Just one teaspoon of sugar in your diet can result in a gain of one kg of body fat in a year, not to mention the other metabolic ill-effects. Sugar is everywhere and not many can really know how much excess we consume. Thanks to the fact that sweets are positively entrenched in our culture as happy celebration foods they can never be wished away. Owing to its current refined form, it's addictive nature and also the low-fat brigade who propagated low fat, sugar laden food as healthy, sugar consumption has only been growing exponentially globally. This has not been without serious repercussions.
It's role in metabolic diseases like diabetes is well known. But its impact is far more than that. Sugar in excess can lead to coronary heart disease, obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), lowered immunity, impaired brain function and increased risk to cancer. Sugar, infact has been found to be addictive in nature, which really means ‘the more you have, the more you want’. Sugar uses the same neurological pathways as narcotics to hit the pleasure centre of the brain that sends out the signals: “eat more, eat more.” Recently, researchers have found that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.
Another lesser recognised effect of excessive sugar intake is the change in microbial flora in the gut. In the long run, this can eventually lead to bloating, and may worsen gastro-intestinal complaints like heartburn & flatulence, abnormal gut flora has also been linked to lowered immunity, allergies, skin problems like acne, eczema, psoriasis and nutritional deficiencies & mal-absorption. Sugar in excess can deplete nutrients like B-vitamins, zinc and chromium. It is not surprising that sugar excess can deplete your energy rather than the widely believed notion that sugars boost energy.
There is an urgent need to look at cutting back on sugar in our diets. No wonder WHO (World Health Organisation) has brought down the recommended sugar intake to half, from 10% to 5% of the total caloric intake, which is about 4-6 teaspoons a day for an average 2000 cal diet. The good news is that a few simple things can help you reduce your sugar intake, disease risk and increase your energy levels & improve your skin.
Here are some tips to make your transition to a sugar-free diet much easier:
Tip 1: Cut back slowly on your sugar consumption – If you currently eat a lot of sugar, it can be hard to stop eating it all of a sudden. Not only is it more of a challenge to find good, healthy foods to eat, but it can also have a negative effect on your body. Someone who goes from eating a lot of sugar to no sugar at all can feel irritable and low. So, step down your sugar consumption slowly over a few weeks.
Tip 2: Learn to read labels – It might seem easy enough to choose healthy foods, but do you know that most no-fat and low-fat items are loaded with sugar? This is how they get flavour without the fat! Do not assume that all food sold as “health food” is healthy. Read labels and remember that “sugar-free” food may be high in fat. Labels are confusing to read at first, learning to look at the nutritional value can help you make healthier choices.
Tip 3 - Learn how to decode the word ‘sugar’ – Just because something is labelled as sugar-free does not mean that it does not have some form of sugar in it. This is where things get tricky. The following terms are all words to describe various forms of sugar: honey, jaggery, molasses, barley malt, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn or agave syrup, sucrose, lactose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, galactose, grape sugar, mannitol, sorghum syrup and maple syrup. While, some options, like molasses, jaggery and honey, might be healthier for you than other alternatives, they still count as sugars. They surely are good as sweet options if taken in the right amounts.
Fruit sugar from high fructose corn syrup contributes to significant sugar from processed food & drinks. Too much of fruit sugar can increase sugar cravings. Hence excessive fruit intake or fruit juices can be counterproductive.
Tip 4: Watch what you drink, not just what you eat – Drinks, even those that sound healthy like fruit juices, are often loaded with sugar. Most people know to avoid soft drinks, but you should be mindful of the amount of sugar in your tea, coffee, shakes and juices as well. Keep in mind that sugar can be found even in “diet” drinks and some kinds of flavoured waters. Read the labels of everything you are ingesting, not just your foods. Finally, keep in mind that sweetened wines, beer, liquors and mixed alcoholic drinks add to sugar calories indirectly as well.
Tip 5: Make your own foods – Processed foods contain preservatives and massive amounts of sugar to prolong the shelf life and better taste. Buying fresh ingredients to prepare snacks and meals does not take that much more time and it is typically a lot healthier for you than buying ready cooked food. You can control the amount of sugar consumed by finding recipes that use sugar substitutes instead of granulated, powdered or brown sugar. For example, fresh fruit purees and dried fruits help cut on sugar in cakes and desserts.
Tip 6: Limit refined carbohydrates – Carbohydrate rich foods like white breads, pastas, and so forth might not taste sweet, but they are only one step away from sugar.
Two slices of bread are equal to two tablespoons of sugar. So your body really do not need sugar. You only need it for satisfying your pallet.
Choose healthy carbohydrates instead, like low glycemic whole grains and pulses rich in fibre. Remember that your diet should give you adequate proteins and coloured and green vegetables, good fats from nuts and seeds to minimise sugar cravings effectively.
Tip 7: Nourish your body adequately. Sugar cravings can often result as a consequence of missing nutrients. These include proteins, good fats, B-vitamins, magnesium, chromium and zinc.
Tip 8: ‘Sugar free’ fixes include mouth fresheners like fennel, cardamom, tea, coffee and sugar free sweets and gums.
Tip 9: Talk to your doctor – If you are diabetic or have another medical reason for wanting to cut the sugar, you should not suddenly switch to a drastic diet to avoid all sugars. Your doctor or a professional nutritionist can help you come up with a great sugar free plan that will fit your lifestyle.
- Take plenty of raw vegetables in your diet.
- Along with healthy fats & adequate protein they can help to cut back on sugar cravings.
- Also honey & jaggery work better than sugar as they contain enzymes & plant chemicals which reduce cravings.