Have you ever considered quitting or reducing your sugar intake? Do you feel tired all the time? Can’t seem to lose weight? Feel out of balance? Do you suffer from skin issues like acne or eczema or do you experience gut issues and/or heartburn?
If you can answer any of these questions with yes, you are most likely eating too much sugar. Did you know the average American eats 3-4 times more sugar than recommended?
We try to eat healthier or try to lose weight, but there is even sugar in food items that proclaim to be healthy. You can find the hidden sugar in fruit drinks, smoothies, bread, “healthy” cereal, ketchup, “healthy” yogurt, “healthy” salad dressing, and more. Sugar addiction is a real thing.
Different Types of Sugar
Over consumption of sugar has many side effects. If you manage to reduce sugar intake or cut it out of your diet completely, you can gain some important health benefits.
In this post we will discus the different types of sugar and sweeteners, benefits of quitting sugar, and simple hacks on how to reduce sugar gradually.
Before we start I would like to mention that there is a difference between added sugar and natural sugar. There is also a sugar limit you should consider while reducing your sugar intake.
Sugar is a refined food that doesn’t contain any fiber, protein, vitamins or minerals. It is stripped of everything that is good for your body and can therefore cause a lot of damage.
Sugar can cause inflammation, hormone imbalance and acne, a weakened immune system, it raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Your skin might even age faster and sugar can even have addictive properties.
Fructose that is added as a sweetener is indeed bad for you, but the fructose that is found naturally in fruits is actually beneficial to you. A study found that if you add berry puree to white wheat bread it actually lowers your sugar spike even though you would think you add more sugar by adding fruit.
Again, this is because the whole fruit contains fiber.
“These results suggest that when WB is consumed with berries, less insulin is needed for maintenance of normal or slightly improved postprandial glucose metabolism.” (source)
Similar studies showed improved blood glucose with mango supplementation (source). Fruits are healthy and you should not be afraid to eat them. In some cases fruits even improve blood sugar levels!
I am mentioning this to avoid any confusion. There is no danger in eating fruits and vegetables. You also don’t have to avoid complex carbs because they don’t give you the insulin spike where as simple carbs do because they lack fiber content.
Simple carbs on the other side don’t contain any fiber, break down quickly, are refined or processed, and have similar effects as sugar. Most often these simple carbs are mixed with lots of fat (like in donuts).
25 grams of ADDED sugar (not counting the sugar in fruits/veggies) is okay to eat on a daily basis according to the WHO.
“1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.” -WHO
There are different names for sugar out there like sucralose, aspartame, stevia, honey, sweet n low, agave, high fructose corn syrup, and so many more.
Here is the short answer: They all have their negative side effects when too much is consumed.
Of course the best solution is to quit sugar and sweeteners, but here is a quick run down to help you make healthier decisions:
The zero calorie artificial sweeteners can, in some cases, cause other health issues like hypertension, DNA damage, cancer, migraines and more. Sucralose, sugar alcohol, aspartame, and more are proven to cause these side effects.
The safest sweeteners so far are the sugar alcohol, erythritol, and the natural sweetener, stevia.
Some stevia sweeteners contain fillers so make sure to get the stevia without harmful ingredients. Keep in mind that zero calorie sweeteners (natural and artificial) can lead to more sugar cravings as well, so use sparingly.
Honey and Natural Syrup
These sweeteners affect your body the same way sugar does. Make sure you stay under 25g a day.
So what sweetener is best?
It is best to train your taste buds to enjoy the sweetness of fruits. The less added sugar you eat the sweeter fruits will taste! But if you want to sweeten something here are the best options:
There is one sweetener that is the healthiest: DATE SUGAR. This sweetener is basically ground up dried dates, which is a whole food and still contains fiber. You have to make sure you get date sugar that contains fiber.
Also note that this will not dissolve as the sweetener is ground up dried fruit. You can blend it into your smoothies or hot chocolate with a blender. Of course you can always use Stevia as a natural zero calorie sweetener, if you like the taste!
My favorite way to sweeten a treat is using ripe bananas, dates, and sometimes maple syrup. These natural sweeteners won’t spike blood sugar levels like table sugar. They contain fiber and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). I love using the meal planner Health My Lifestyle that provides so many dessert recipes without added sugar. They are sweetened with whole food plant based ingredients with plenty of fiber!
10 Benefits of a No Sugar Diet
Below are the benefits of quitting or reducing your sugar intake. This means avoiding simple carbohydrates like white bread, sugary drinks, white flour, processed foods, and so on. In this article you will also find the different names of sugar and how to read labels.
#1 Overcome Sugar Addiction
Sugar has an addictive potential and causes addiction-like behaviors like cravings, binging, and withdrawal, which in return could cause neurochemical changes in the brain (the same issues caused by addictive drugs, study). The sad aftermath is craving even more sugar and entering a vicious cycle.
#2 Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
In a 15-year study, people who consumed 25% of their daily calories from added sugar were twice as likely to die from heart disease than those who consume less than 10% (source).
It is also worth mentioning that the recommended amount of added sugar should only be 5% of daily calories consumed. This would be 25 g added sugar on a 2000 calorie diet.
#3 Heal your Blood Vessels and Nerves
Consuming too much sugar over a long period of time can cause long-term complications like damaged blood vessels and nerves (source). This, in return, will increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and nerve damage.
#4 Avoid Insulin Resistance
Insulin is needed to take the sugar out of your blood and into the muscle to be burned as energy. If you eat too much sugar, you can run the risk of insulin resistance. Especially paired with a high saturated fat intake, added sugar in your diet can be even more dangerous.
“Insulin resistance increases the risk of developing prediabetes, and, eventually, type 2 diabetes. Around 15-30 percent of people with prediabetes go on to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes within 5 years, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” (Source)
Higher insulin levels affect the hormone leptin which is a natural appetite suppressant (source). Having a leptin resistance means your body won’t notice when you are full and, therefore, you eat more and gain more weight.
#5 Reduce Risk of Cancer
Another side effect of increased insulin levels is a higher risk of cancer:
“A 2013 study found that sugars in the intestine triggered the formation of a hormone called GIP (controlled by a protein called β-catenin that is completely dependant on sugar levels), that in turn, increases insulin released by the pancreas. Researchers found that β-catenin may in fact affect the cells susceptibility to cancer formation”. (source)
#6 Slow Down Aging
Limiting sugar (glucose) will increase life span and decrease aging related symptoms.
“[…] limiting glucose (i.e., calorie restriction) slows aging and age-related diseases in most species. Understanding the mechanism by which glucose limits life span is therefore important for any attempt to control aging and age-related diseases”. (source)
#7 Heal Your Gut Flora
Sugar is one of the foods that irritate and inflame your gut and stomach lining. This can lead to stomach pain, increased acid, bloating, and uncomfortable bowel movements. Other side effects are the lack of absorbing nutrients from your diet, feeling tired and moody, and constipation.
#8 Better Skin
Consuming too much sugar will contribute to a yeast overgrowth (candida) in your gut:
“Candida is a fungus, which is a form of yeast, a very small amount of which lives in your mouth and intestines. Its job is to aid with digestion and nutrient absorption, but when it is overproduced it breaks down the wall of the intestine and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxic byproducts into your body and causing leaky gut. This can lead to many different health problems ranging from digestive issues to depression.” (source)
The symptoms of a yeast overgrowth in your gut can be anything from feeling tired, low concentration, mood swings, nail fungus, eczema, acne, and allergies.
#9 Strengthen your Immune System
In vitro evidence suggest processed, simple sugars also reduce white blood cell phagocytosis and possibly increase inflammatory cytokine markers in the blood.” (source)
Sugar causes inflammation and there is enough evidence that a high fat, salt, and sugar diet (Western diet) weakens the immune system. On the other hand if you replace sugary snacks with fruits, you will boost your immune system.
#10 Reduced Risk of Obesity
Sugary drinks and snacks contain lots of calories without actually nourishing your body. So you might have that doughnut but still not feel full or satisfied.
A typical glazed doughnut contains around 260 calories, no vitamins or minerals, barely any protein or fiber, just unhealthy fats and empty carbs.
After eating such a meal, your body will most likely be hungry again soon. So you run the risk of adding too many calories to your diet, not getting all your nutrients, and therefor gaining weight while risking your health.
How Can I Reduce Sugar Intake Gradually and Curb Sugar Cravings?
Before you begin reducing sugar, it is a good idea to learn how to read labels. There are many names for sugar that you should be aware of. There is also a difference between added sugar and naturally occurring sugar.
When it comes to sugar cravings, know that this is just a habit that you have formed over time. Your body is trained to want the same thing over and over. Try to identify the situation causing you to reach for the soda or the snack.
Are you drinking the soda for the caffeine, as a refreshment, or for energy? Are you grabbing the doughnut after a long day at work?
This analysis is so important because once you realize why you do these things you can find an alternative that fits your lifestyle. Below are all the hacks on how to reduce your sugar intake.
I want you to start with the easiest one. If you master that one, try the next one that’s easiest. If you struggle just take a step back.
It takes time to form new habits. Always make small adjustments to your diet until they become a lifestyle before you move on to the next adjustment.
You decide what your end goal will be. You can try reducing your sugar intake to 25 g per day, 10 g per day, or 25 g per week. This is up to you.
#1 Know How to Read Labels
There is a difference between natural sugar and added sugar. If you see sugar listed under “ingredients” then you know the sugar is added. If the sugar is ONLY listed in the nutrition facts box then it is natural sugar.
Most products that contain natural sugar also contain fiber and, therefore, are not as bad as the products with added sugar. Start to read labels to identify all the added sugar in your diet.
#2 Start with Small Adjustments
If you counted all the added sugar you consume per day, see which one is the easiest to cut out or reduce. Let’s say you eat a doughnut for breakfast with a coffee that contains 4 tablespoons of sugar. You consume 28 g of sugar.
You can start by adding 3 tablespoons for a few days and if this becomes easy to do then only add 2 tablespoons of sugar to your coffee and so on. The reduction method is much easier than cutting it all out right away (like completely stop eating doughnuts for breakfast).
If you bring yourself to drinking coffee without sugar (or very minimal) you can start by eating half the doughnut and add some sweet fruits. This step is all about reducing and replacing step by step.
#3 Find Your Biggest Obstacle
It is also important to make the right adjustments. If you really love that candy bar in the afternoon, working on the reduction of the candy bar might be overwhelming to the point where you just give up.
It might be easier for you to skip or reduce the sugar in other areas of your life (the coffee for example) instead of tackling your biggest obstacle first. Your goal can be to reduce all your added sugar except that candy bar!
If you followed step #1 and #2 you probably know by now how to make (sugar) space for your favorite snack. Now you can enjoy your favorite snack without guilt and you are able to incorporate it into your diet.
#4 Curb The Cravings Naturally
If you do the doughnut-fruit trick from step #1 you can replace your empty (simple) carbs with whole food carbs slowly. Eat half the doughnut and a banana (or other fruit), then reduce the doughnut and switch over gradually. Start making a small oat bowl with the banana and some nuts and seeds (with a piece of doughnut on the side).
Eating a balanced meal (grains, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein) WILL help you feel satisfied and full for a long time, therefore reducing cravings drastically. In your transition period, as you adjust to reduce the bad foods and replace them with more healthy foods, your cravings will reduce naturally.
#5 Eat fiber rich foods
Most of us eat enough protein, but do you know that 90% of Americans don’t eat enough fiber (at least 25 g fiber per day is recommended)? Fiber reduces the risk of colon cancer (source), breast cancer (source), diabetes (source), heart disease (source), obesity (source), and stroke (source). It helps control cholesterol (source) and blood sugar levels (source).
But if you are wondering how to stop eating sugar, more fiber in your diet will make you full longer and reduce sugar cravings (besides all the other health benefits).
Whole foods that contain natural sugar also contain fiber (some more, some less). The fiber surrounds the sugar and makes the sugar break down slower in your body, leading to less sugar spikes and drops. Balancing your insulin levels with added fiber can also help with cravings.
You can slowly add more fiber to your diet by adding nuts and seeds, eating dinner meals with legumes, having oats for breakfast, adding chickpeas to your salad, swapping white pasta with whole wheat pasta, and more.
Easy High Fiber Recipes:
#6 Ditch the Low Carb Diet
Carbohydrates are the body’s first energy source. Carbohydrates are made (by the plant) from carbon and water so when we eat the plants and burn the carbohydrates they break back down into water and carbon fueling us with energy in the process.
Carbohydrates provide energy to your whole body, help the body absorb protein better, and is the largest daily requirement.
Starving your body of healthy carbs that you need for energy could potentially increase your cravings. Fad diets like the Keto diet come with health risks and will not help you find a balanced diet where you curb your cravings naturally.
Yes, cut back on processed sugary snacks and simple carbs, but don’t avoid the carbs in fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
#7 Ditch Processed Food
Processed foods almost always contain added sugar or an equally unhealthy sugar substitute. Besides sugar, processed food also contains unhealthy fats, too much sodium, preservatives, and other unhealthy ingredients. It is best to avoid them as much as possible, no matter what diet you follow.
If you have a hard time reading labels, just think how the food item is made. If it is processed it most likely contains sugar or simple carbs. If it is a whole food you should be good to go.
#8 Avoid Fast Food restaurants
Going out to eat is always more unhealthy and more expensive than cooking at home. But it is also slightly addictive because restaurant foods contain a lot of sugar, salt, and fat to give you the desired taste.
Compared to restaurant food, our homemade food can taste boring. But the less often you go out, the more you will get used to a more natural taste. Remember, fast food restaurants use a lot of sugar (or processed starches), so choose wisely!
#9 Don’t Drink The Sugar
One soda already contains almost 2 days worth of your suggested sugar intake. So the question here is: Do you really want to drink the sugar and calories?
And it is not just sodas! Juices (even 100%) are not a healthy option either because all the fiber is stripped out of the juice. So even if it is natural sugar it reacts just like processed table sugar because the juice is a processed food (without fats, fiber, and protein). The better, healthier choice is eating an apple that contains fructose and fiber.
If you can’t ditch the soda yet, try the reduction method in step #2 and #3. Do you drink it for the caffeine or the sweetness? Try to find more natural replacements. I love to make my own black tea and add lemon Stevia drops.
The black tea will give you some caffeine and the Stevia will add some natural zero calorie sweetness. They also have different flavors and you don’t taste the Stevia much!
#10 Meal Plan
While you reduce certain foods and add more healthy options it is SO important to meal plan. Write down all the meals you want to make for the week: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks.
It might also be helpful to write down a time when you eat these meals and then stick to it. Filling yourself with a nutritiously sound lunch will help curb cravings in the afternoon.
If you don’t plan lunch at all, you might get really hungry and head toward the quick and easy choice of fast food, or your hunger may turn into sugar craving and you binge on snacks. Be sure to eat early enough so you don’t give cravings a chance.
A meal plan will also give you an overview of where you skip the sugar and where you can add your favorite snack without guilt, so you have something to look forward to.
Also make sure you only buy the food items on your grocery list. I find it helpful to do grocery pick ups to avoid buying random snacks I see in the store (plus it helps to spend less money on groceries).
Now that your cabinets are full and your meal plan is set, it is much easier to follow a low sugar diet. There shouldn’t be many sugary foods in your home but you can still look forward to small treats here and there.
Remember, if you feel like you are failing you can always take a step back. If you rush the process you might overwhelm yourself and lose motivation! This is your journey and the end result is what you want in your healthy life.