Sugar has been a hot topic in the media for the last year or so. Before I just thought sugar was bad for teeth, but if we cleaned our teeth properly, sugar wouldn’t be a problem for most of us. Yes, there was diabetes but I thought only obese people were at risk, or it was something that might be hereditary? Now we are told that fat doesn’t make you fat but sugar does. There has been a lot of research that has been done to reinforce this claim and as I’m now studying nutrition I have learned the biochemical and physiological effects of sugar. I can see for myself that sugar really is the enemy, but I am not going to bore you with the science here – what I’d like to tell you is how giving up sugar has changed me and my body.
I grew up in the 70’s and sugar was everywhere. We didn’t have puddings everyday as some people did but we had lots of chocolates, sweets and gallons of fizzy drinks – we had a pop delivery every week! I also remember going to the supermarket with my mum and dad, and the checkout girl asked me if I was having party due to all the chocolate bars and sweets in our trolley! I don’t blame my parents, they thought they were treating us to what they never had when they growing up. So, of course I was a sugar addict. I managed to reduce sugar in my tea to 1 tsp from 2 and stopped drinking pop excessively by the time I went to University, but I had cravings for apple pies, cream cakes and cheesecakes, chocolate and biscuits. These cravings I’ve had continuously until very recently. I am lucky I have inherited a slender frame and high metabolism, but as I approached my forties I was getting fat around the middle with my waistline expanding – classic muffin top!
I didn’t give up sugar to lose weight directly – I wanted to get off the sugar roller-coaster. I was fed up of feeling tired all the time. So this is what I did….
I knew I couldn’t go cold turkey – it would make me crave it more and I would feel depressed denying myself, so I made a few simple changes in stages over a period of about 18 months
- I swapped white rice for brown rice, white flour to wholemeal, and white pasta for wholemeal pasta. The refined white varieties are converted to sugar much more rapidly than the wholemeal types and result in a spike of blood glucose and therefore a spike in insulin, just the same as if you were to eat something containing sugar.
- I swapped biscuits and chocolates to healthier treats such as ‘Nak’d’ bars and ‘Eat Natural’
- I swapped sugar to agave syrup, honey and maple syrup.
- I started reading labels to try and work out how many teaspoons of sugar products contained. In 2015 The World Health Organisation* recommended only 10% of total calorie intake should be free sugar (this is added sugar and natural sugar from honey, syrups, and fruit juice). I didn’t actually try and count how much sugar I was having in a day – that would be obsessive. I just wanted to mindfully reduce it.
- Stopped having my 1/2tsp of agave in tea. Agave can be high in fructose and it will keep you craving the sweet stuff.
- Swapped the Nak’d bars and Eat Natural bars to Plain Chocolate covered rice cake thins. The former have 3x as much sugar as 1 rice cake.
- Started making sure I ate 3 big meals a day with a balance of carbohydrates (from unrefined sources and veg), healthy fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish), and protein (from lean good quality meat and from nuts, seeds, lentils, chickpeas). This kept me from wanting to snack, and healthy fats and protein make you feel full.
- Swapped white wine for red. I only drink occasionally and I drink red wine more slowly so drink less! But as the months went on my palette also changed and I found dry white wine too sweet!
I’ve not worried if I lapsed or went out to eat and had white rice or a dessert say, no reason to feel guilty. And I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all. My taste buds have changed and I really enjoy the food that I eat.
I have been making some refined sugar free cakes and desserts for clients and they are really popular. They still contain sugar (normally from dates) so they are still a treat. But I prefer having a slice of these cakes to refined sugar laden ones.
The results on my body were that I lost weight- inches off my waist sustainably over months. This is the dangerous fat linked to many diseases including diabetes. Sugar specifically dumps fat around the middle of the body. The continuous spiking high and low of insulin due to refined sugars (and refined flours, and rice) and high stress levels, tell the body it needs to store fat around and near vital organs.
I also feel less tired – I don’t have the afternoon crash like I used to. So my energy levels are more consistent throughout the day. Believe it or not, my whole family have accepted these changes too. The children eat far less sugar than they used to – they are not deprived, they still have their Easter eggs etc. but everyday living at home is without chocolates, biscuits, and shop bought cake. Now and again my daughter will bake for her packed lunches using only ripe bananas for sweetness.
I think in general we all feel better as a family and think of it as a lifestyle rather than a diet. I am grateful that I could make this change out of choice rather than through an illness.
Eating well is critical to our health and should be enjoyed. I hope you found my story useful.