The recent media frenzy about sugar has caught your attention, but now you’d like to know how to go about avoiding the stuff when it seems to have infiltrated every product going!
Well, the secret to successfully curbing sugar doesn’t lie in scouring the information on the backs of packets to check the sugar quantity or grabbing the next faddy sugar-free diet food. I believe it’s about cutting back on the processed foods in our diets.
Nearly every processed food found in a packet is laden with hidden refined sugars. Think about fizzy drinks, fruit juice, processed cereals, ready meals - including the low fat ones, white sliced bread, crisps, bottled sauces, condiments and flavoured yoghurts, to name a few.
Even with food industry steps to regulate sugar, a diet dependent on processed food may never be sugar-light, not to mention free of other possible nasties such as trans fats, additives and preservatives.
Lightening the sugar load naturally
So you could say that quitting sugar is really about going back to the type of foods we ate before Kelloggs hit the shelves, and embracing what we call ‘real food’.
Real food is food in its simplest forms - un-tampered and uncomplicated nourishing raw ingredients which are products of nature - not industry. Real foods are ‘whole’ – think meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts. They don’t have a huge list of ingredients on the back – they don’t even need a colourful packet! Taken to the extreme, dairy products and grains would be excluded from a 'real food' shopping list, however, I personally enjoy these in the form of cheeses, real butter, full-fat greek yoghurt and a moderate amount of whole-grains.
Sugar doesn’t play a huge role in real food – the natural sugars in most whole foods are delivered in a volume and format which our bodies are well versed in metabolising – and I believe the negative health implications of natural sugar from whole foods in a balanced diet is negligible.
However, if you find yourself affected by even a conservative sugar load, then you may wish to get savvy about the sugar content of natural sweeteners and tropical fruits too. On the other hand, if you’re living on sweet and sour take-outs and pouring cola down your throat, then realistically, fruit consumption may be one the last things you need to worry about!
Keeping it real
Depending on the nature of your existing diet, a ‘real food’ focus could be a small step change or a complete lifestyle overhaul. Either way, it will need commitment to the idea and a spot of planning.
When preparing a meal, focus on making protein the ‘centre piece’, for example, chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, quinoa, goats cheese or eggs, and then bulk out the rest of your plate with a big colourful salad or lots of cooked fresh veg. Infuse your meals with flavoursome spices and herbs, and always add a good lick of healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado or olive oil to help keep you satisfied.
Don’t panic, real food doesn’t have to mean hours in the kitchen and it doesn’t need to be complicated. Sugar-light swaps can be convenient too – like adding a handful of berries and nuts to a greek yoghurt, stuffing a wholemeal pitta bread with spinach, pinenuts, tomatoes and chicken for lunch, or even knocking up bacon, eggs and mushrooms.
No sugar coating – being prepared when sugar calls
If you are hopelessly in love with sugar, then getting real about sweet snacks, pop and desserts is going to be particularly tough – even without starting on the hidden sugars which may be pervading your diet.
Some experts suggest that this is all the more reason to go cold turkey as without a strong approach you may not manage to break the cravings. But be prepared as you may go through a period of withdrawal symptoms - before coming out the other side feeling marvellous.
Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Make nuts and seeds your new best-friend and snack on a handful whenever you start to feel a pang. Swap sugar-laced desserts for a portion of cheese and oatcakes. And when you think about food, make nourishing your body your focus, rather than simply giving it a quick ‘hit’.
There are times when sugar stares us in the face. We all know these occasions: looking at the array of chocolate in a petrol station, pick n mix in the cinema, when someone is pushing cakes at work, or walking down the ready-meal aisle when you’re tired after work. Pre-empt these situations and in your mind reinforce your commitment to over-riding temptation.
So get real about your diet and be mindful. If the vast majority of your diet is based on real food, it should be a pretty nutritious, balanced and sugar-light picture – and then the odd guilt-free sweet treat may be enjoyed from time to time. But if you constantly give in to sugar, you may only be cheating your own health.