutting out candy from your life is too drastic, try to both limit your intake to a specific day of the week and limit the amount (say eating one biscuit instead of two).
Don’t hate us for being pretentious, but you should really try to give dark chocolate a go. Dark chocolate contains a lot of calories, just like milk chocolate, but they are generally lower in sugar. There are flavored ones with a high percentage of cacao that is both delicious and has some health benefits as well. Try to go for at least 60-70% cacao and of course, check the nutrition label on different brands.
Another tip is to make your own healthy chocolate “candy” or energy bars and store it in the freezer for when those cravings sets in. Most of the time it’s the lack of healthy options that make us go crazy for sugar. The low sugar options aren’t necessarily low in calories, but that’s not always a problem. Google “healthy chocolate candy recipes” and there will be a million easy recipes to try out.
So, how do I cut down on sugar?
First off, start reflecting on what you put in your mouth. Before, during, and after you eat. You don’t have to cut out all the sugar in your life and you don’t have to go cold turkey, but try to make conscious choices. We’ve created 9 steps to radically decrease your sugar intake. Follow these steps and see how low you can go.
Step 1: Clean house
Availability makes it harder to resist when those urges sets in. Don’t keep sweets or foods with high levels of added sugar in your house. Grab a plastic bag and fill it with the stuff you got in the fridge, freezer, and cupboard. Bring the bag to your job or school with a note that says “free stuff”. It’ll be gone in an hour and no food was wasted.
Step 2: Give yourself a quota
If you can’t or simply don’t want to skip the candy or sweets completely (who wants that?), give yourself a limit. it can be that you are only allowed to eat sugary things on a specific day of the week. Could Sunday be Funday? Only have desserts on Saturdays or for special occasions (and then we mean really special occasions, not “yay it’s 3: pm”-occasions) Also like we mentioned earlier, limit the amount you eat. We’re not telling you to stop living and quit enjoying life. We’re just trying to help you find a way to be in control and make conscious choices that make you feel good now, as well as in the long run.
Step 3: Take control of your sleep.
Problems with sleep and a high sugar diet often come in pairs. When we eat a lot of sugar we have trouble sleeping and when we wake up and are tired because of the low sleep quality, we crave energy, and what is sugar? Pure energy. So it’s a classic vicious cycle.
This also means that your sugar craving can be a product of lack of sleep, so if you have trouble sleeping check out the article: “Sleeping Well – A Complete Guide” and kill two birds with one stone.
Step 4: Always check nutrition labels
Compare food and nutrition labels to understand how much sugar a product contains and choose the ones with the lowest amounts of added sugar. As a rule of thumb, if it’s less than 5g of sugar per 100g, you can consider it low in sugar. Products with more than 20g sugar per 100g should be avoided at all costs. Don’t automatically trust packagings that seem or even say “healthy” on it. It doesn’t automatically mean low in sugar. The food companies have hidden added sugar everywhere. Beware!
Step 5: Drink water!
In general, drink a lot of water throughout the day as it could reduce your sugar craving. You won’t be as thirsty which reduces the risk of grabbing a soda and the risk of confusing thirst for hunger which can result in eating something sweet. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy, and by now you know what happens when we feel tired: Sugar cravings. How much water you should drink on a day varies a lot depending on your activity level, overall health, gender, what climate you live in, etc. You’ve probably heard the advice to drink 8 glasses of water a day, and that’s a good amount for most people.
Step 6: Have regular meals.
Eat regularly and try to keep an overall whole-food-based diet to maintain a stable blood sugar level throughout the day. A hearty breakfast is a must for stable levels of blood sugar. However, lot’s of common breakfast products contain sugar. Juice, flavored yogurts, white bread, cereal, etc. Create a breakfast routine that you enjoy and that contains a low amount of sugar. You will benefit from it throughout the whole day. Try going for rye bread, natural cereals, unsweetened yogurts, fruits, berries, and oats.
When it comes to lunch and dinner, as mentioned before, the biggest sugar villains in meals are often the condiments and pre-made processed foods. Try to find groceries with a low added sugar and again, count by reading the nutrition labels. If you’re looking for low-fat meals try switching to unprocessed whole foods that are naturally low in fat or foods that contain healthy fats instead.
Step 7: Bring snacks everywhere
Bring a snack to work, school, or to whatever place you are spending the day. Try to eat your snacks before you get your cravings. Bring bananas, apples, kiwis, carrot sticks, or a handful of nuts to stabilize your blood sugar levels and help you to avoid sweets, cookies, and candy bars that for some reason are readily available pretty much everywhere these days.
Step 8: Cut down on sodas
This might be an obvious one, but what a difference it makes! To kill a soda-craving, squeeze half a lime into a glass and fill it to the brim with soda water. Or find a bottled one with a flavor you like. Some flavors, like pear, for example, are so potent without sugar that you won’t be disappointed. If sugary drinks are your Achilles heel, try to choose a diet or the sugar-free version. (Many believe artificial sweeteners are actually worse than sugar, so check out the science and make up your own mind.)
Another tip is to drink a large glass of water before you go for the soda to reduce your thirst an increases the chance that you won’t empty that can.
Step 9: Skip the table sugar
Stop adding sugar or honey to coffee or tea, cereals, pancakes, morning oats, and whatnot. This is a great way to take action on things you really control. Frozen fruit or low sugar applesauce or jam are better options for foods, and if you really need something in your warm beverages, opt for sweeteners.
Summary: Sugar-Free Life
- Sugar cravings can be the result of poor sleep
- There can be added sugar in all types of finished food products
- Low-fat does not mean healthy because it can contain sugar instead
- Whole foods keep you satiated longer and helps you keep a consistent blood sugar level
- Bring fruits wherever you go to avoid buying readily available candy-bars and similar
- Drink plenty of water and always drink water first if you crave a sugary drink
- Replace sodas with carbonated water
- Don’t add any sugar to your coffee/tea
- Empty your house of all types of over sweet goods
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