The sugar-free plan is one of the most famous, and most followed, eating plans out there - but what exactly is it?
Experts around the world have been warning about the dangers of excess sugar for generations - and for good reason. Many of us underestimate our sugar consumption and our children's sugar intake, too. Yet too much of the sweet stuff, in most of its forms, can have a seriously negative impact on the body.
So whether you're looking to sustainably cut sugar out of your diet completely or just look for easy ways to reduce your sugar intake, without having to detox, our expert-approved plan can help.
What is the sugar-free plan?
The sugar-free plan is a week-long plan that involves following the golden rules of the sugar-free diet for days 1-3. On days 4-7, you add a healthy dessert in the evening, such as fruit salad, yogurt or fromage frais with stewed fruit.
The golden rules of the sugar-free diet plan:
- No desserts, no fruit and no sugar in drinks
- No juices, squashes or diet colas
- Drink tea, coffee (no sugar or sweeteners) milk, plain water
- No ketchup, brown sauce, Thai or Chinese-type sweet and sour sauces
- Base your meals around meat, fish and eggs
- A carbohydrate breakfast of unsweetened cereal is allowed.
Why is eating sugar bad for you?
Sugar leads to increased inflammation in the body and the potential onset of serious diseases. Dee Momi, nutritionist & founder of MINT Wellbeing, says this can manifest in all sorts of ways.
She explains: "From the most obviously visible - weight gain (particularly around the belly area), a higher risk of developing acne and fluctuating moods - to the more critical, including increasing your risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease."
Sugar also has the potential to disrupt an area of the brain, nutrition researcher from Brain Freed Ltd, Dishalni Senthilkumaran, says. "Excess sugar can have an inflammatory effect on the brain’s memory centre and can be an increased risk factor in cognitive decline, whilst a 2017 study at UCL also sugar increases the likelihood of anxiety and depression." It can also deplete essential nutrients in our body, including magnesium.
We know that sugar can cause a positive 'rush' over a short period of time. And while this is typically associated with hyperactivity in children, sugar actually triggers pleasure responses in adults too. "Sugar triggers your reward and pleasure chemical dopamine, which is released when you derive pleasure from great food, sex and a sense of accomplishment. Excess dopamine can reduce novelty and prompt impulsive behaviour."
Coming down from a sugar rush as your blood sugar levels return to normal can leave you feeling fatigued, thirsty, with headaches and frequent need to urinate.
Along with the long-term risks of disease and the mental impacts, sugar is famously bad for your dental hygiene. The NHS say that sugary food and drinks are in fact one of the main causes of tooth decay, as "acid is produced when the bacteria in your mouth break down the sugar. The acid dissolves the tooth surface, which is the first stage of tooth decay."
So with sugar proven to affect your weight, long-term health risks, mental health and dental hygiene, how can you cut back? This is the plan to follow.
How having a sugar free diet can help you lose weight
To lose weight, you have to be in a calorie deficit. Consuming lots of sugary foods - such as processed and mass-produced foods including juices, cooking sauces and condiments - that contain fructose can make this process harder, since these foods also tend to be high in calories.
"When consumed, this type of sugar increases your hunger leading to a craving for more food." Nutritionist Dee says, "The hormone leptin helps the body to regulate hunger and alerts you when to stop eating - but consuming fructose in excess confuses this natural process."
That being said, health and lifestyle coach Ryan Hodgson warns that we need to stop demonising sugar and seeing it as the enemy. Instead, he says, "We need to become aware that actually often nutritional related health problems stem from overconsumption of calories as opposed to too much of one specific nutrient.
"It happens to to be that those who over consume on calories often eat a high carbohydrate (sugar) diet because carbs aren’t as satisfying as the other macronutrients (proteins and fats). Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, particularly in the instance of more sugar in the diet and poor health. It’s more the overall eating habits.
"For those who perhaps to find themselves wanting to go for higher sugar foods, I’d suggest looking at meals and snacks and asking the questions: What protein source am I getting here (protein will help reduce sugar cravings and keep you fuller)? Am I hydrated enough? Am I really craving sugar or do I just need to eat a well balanced meal? It’s also important to be aware of how sugar can impact the body and abstaining from it. I’ve seen many people try cut sugar out and not felt great from it, it can affect you hormonally, mentally and physically too. Remember sugar isn’t the enemy, but also the body doesn’t ‘need’ carbs (or sugar), it needs protein (essential amino acids), it needs fats (essential fatty acids), but it doesn’t need carbs. We just often feel and perform better when we include them in our diet.”
To make a change, nutritionist Dee suggests starting small. "The single easiest way to curb sugar in your diet is to remove or excessively reduce the amount of sugary drinks you may be consuming as they are loaded with fructose and offer very little to no nutritional value. If it's too big a step to cut them out completely, wean yourself off them gradually and replace every 2nd or 3rd drink with fruit infused sparkling water, or a cordial with a lower sugar content."
You can also reduce dependency on sugary pre-made sauces and flavourings by replacing it with more wholefoods-based products. "Cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and curry leaves actually help lower and regulate blood sugar levels so you don't experience the highs and dips that follow processed sugar consumption." Dee says, "Adding a little natural fat such as olive oil, coconut milk or avocado satiates the body, leaving us comfortably satisfied."
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Grace Walsh is a health and wellbeing writer, working across the subjects of family, relationships, and LGBT topics, as well as sleep and mental health. A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace is currently Health Editor for womanandhome.com and has also worked with Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more. After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness.
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