By Eva Killeen
It is only in recent years that it has become apparent just how detrimental sugar can be to human health. A great deal of research has shown that removing sources of sugar from the diet not only helps with weight loss, but can also reduce the risk for common health problems like Type 2 diabetes, cancer, digestive problems, autoimmune conditions and many others. As if that were not reason enough, clearer skin, sharper memory, better mood and more energy can be some great positive ‘side effects’. So what are you waiting for?
There are many types of sugar-free diets. It really depends on your goals and also your reasons for going sugar-free in the first place. At one end of the scale, people remove all sources of sugar from their diet including high-carbohydrate foods (like grains, fruit and even some vegetables) that can still be healthy but do contain natural sugars.
More often, however, people choose to limit sources of added sugars, such as in sweetened processed foods that are high in empty calories (like a spoonful in your tea, fizzy drinks and cake, for example) and hidden sugars in food.
1. Avoid Low Fat
For many people, the advert of ‘low fat’ options appeared to be a dream come true. The foods tasted more or less the same but they were reduced or no-fat versions so you could eat to your heart’s content without worrying about weight gain. We now know this not to be the case. In fact, when a product is low in fat it will generally be higher in added sugars and processed starches. Studies have shown that a large number of low-fat foods which are marketed as healthier options contain far more sugar than their full-fat equivalents. In short – ditch the low-fat options and reap the health rewards.
2. Read Food Labels
While whole foods are always best, there are certain situations where this choice will not be in your control. The main point here is to make sure you are checking the label on whatever you are buying from the shops. You may be surprised at some of the common items you find sugar as a hidden ingredient. For example, in one of the most popular brands of soy sauce you’ll find sugar listed as the second ingredient! If you are a buying a plant-based milk, always choose the unsweetened option.
3. Eat Your Omegas
Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of any diet and there is a variety of plant-based foods which are good sources including: chia, flax, hemp and walnuts. Ensuring sufficient consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help to maintain balanced blood sugar and reduce cravings for sweeter foods. Chia, flax, and hemp are also high in fibre, which may help you feel fuller for substantially longer than sugary foods can.
4. Alternative Sweeteners
Don’t be fooled! Artificial sweeteners entered the marketplace in the 1950s and promised the taste of sweetness with zero calories. 70 years on, there is research which highlights the fact that these alternative sweeteners are not the sugar-free miracle product they were cracked up to be.
Artificial sweeteners have no calories, that is true, but they do not leave you feeling satiated. This means that after you are not satisfied by your diet drink, you will want something else as well, and end up having consumed more than you would have done in the first place.
Another obvious problem is that artificial sweeteners may still feed into sugar addiction as they train the taste buds to want increasingly sweeter foods. Even more worrying are the more serious health concerns some of these artificial sweeteners have been linked to, such as cancer, nausea, digestive upset, impaired memory, headaches and mood disorders.
5. Healthy Swaps
If you want to go sugar-free, the best way to start is to take it meal by meal. See how you can alter your current favourite recipes to reduce the sugar content or take it out altogether. For example, if your current breakfast is a bowl of corn-based cereal (generally filled with hidden sugars and potential nasties), try swapping it for a bowl of organic porridge oats sprinkled with some chia seeds and fresh blueberries.
Porridge is a healthier, naturally lower, sugar option. Adding chia seeds, a plant-based protein, will help slow down the release of sugar from your food. It will fill you up and help you feel fuller for longer.
Nutritional Therapist Eva Kileen directs the CNM Vegan Natural Chef Diploma Course at the College of Naturopathic Medicine.