The white stuff

How to shake off your sugar habit – once and for all!

From sweets to sauces and pastries to preserves, sugar is everywhere. This highly addictive substance is added to a whole variety of processed foods and many of us are consuming way more of the sweet stuff than we even realise.

“Due to our modern lifestyles and the convenience of modern food, our palates have evolved to naturally crave a sugar-rich diet,” says Dr Victoria Hare PhD AMRSC, Research & Development Manager with Naturya (www.naturya.com). “This causes our blood sugar levels to be in a constant daily cycle of peaks and troughs making it difficult to avoid the sugar trap.”

“Sugar is the media’s new villain and quite rightly so,” says Angelique Panagos, nutritional therapist and author of The Balance Plan (www.angeliquepanagos.com). “As a nation, we’re succumbing to so many of its effects. The UK diabetes rate has increased by 60 per cent in the past decade. Added to this, improper regulation of blood sugar levels on a daily basis wreaks havoc with your hormones. It can also lead to feelings of low energy, low concentration levels, lightheadedness and mood swings amongst others – not exactly conducive to the busy lives we all lead these days!”

“Research has shown that sugar increases our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, stress and makes us get older faster,” adds Dr Marilyn Glenville, leading nutritionist and author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar (www.marilynglenville.com). “Even moderate sugar intake on a regular basis can create or exacerbate a huge number of conditions, from fungal infections, mood swings, low energy and libido to brain and memory problems, inflammation and general lowered immunity.”

Shaking off your sugar habit is not an easy task, giving how addictive it can be, but there’s no doubt about the positive effects it can have on your health. “Once your blood sugar levels stabilise, you will have more energy and you will undoubtedly sleep better,” says Dr Glenville. “You will also notice a huge array of cosmetic effects – losing sugar will gain you a slimmer body and a clearer, brighter complexion. As your taste buds grow accustomed to doing without the very powerful taste of refined sugar you will come to appreciate the natural sweetness of vegetables and fruits. And your health will thank you for it.” Here are some tips for how to ditch the sweet stuff for good!

Try a detox

“To begin weaning your body off the processed sugar, it’s a good idea to start with a complete sugar detox for the first couple of days as a way to reset your body, before slowly reintroducing natural sugars and unrefined carbohydrates for the remainder of the month,” advises Frida Harju-Westman, nutritionist at the health app Lifesum (www.lifesum.com). “Sugar cravings are inevitable at first but nuts and seeds are a great snack to keep the sugar cravings at bay as they are high in healthy fats and protein that will keep you full for longer. Try using alternative flavours, for example; a sprinkle of cinnamon on your porridge instead of the usual dollop of honey.”

Read labels

“Have a look at the different foods you buy as you may be shocked by how many foods contain sugar – not just the sweet ones,” says Dr Glenville. “There is often sugar in soups, tomato (spaghetti) sauces, mayonnaise, salad dressings and baked beans. You might think that fruit yogurt that says ‘live’ on the tub is healthy but bear in mind that it can contain up to eight teaspoons of added sugar.”

Keep it simple

“We need to back away from the refined sugars of processed foods that we have come to rely on and get back to nature,” says Angelique Panagos. “Just keep it simple really! I like to make eating fun by asking my clients to ‘eat the rainbow’. I challenge them to try and cram as much naturally colourful food into their diet as possible. Fruit and veg are full of the natural sugars your body needs and eating as colourfully as possible ensures you are filling your body with nutrients. Simple swaps are all it takes to get you on the road to better health; swapping your afternoon cake for a protein-rich energy ball or even a couple of squares of dark chocolate is all it takes to a hormonally healthier and happier you!”

Re-educate your palate

“When reintroducing sugar to your diet, reintroduce a small amount each day, such as a piece of fruit and some dairy,” says Frida. “Gradually reintroduce healthy grains; try and stick to wholegrain as much as possible, as well as more fruit and dairy. Adding these gradually will help your palate to recalibrate and better recognise the sugars you’re eating so you don’t overindulge. By the end of the month, your body will have adapted and you will have learned new, healthier behaviours that will help you restrict your sugar intake for the rest of the year.”

Go natural

“Eat a balanced, varied diet, predominantly vegetable-based as they are loaded with more complex carbohydrates and the all-important fibre which can help to reduce sugar cravings,” says Dr Victoria Hare. “Also, use natural sugar substitutes such as honey and lucuma, and avoid those hidden sugars – dates are 63 per cent sugar!”

Follow the 80/20 rule

“Stick to an 80/20 rule which consists of eating healthily most of the time but allowing for a few treats along the way,” suggests Angelique Panagos. “If you allow yourself treats then you are less likely to binge later on. Saying this, I do try to make that 20 per cent full of natural sugars and I love filling my body with goodness. Mainly it’s about listening to your body and eating food that makes you feel good during and after you eat it!”

Top up your protein intake

“Include some protein every time you eat,” advises Dr Glenville. “Good sources include lean organic meat, fish, eggs, quinoa, tofu, beans, nuts and seeds and natural bio yogurt. This slows down the release of sugar and thus keeps levels more stable, leaving you less likely to crave those sweet sugar hits.”

Work it out

“Try doing a workout when you crave something sweet,” suggests Frida. “Working out can suppress sugar cravings. Your mind will be moved to something else and, additionally, exercise suppresses your hunger. Temporary loss of appetite is common after working out. When exercising, the body releases ‘wellbeing’ hormones, such as endorphins, and in most cases these hormones are strong enough to overpower feelings of hunger.”

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