We are about to kick off Sugar Free September so I just wanted to quickly address some of the questions that I’ve been asked in regards to Sugar Free September and others that I feel may crop up. Here goes…
“What is so bad about sugar?” Well it’s actually the fructose component of sugar that is the bad guy. Our bodies don’t have an off switch for fructose meaning our brains don’t tell us when we have had enough. This wasn’t a problem about 150 years ago when there wasn’t much available but it’s much harder these days when it is so readily available and food manufacturers are adding it to whatever they can. Various studies indicate that fructose inhibits our immune system, accelerates the aging process (including the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s), increases our risk of cancer affecting the breasts, ovaries, prostate, lung, stomach and gallbladder, increases anxiety and hyperactivity (pretty sure we all knew that one), is linked to nutritional deficiencies and much more. Plus to top if off fructose converts directly to fat… yep fat doesn’t make you fat, fructose does. Phew that’s an exhaustive list.
Did you know that on average every Australian is eating over 53 kg’s of sugar each year?
That’s more than a kilogram a week.
“I’m confused, is sugar and fructose the same thing?” The normal white sugar (sucrose) that you buy from the supermarket, bake with and add to your coffee is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Honey is 40% fructose and agave syrup, which is often referred to as a healthy sugar alternative, contains up to 90% fructose.
“But if fructose is the enemy, why are we allowed to eat fruit?” While fruit contains fructose, it also contains vitamin, minerals and fibre, which helps keep us full. Our bodies are designed to metabolise the sugar from 2 small pieces of fruit a day, the problem is that we are getting fructose from so many other sources that we put too much stress on our bodies. If you choose to eat fruit this month I would strongly suggest cutting out all fruit juice (which can contain as much sugar as coke) and dried fruit (up to 70% fructose) and limiting your fruit consumption to one serve of fruit (preferably low fructose) a day. Low fructose fruits are berries, kiwi fruit, lemons and grapefruit and high fructose fruits include bananas, grapes and apples.
“What can I replace the sugar with in my diet?” The mistake so many people make when cutting a food group out of their diet is by not replacing it with something that will fill that void. Hence why so many fad diets don’t work. We feel deprived, we gorge on what were not supposed to, we feel guilty, so we diet even more to ‘undo’ the damage, then we feel more deprived, we gorge… you get my drift. It’s a vicious cycle. So I want to suggest that you try replacing the sugar with extra fat (the good kind) and protein, as they will help fill you up and satisfy cravings. Suggestions are a small handful of nuts or coconut flakes as a snack, carrot sticks with tahini, add avocado and olive oil to salads, cook with the fatty cuts of grass fed beef, eat eggs (with the yolk) and cook with grass fed butter or coconut oil.
“But don’t our bodies need sugar?” Our bodies need glucose sure but we can get sufficient glucose from proteins and fats in a healthy diet before we even take into consideration the glucose in vegetables and the odd piece of fruit.
“I’m worried about that afternoon slump, that’s when I usually reach for something sweet?” Once you have cut sugar out of your diet for a couple of weeks don’t be surprised if you no longer get this, in the meantime however try replacing the biscuit or chocolate bar with something else you enjoy or a distracting activity. For example relax with a pot of tea, take a few deep breathes or go for a short walk.
“Can I drink alcohol?” The short answer is yes. However drinking alcohol in excess is never a good idea so if you do choose to drink try and limit your alcohol consumption to one glass of low fructose alcohol with a meal no more than 4 nights of the week. Your best options are dry red or white wine, which contains low levels of residual sugars. Even though wine is made from grapes, the fructose ferments to become alcohol. On the other hand sparkling wines, sweet varieties and dessert wine retains a lot of sugar so avoid these. Beer is ok as it doesn’t contain fructose and dry spirits like gin and vodka are low in fructose provided you only mix them with soda water (can add lemon or lime juice) or weak kombucha. Liquors are sickly sweet so obviously they are out.
“On that note, isn’t kombucha mostly sugar?” Sugar is one of the main ingredients in kombucha however due to the fermentation process the end product contains minimal residual sugars. It is hard to determine how much would remain in home brewed kombucha so you’ll have to go by the taste, obviously if it tastes sweet then let it ferment a few more days. The problem with store bought kombucha (which are about 5% sugar) is that they may add sugar or fruit after the fermentation process. I think kombucha deserve a bit of leniency because of the benefits of antioxidants, probiotics and vitamins but then perhaps I’m just biased.
“How about diet products if the nutritional panel says zero sugar?” Tread with caution. If the nutritional panel lists zero sugar then chances are they still contain artificial sweeteners, especially if labeled ‘low fat’. We don’t know all the adverse affects of artificial sweeteners but my understanding is that they trick our bodies into thinking that we are eating sugar and our bodies prepare to store it in addition to increasing our sugar cravings. Best to read the ingredient label carefully and remember that there are many names for sweeteners.
“I can’t give up chocolate, what do you suggest?” Well for a start you can give up chocolate, you may just be choosing not to. If you really don’t want to go without chocolate then make your own. Cacao is less than 1% sugar and has plenty of health benefits (yay). Instead of the store bought chocolate (which is highly refined and contains vegetable oils, preservatives and sugar) try having cacao nibs instead or combine cacao powder with coconut oil or coconut cream. I mix cacao with coconut cream and freeze this in ice cube trays for when I feel like chocolate.
“Its day 3 and I feel terrible and want to give up, what’s wrong with me?” There is nothing wrong with you and the good news is that it won’t last. This withdrawal (headaches, fatigue, cravings, etc) is common when giving up sugar because for many people sugar is an addiction. Be kind to your body and this feeling should go away within a week.
“What if I slip up?” The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up about it. Yes you may have halted your progress by eating sugar but if you acknowledge the mistake and forgive yourself for it then chances are you will be better able to resist next time you are tempted.
Lets do this together,