The fact that excess sugar consumption is bad for us is no secret to anyone, at least it shouldn’t be! There has been heaps of research displaying the negative impacts that sugar can have on our health and wellbeing, although many of us still have too much sugar in our diets. Avoiding sugar can be extremely difficult, however as your Nutrition Therapist I have come up with a 7-day challenge to help you reduce sugar intake to a healthier level. Day 1 –Reduce sugar in hot drinks Whilst we understand this may be a difficult ask for those who like to sweeten up their hot drinks, it is a great place to start! Adding a teaspoon of sugar to your tea or coffee may seem harmless, however allowing this to become a regular habit can be detrimental with some research even suggesting that this can contribute to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes. Start slowly by reducing the amount of sugar on your teaspoon each day until by day 7 you can go without. It may taste strange at first, but you will get used to it! If adding sugar to your tea or coffee is an absolute must, try swapping this for stevia. This natural plant-based sweetener has various reported health benefits and is said to be up to 200 times sweeter than sugar, so one or two drops should do the trick.
Day 2 – Identify and avoid hidden sugars on food labels Hidden sugars are present in many everyday foods, however many of us are not aware of these. Sugar can come in a range of guises, some of the most popular being fructose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, corn sugar and even honey! Sweets, fruit juices, crisps, biscuits, cakes, food sauces and yoghurts are the biggest offenders. Try to get into the habit of checking the ingredients on food labels, and avoid foods with these added hidden sugars.
Day 3 – Cut out sugary drinks Everyone loves a refreshing fizzy or fruit drink once in a while, and there is nothing wrong with this. The problem arises when these drinks are consumed regularly, because if you didn’t already know, they are absolutely loaded with sugar! A large percentage of our sugar intake can come from these drinks and cutting these out will not only reduce sugar intake, but will largely improve health. The science suggests that cutting these drinks out can improve heart, brain and kidney health as well as being beneficial for weight loss. In the absence of these sugary drinks, opt for healthy alternatives such as freshly squeezed juice or better yet, water!
Day 4 – Go low GI All carbohydrates are given a Glycemic Index (GI) ranking relative to the effect they have on blood sugar levels. High GI foods are digested, absorbed and metabolised quickly, causing a fast spike in blood sugar levels. On the contrary, low GI foods are usually higher in fibre and have more vitamins and minerals, therefore the body takes longer to break these down, allowing a slow and steady release of sugars into the blood. Consuming low GI instead of high GI foods has an array of health benefits, and can also reduce sugar cravings by limiting spikes in blood sugar. Try to swap out high GI foods (e.g. white rice, pasta, and white bread) for low GI foods (e.g. quinoa, sweet potato and lentils).
Day 5 – Avoid fat-free products It sounds silly but most fat-free products are actually not that good for us. The majority of fat-free or reduced-fat products are packed with sugars. Believe it or not, fat tastes great and scientifically we prefer the taste of foods with more fats in them. When the fats are removed, food manufacturers need to add ingredients to compensate for the taste, and more often than not, these ingredients are hidden sugars. A classic example is fat-free yoghurt, which is usually packed with high fructose corn syrup. This hidden sugar is associated with a long list of health issues including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels. Avoid these fat-free diet foods and stick to healthy whole foods.
Day 6 – Get more sleep You may be thinking, “how on earth will sleep help me to reduce sugar intake?” Well, believe it or not, getting more sleep can be a major factor in reducing sugar consumption. Key to the process of sugar cravings is a hormone called ghrelin. The more ghrelin we have in our system, the more we crave carbohydrates and simple sugars. The science shows that getting less than 6 hours of sleep increases the production of ghrelin, thus causing us to crave more sugars. Research suggests that getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night reduces levels of ghrelin and boosts levels of another fundamental hormone called leptin. Leptin actually increases the feeling of satiety, helping us to feel fuller and crave less.
Day 7 – Reduce alcohol consumption Alcohol can be a big enemy of progress when cutting sugar intake, so whilst we acknowledge it would be more beneficial to cut it out fully, we appreciate this is difficult for most. Reducing alcohol consumption and even making a few healthy swaps can go a long way in helping to reduce sugar intake. Go for lower calorie white spirits such as vodka and gin with soda water instead of tonic water and sugary soft drinks.