Recipes and nutrition plans centered on sugar free, low sugar, or free from refined sugar meals and snacks can be found a plenty on the internet, and in modern cookbooks. Why is everyone so fussed about having a low sugar diet?
Some of the problems with sugar
Many people are now choosing a low sugar diet because sugar can:
- Lead to accelerated tooth decay.
- Be highly addictive due to dopamine release, leading your brain and body to want more and more.
- Cause insulin spikes and troughs which over time challenges the body’s ability to use insulin effectively and increases the risk of type II diabetes.
- Cause energy peaks and troughs rather than steady energy throughout the day.
- Lead to excess storage of body fat. Sugar that is required for energy is burned off. After that the liver and muscles store some. Anything remaining after this is stored as fat.
- Authority on Nutrition shares a great article on the downsides of sugar if you need more comprehensive information on why a low sugar diet might be a good option.
But don’t I need some?
All carbohydrate foods will eventually be broken down into sugar inside the body. This includes foods like fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes. So if you are eating a balanced diet your body and brain will be getting plenty of it. A diet rich in real, whole foods can be considered an excellent focus for a low sugar diet. Real foods contain sugar in a more sustaining form, allowing a gradual release of energy throughout the day. High sugar foods on the other hand will make you more likely to experience energy spikes and troughs throughout the day.
Can less refined options form part of a low sugar diet?
Cane sugar, whether it be white or ‘raw’, and even more so ‘high fructose corn syrup’ (HFCS) are the most refined forms of sugar. They will have the largest negative impacts in the body. This is partly because in the refining process, the nutrients have been removed. This makes the end product a very unnatural thing for the body to deal with.
Unrefined natural sugar substitutes include raw honey, fresh dates and pure maple syrup. These will provide nutrition for the body and will not impact it in the same way that sugar will. For example, honey has a lower glycaemic index than sugar, meaning that it will release sugar into the body more slowly. Unrefined alternatives can still result in insulin spikes and are best consumed alongside other foods that are primarily fat and/or protein based.
Beware of any substitute for sugar on offer, whether they are natural sweeteners such as stevia, or claiming to be ‘less refined’, such as brown rice syrup. Reliance on or craving for any form of sweetener (even unrefined ones) is a signal to your body that there’s something missing in your overall nutrition picture.
Practical tips to help you with a low sugar diet
- Avoid processed juices and fizzy drinks. Instead have a couple of serves of fresh fruit and/or berries. These foods will provide you with a sweet fix along with fiber and a load of nutrients. Add squeezed lemon or herbs such as mint to fresh water for flavor.
- Significantly reduce packaged and highly processed foods which often contain hidden sugars. If you must eat something from a packet, check for added sugars. These are anything ending in ‘ose’ (lactose, glucose, dextrose, sucrose…), and HFCS. Avoid foods with these added sugars wherever possible.
- Dressings and sauces are usually high in sugar. Make your own so you know what’s going into them. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil can make a simple, tasty salad dressing.
- Choose options such as dates, pure maple syrup (not the stuff with sugar added!) or honey as a sugar substitute for baking. Also ensure there are protein/fat based foods in the recipes, such as nuts or seeds. This will lower the glycaemic index of the food and slow down the release of sugar into your body. You can also try keto style baking recipes which are high in fat and low in carbohydrates (such as this keto cheese and bacon bread).
- If you’re struggling with sugar addiction find out how to curb your sugar cravings naturally
- Check out my blog post about my favorite healthy cookbooks. There are some great options in there that will fit in with your quest for a low sugar diet.
More resources to help you learn how to eat less sugar
My friend Isabelle has this amazing ‘Cut the Sugar’ Program which will gently help you to stop relying on sugar. She created it to help beat her own sugar addiction and now she wants to help you. Get the full details on it here.
A low sugar diet can be even tastier than one that is high in sugar. Just go easy on yourself and remember small changes can lead to big results. You might also want to check that you’ve got a healthy grocery items list ready to go and that you’re eating right for YOU.
This article explains how fermented foods can help you on your quest towards better health. It even includes a short video showing you how to make your own sauerkraut for some gut loving goodness! Finally, you could check out this little known ‘super’ food. With it’s high levels of essential fatty acids it could help keep your sugar cravings at bay.
My book has a whole chapter dedicated to nutrition so you can learn more about healthy eating habits.
Also published on Medium.