A Pain-Free Guide to Going Sugar-Free

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Words by Lisa Hughes
January 18th, 2017

Even though we know it’s toxic, we just can’t resist sugar. Talk about a dietary bad boy.

Sugar is bad for us. How’s that for an understatement? Obesity, diabetes, cancer, acne, tooth loss – now that’s an impressively scary rap sheet. But, as anyone who’s ever tried to cut down can swear on a Dairy Milk, the sweet stuff is an addiction and so going cold turkey comes with its own set of fun feelings. Think cranky, grumpy, ready to kill, nightmare headaches. And that’s just the first 48 hours.

With Sugar Free Farm back on the box and after eating our weight in purple Quality Street sweets over Christmas, now is the time most of us are considering severing our ties with sugar for good.

Here are our tips for cutting sugar out of your life – without losing your mind over it:

Knowledge is power. Most of us have reached ‘sugar is Satan’ saturation point but to really know your enemy, you have to understand it. In other words, you need to scare yourself so bad that reaching for another cookie is as alluring as meeting Gogo from Kill Bill on a night out. A good place to start is Dr Robert Lustig’s lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” (watch here) or new book The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes which outlines sugar’s link to Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia and more. Read everything you can about the dangers of sugar from reputable sources and stick the horror stories on your fridge or wherever you hide your stash as a hard-to-miss reminder.

Read labels. Every. Single. Label. It’s not just the sweet stuff you have to worry about; there’s a crazy amount of sugar in jars of pasta sauce, stir fry sauces, even right down to bread and packets of crisps. Helpfully, food companies sneak sugar in under lots of innocent sounding monikers but here’s a handy list to look out for and avoid: Sucrose, liquid sugar and invert sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, agave, malt syrup, beet sugar and corn syrup, cane syrup, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, concentrated fruit juice. Don’t forget words ending in “ose” such as glucose, fructose and dextrose.

Start slow. Most addiction experts swear by going cold turkey but it’s OK to start cutting down on sugar slowly, let your body adjust and give you time to adapt to your new lifestyle. Making small changes, like ditching all processed, packaged food or baking with sugar alternatives like raw honey or stevia (but you’ll eventually cut those out completely too) or just starting to drink your Americano without a spoonful of the white stuff are good ways to get started on the Sugar-free Express. Once you start to notice how much sugar is in your diet and all around you, it’s hard to switch that off.

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Get creative. The last thing you need is for the rest of your diet to taste bland so dabble with new tastes and flavours. Spices – in particular ginger, cinnamon and turmeric – shake up any meal and the flavour of natural vanilla pods is excellent at abating your sweet tooth.

Pre-empt your crazy cravings. If you know you’ll hit the 4pm slump and reach for a fizzy drink each day, pre-empt your sweet tooth in advance. Tuck into an apple with a spoonful of whole almond butter or almonds/pecans that have been roasted in cinnamon and coconut oil or sip rooibos with vanilla. Basically, you want to eat every 3 hours or so to stop your blood sugar dipping. Snack regularly on healthy, low GI foods before you’re gripped by the hunger for sugar.

Spin sugar-free positively in your mind. Instead of thinking of what you’re giving up and convincing yourself that you’re being ruthlessly deprived of all the good stuff, look at what you’re gaining. More energy, clear skin, bye to bloating, losing your not-so-loved love handles. Now that’s a sweet deal.

Fibre is your friend. Good old fibre doesn’t break down into glucose like carbs do, so once you cut out processed food, fill your plate with high fibre, fuller-for-longer options instead, like beans, pulses, wholegrains, brown bread which slowly release energy.

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Even if you transform your house into a magically sugar-free zone, temptation is all around you once you head outside – whether it’s someone’s birthday in the office or a business dinner you just can’t skip. The best advice is don’t make your sugar-free quest into a big deal for everyone else – but quietly make it easier for yourself. Call the restaurant in advance and explain that you’ve got special dietary requirements. If there’s occasion for cake at work, now is your chance to don that apron and come up with some sugar-free options for your colleagues – and yourself.

Snack attack. Your body breaks fruit down differently than it does a Mars bar so fruit is a healthy snack but when your body is screaming out for a sweet fix, you can end up overindulging in fruit too. Some fruit is more sugary than others, in particular bananas and grapes so watch your fruit intake. Whatever you do, don’t go for packaged fruit juices which are basically just sugar, sugar, sugar and if you absolutely insist on juicing, make sure you keep the pulp of your fruit and veg in your drink so at least you’re getting some fibre in there.Even if you transform your house into a magically sugar-free zone,

Don’t shop for food when you’re hungry. Now that’s just asking for saccharin-laced trouble.

Keep busy. The minute you go on a diet it becomes the only thing you can think – and talk – about. Obsessing over ‘why is life so hard?’ because of your new regime will only lead to you falling right off the wagon and right into a box of cupcakes. Instead, stay busy, pick up a new hobby, start an online blog about your experience, start a sports team with your workmates. Boosting your serotonin is a jolt to your system that life goes on after sugar and that there are sweeter ways to enjoy yourself.

Read our guide on how to go vegan here.