Nutrition experts are eager to argue that getting rid of the daily sugar bombs in your diet isn’t a fad, it’s a lifestyle choice. So if everyone’s on board, what are you waiting for? Put down the pain au chocolat, step away from the cheesecake — this is how to quit sugar...
Sugar contains no vitamins or minerals ie: it’s empty calories
No nutrition professional is ever going to tell you to cut out an entire food group. The thing is, sugar isn’t a food group, nor does it boast a single benefit when it comes to our bodies. In fact, the only thing going for it is it tastes so damn good chucked into pastries and pies. ‘Sugar is what we call an anti-nutrient – it contains no vitamins or minerals, so it’s the very definition of empty calories,’ explains nutritionist Angelique Panagos. And the taste? Well, the irony is that cutting out sugar will inevitably lead to you not needing or wanting so much of it anyway. Score. So, how to quit sugar?
Create a workable diet that suits you first
Otherwise you won’t last a day… ‘Each individual is biologically different and has a different psychological relationship with food, so going cold turkey on sugar won’t necessarily work for everyone,’ says Panagos. ‘You’ve probably got a good idea whether you’re an all-or-nothing person, or one that will crave sugar as soon you’re not ‘allowed’ to have it, so bear that in mind when deciding to reduce or cut it out entirely. The last thing you want to do is create an unhealthy relationship with food through deprivation.’ That said…
But cutting it out completely is easier than you think
If you’re set on ‘cutting out’ sugar, you’ll reap the biggest benefits if you avoid food containing any type at all – at least for a time. ‘There’s nothing wrong with intrinsic, natural sugars like those found in fruits and sweet potato – refined sugar is the real enemy – but it’s helpful to avoid them completely while you recalibrate your body and train your tastebuds to do without,’ advises Panagos. Before long you’ll probably find that a raw apple tastes sweet enough, and an apple pie far too sickly!
Processed foods have hidden sugar
We say sugar, you say cake. And doughnuts. And hot chocolate with marshmallows. But they’re just the obvious sugar bombs. ‘If you really want to reset the body, it isn’t enough to simply avoid sweeter-than-sweet treats – unfortunately the majority of processed foods, sweet or savoury, have some kind of sugar pumped into them,’ warns Panagos. A good rule is to skip the white and fluffy foods – things like rice, bread and pasta generally contain sugar – and things like savoury pastries and salad dressings.
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Sugar and carbs aren’t the same thing
No psychological good can come of culling all carbohydrates and sugar from your diet (just ask that aggy colleague who hasn’t touched a sweet potato in two weeks) especially considering it’ll leave your body floundering too. ‘People get confused between refined, added sugar and the compounds found in complex carbohydrates that are broken down by the body into sugars, which in turn convert into energy. We don’t need energy from sugar when we eat a good balance of carbohydrates which the body knows how to process in an efficient way,’ says Panagos.
Cutting out sugar will boost your immune system
Perhaps it’s oversimplifying this one to boil it down to reducing your risk of catching the sniffles, but cutting sugar out of your diet will undoubtedly bolster your immune system. It comes down to the fact that sugar, especially the fact that your body isn’t designed to process it effectively, causes inflammation at cellular level. This depletes the vitamin and minerals stored in your bod, which leaves your immune system lacking.
Excess sugar dulls your complexion
Sugar is no better for your skin than it is beneficial to your waistline, according to leading dermatologists. It’s all down to glycation: excess glucose (the kind that comes with forcing chocolate Hobnobs into your mouth by the fistful) binds to the skin’s proteins and essentially caramelises them. The by-products of this glycation build in the body and you’re left with a dull, dreary complexion.
You’ll get a better night’s sleep
Prepare to experience a change in your shut-eye, quite possibly for the good and bad. Many people report struggling with sleep when they first cut down on the sweet stuff, as hormone levels fluctuate and the brain gets used to the absence of sugar to keep it wired. But keep going. ‘Once your body has recalibrated, you’re likely to sleep far better than normal and equally feel more naturally energised on the same amount of sleep,’ says Panagos.
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You could drop 10 pounds
We should probably caveat that if you swap sugar for double portions of everything else, this new way of eating probably won’t give rise to a slimmer you. But if you’re simply dropping the sweets, your clothes should definitely feel looser – swerving your sugar intake by 200 calories per day could help you drop 10 pounds in six months.
Your face will look younger
According to dermatologist Dr Harold Lancer – and he’s the go-to man for Beyonce and Kim K so who are we to argue? – sugar plays a part in destroying collagen, which is the key to plump and radiant skin, so without it even the strongest anti-ageing cream won’t counter the effects of sagging. Ergo (yes, we went there), the less sugar you eat, the better chance you give your skin to breathe and look badass.
Your liver will thank you
Yes, the body can process sugar – you can bet your life that cavemen jumped on a berry bush as fast as you do a tub of Ben & Jerry’s – but it wasn’t created to deal with so much fructose. According to Panagos, ‘We’ve reached a level where some sugar can’t be metabolised as energy, so instead it gets taken to the liver and broken down into triglycerides. In layman’s terms: fat, which puts the organ under pressure and your health at risk.’
You should probably up your eating
Despite believing that the majority of us snack too much for our own good, Panagos often tells clients to expect a rise in hunger when they skip the sugar, so be prepared to graze every three/four hours rather than waiting five or six between meals. ‘Your body will be expecting the usual peaks and lows in blood sugar, so you might need to snack until it settles down again,’ she says.
Other nutritionist-approved snacks you could try:
Usually rely on a heady mix of flapjacks, fruit yoghurts and caramel lattes to get you through the day, and thinking: how do I quit sugar? Wrap your chops around these snacks instead:
Cheese with oatcakes
A DIY protein pot full of veggies and a hard-boiled egg
Mackerel fillet on millet bread
Celery dipped in whole nut butter
Mixed seeds roasted in a little oil