A sugar free diet is the dream for many us, with the evidence overwhelmingly pointing to sugar's harmful effects on our health. Studies have linked excessive sugar consumption to increased risks of heart disease, obesity, tooth decay, and even some types of cancer*.
That said, going sugar free can be very difficult indeed, with some people struggling with withdrawal symptoms while trying to give up the sweet stuff. Besides, a true no sugar diet involves quite a bit more than passing on dessert. We take a look of other food types you'll need to watch out for – and dispel some myths about giving up sugar.
1. Do I need to give up fruit if I'm cutting out sugar?
No, and this is a common mistake many people make when trying to quit sugar. While both fruit and vegetables do naturally contain sugar, your body does not process it in the same way as refined sugars. Eating whole fruit and vegetables increases your fibre and intake, as well as your vitamin intake, and you definitely shouldn't stop eating fresh produce in order to go sugar free. In fact, many people find giving up refined sugar easier if they eat fresh fruit instead.
What you do need to be careful with is fruit juices and smoothies. Despite being marketed as healthy and natural, these drinks are absorbed by your body in much the same way as soft drinks with added sugar.
Basically, if it's between eating a whole apple or drinking apple juice, choose the apple.
2. Should I go low fat when I'm giving up sugar?
Again, the answer is no. Going low fat at the same time as trying to quit sugar is one of the most punishing things you can do to your body. If anything, it makes sense to slightly increase your fat intake in order to compensate for the loss of flavour you'll experience by giving up sugar.
For example, if you're switching to sugar-free yoghurt, go for the full fat option – it will taste much nicer than low fat. The same goes for not putting sugar in your tea or coffee: replace the sugar with whole rather than skimmed milk for better, richer flavour.
3. If it's savoury, it's sugar free, right?
Unfortunately not, and you'll need to be especially watchful of your processed food intake – think pizzas, burgers, white bread, and shop-bought sauces and condiments (commercially made ketchup is especially high in sugar, for example). Breakfast cereals are also very high in sugar; if you eat cereal for breakfast, choose sugar-free, wholemeal types.
The best aid to quitting sugar is cooking from scratch as much as possible and opting for meals that don't contain white bread when eating out.
4. Can I eat dark chocolate if I'm trying to quit sugar?
It is true that dark chocolate (over 70 per cent cocoa content) contains much less sugar than milk chocolate. Mostly, though, dark chocolate isn't sugar free, as cocoa on its own has quite a bitter taste.
It also doesn't matter if it's flavoured with stevia or agave or coconut sugar – as far as your digestive system is concerned, it's still sugar. As an occasional treat, though, dark chocolate is undoubtedly the healthier option.
5. Do I have to give up alcohol, too?
That depends entirely on how much you tend to drink. A glass of red wine contains 0.9 grams of sugar; a glass of white wine – 1,4 grams. These are not huge amounts, but if you're drinking every day, then it all adds up.
Besides, the way your body metabolises alcohol is not the same as food, so the impact of those sugary calories will be different. If you can drastically reduce your alcohol intake (say to a couple of drinks a week), then you don't have to give up. If you know you tend to drink more than you planned to, then it's a good idea to stop, at least while you're in the process of quitting sugar.
6. Does it really get easier?
Yes! While for some people the first few weeks can be a struggle, after about a month or two, you will notice that you have more energy, you have less trouble sleeping, better mood and, likely, a lower weight.
Best of all, the sugar cravings do eventually go away completely, so you're unlikely to want to go back to your initial sugar intake levels once you've quit.