Let's face it, we'd all be a little healthier, happier and probably lighter if we didn't have all that sugar in our diets. Follow these easy steps to cut it out completely...
It’s no secret that there are hidden sugars lurking in foods all around us, silently sneaking into our meals and clawing us into a crave-filled, crash and burn, sugar addiction situation. Many of us have wondered how to give up sugar, but the information out there is just too confusing to get our heads around.
If you haven’t considered how to give up sugar in your diet, be warned: the maximum intake recommended by the World Health Organisation is 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is just 35 grams! All those syrupy lattes, afternoon snacks and cheeky tipples eventually add up…
So if you’re thinking about cutting down on sugar, either from your diet or your kids’, look no further than our list of helpful tips on how to give up sugar.
From checking labels more carefully and revealing where all that extra sugar you didn’t even know you were eating is hiding, to advice on sugar-free baking, our list will show you how to give up sugar for the long term.
We know it’ll be tough, and you might not be able to give it all up straight away, but we hope that these simple steps will help you get sugar-free for the whole family.
Why do we crave sugar?
‘If we’re craving sugars, it means that our bodies could be out of balance, and our blood sugars could also be out of balance,’ says nutritionist Mays Al-Ali. ‘When we eat sugar, our blood sugar spikes and our body releases insulin to lower it to a safer level.’ If the insulin causes your blood sugar to drop too low, which can often happen, your body craves foods that will raise it and boost your energy. ‘Sugar cravings may also be linked to a magnesium deficiency,’ says Mays. This is used in the regulation of glucose, insulin and the neurotransmitter, dopamine (the happy hormone), all of which play a role in your desire for something sweet. But these deficiencies can be restored without reaching for the chocolate.
How much sugar can we eat?
According to the NHS, government recommendations are that free sugars – those added to food or drinks – should not make up more than 5% of the calories you get from your diet. That equates to 30g a day.
How much sugar is in your favourite chocolate bars?
- Freddo (18g) 10g sugar
- Curly Wurly (26g) 12.5g sugar
- Milkybar (25g) 13.2g sugar
- Flake (23g) 18g sugar
- Wispa (39g) 20.5 sugar
- Dairy Milk (45g) 25g sugar
- Double Decker (54.5g) 29.5g sugar
- Yorkie (46g) 26.9g sugar
- Crunchie (40g) 26g sugar
- Mars Bar (51g) 30.5g
10 tips on how to give up sugar
1. Go cold turkey
If you’re serious about giving up the sugar. You’ve got to just do it. And really mean it. Our addiction to sugar is what gives us those un-ignorable sugar cravings, and the sooner you cut it out, the less reliant you’ll be on it.
But it’s not going to be easy. Going through sugar withdrawal is likely to leave you lacking energy, craving sugary foods and maybe even experiencing flu-like symptoms, so be prepared and make sure you keep your energy up.
If you’re really suffering from sugar withdrawal, why not try a natural sugar substitute like Stevia? Only have a little and eventually you’ll be able to give those up for good too.
2. Remove the obvious
The likelihood of you ditching the sugar when you know you’ve got a multipack of Twix in the treats cupboard is more unlikely than if you start afresh. We’re not ones for wasting food, but temptation is a terrible thing, so remove the culprits and you’ll be one giant step towards sorting your sugar habit!
3. ..and the not so obvious
All this talk of sugar lately has had us investigating the sugar content in some of your everyday foods. And it seems that sugar is hiding everywhere! Even trusty ol’ tomato soup has four teaspoons of sugar hidden in that inviting-looking tin. Sob.
4. Cook homemade meals
We’re sure many of you do this anyway, but the importance of making homemade meals goes far beyond being satisfying and cheap. Ready meals can contain so much sugar – as many as six teaspoons in some! Stick to the homemade stuff and this way, you always know, 100%, exactly what has gone into that meal.
5. Get exercising!
Why don’t you try walking or running off your sugar cravings?
Popping your trainers on and getting outside for a little bit of exercise will not only drag you away from the contents of the fridge and cupboards (sometimes the temptation is just too much!) but exercise also releases endorphins in the body, which can help to regulate mood changes associated with sugar withdrawal symptoms.
Try some of our 15 minute workouts that will improve your fitness, balance and strength, not to mention knocking out those pesky cravings.
6. Check the label
Thankfully, those little colourful labels you’ll find on foods in supermarkets can make your sugar-free life a little easier.
Make sure you always check the label before popping something in your basket and remember: pre-prepared meals are a real snake in the grass when it comes to sugar content, so keep an eye out!
7. Switch your habits
Do you keep the biscuit tin next to the kettle? Or sprinkle sugar on your porridge? Maybe you can’t get through a film without snacking on something sugary, or reward yourself with sweet stuff on a Sunday night?
These habits are only going to change if you replace them with new ones. Fill your biscuit tin with nuts, exchange your sugary porridge for a teaspoon of honey, and get to know the things you like that don’t contain loads of sugar.
8. Beware of booze
You might think that you actually don’t consume that much sugar. But what you might not have realised (or turned a blind eye to) is the amount of sugar in alcoholic drinks.
For example, a standard glass of white wine contains about a gram of sugar (four grams makes a teaspoon), liqueurs such as Baileys (you know this one’s going to be bad) contain six grams per serving! And as for mixers with spirits such as gin and vodka, well if your tipple’s a vodka and coke, we don’t think we need to tell you that this is just a sugary recipe for disaster.
9. Know your grains
Carbs – they’re sugary, don’t you know? Refined grains contain more sugar than their altogether, healthier counterpart, whole grains. Of course we’re not saying you need to cut out carbs altogether, but you can definitely make better choices at the supermarket if you want to cut down on your sugar intake.
Or if you want to cook grain-free meals, check out our low carb recipes that’ll help you reduce your sugar intake, including a delicious fish and broccoli traybake – yum!
10. Natural foods to satisfy your sweet cravings
Prunes or dates
‘Their sweet taste and high amount of essential nutrients, including natural carbohydrates and fibres, make them a quick healthy fix,’ says Dr Hyvernat. ‘Their high fibre content and naturally occurring sorbitol (a sugar alcohol that the body metabolises slowly) also help relieve constipation.’ A study by Tufts University in Boston ranked prunes, or dried plums, as the number one food in terms of their high antioxidant content. They also contain magnesium and iron, which help control blood sugar levels, vital for keeping cravings at bay.
Berries make another nutritious choice for stopping sugar cravings,’ says Mays. ‘They’re sweet and their high fibre content means they are low GI (glycaemic index) so they don’t cause a sharp rise in blood sugars and then a crash, leading to more cravings.’ If you’re a TV snacker, these make a great alternative to chocolate or sweet popcorn. ‘Berries are rich in compounds and have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,’ explains Mays. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that eating a cup of blueberries a day decreases heart disease risk by up to 15%, even among those already at risk. Mays suggests combining them with a handful of nuts or a spoon of almond butter as, by adding protein or fat, this can help prevent blood sugar from spiking.
‘A good source of important nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, soluble dietary fibres and vegetable proteins,’ explains nutrition expert Dr Laure Hyvernat (thenaturalconsultation.com). ‘This sort of fibre is readily absorbed and swells up to form a jelly-like substance in your gut, which contributes to feeling fuller for longer and preventing sugar cravings.’
Opt for sweet spices over sugar to help with cravings,’ says Rob Hobson, Healthspan nutritionist. ‘This can be added to healthy homemade snack bars or sprinkled over porridge, yogurt or in your coffee for a sweeter hit without the sugar.’ Research also suggests that cinnamon may help to combat some effects of diabetes. Participants consumed 1g of cinnamon for 12 weeks and showed a 17% reduction in fasting blood sugar levels. Researchers believe this is due to its ability to improve insulin sensitivity, needed for the body to effectively reduce blood sugar. High blood sugar is a common symptom of diabetes, which when left untreated can cause permanent damage to vital organs such as the nerves and kidneys.
The high fibre content of apple offers great satiating effect,’ says Dr Hyvernat. ‘Fibres are low calorie and take up a lot of space in your stomach, indicating to your brain that you are full.’ Eating a high-fibre diet can also help to control your blood sugar levels – when these are too low, your body will crave sugar to raise them and increase your energy.
Are you trying to give up sugar? We’d love to hear your tips in our comments section below.