How do you go Sugar-free when Easter has just come and gone and perhaps the residual effects of excess sugar consumption remain – after all, hot cross buns and specialty chocolates have been in the supermarkets since January. A so-called seasonal treat may have helped to form or worsen a sugar addiction which may feel hard to kick when you want to go sugar-free.
Our early ancestors obtained sugar from either fruit, limited by seasons, or honey protected by bees.(1) Gorging on sweet foods gave sustenance during times of hunger when hunting for more substantial food sources. The problem nowadays is that we go directly to the source – sugar – in highly concentrated amounts.
Let’s break down what ‘sugar’ really is. Sugar refers only to sucrose which is composed of fructose and glucose and is a non-essential dietary element. The glucose component of sucrose is less problematic since it is used by all cells in the body to generate energy. Fructose, on the other hand, when ingested and metabolised in excessive amounts, imposes a metabolic burden on the liver.(2)
Facts about Fructose
Fructose is: (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
- present as a natural sugar in natural foods like fruits and honey
- the major component of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- consumed in significant amounts in Western diets
- sweeter than glucose or sucrose when isolated and commonly used as a bulk sweetener
- not essential for any physiological functioning in the body
- unable to be directly used as an energy source
- malabsorbed when in excess of glucose
- strongly linked to the health problems associated with sugar
How much sugar is too much when you’re going sugar-free?
Adult females should consume less than 6 teaspoons or about 25 grams and adult males no more than 9 teaspoons or approximately 38 grams of added sugar daily.(7) It really doesn’t take much to exceed these guidelines, so sorting out the sugar from the nutrients needs some attention to detail.
Going Sugar-Free isn’t always easy. Here are some tips to aim for achieving a sugar detox or low sugar diet:
1. Transition Time
Take the time to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, rather than going cold turkey. Be mindful of your food choices and try to avoid the “one final blowout” mentality.
2. Eat a Wholefoods Diet
Until relatively recently, our dietary source of glucose was derived from complex carbohydrates(2) found in vegetables, legumes and grains (as well as fruit). Fermentation of whole foods by gut microbes produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and may counterbalance the inflammatory effects of sugar.(8)
3. Fruit Free – Temporarily
This step is optional but can be really helpful to truly take a break from fructose and also helps to curb your sweet tooth. Reintroducing low fructose fruits (with a more sour/tart taste such as raspberries and kiwi fruit) after a few weeks will help keep those sweet taste buds in check. Continue to avoid fruit juice due to the concentrated amount of fructose and lack of beneficial fibre.
4. The 4 S’s to going sugar-free
Follow the 4 S’s rule – savoury, sour, sleep and satiety.
Savoury – to a craving brain, savoury flavours might seem boring but will nourish you through the initial phase of changing your neurochemistry
Sour – retrains our taste perception to help to override the want for sweet
Sleep – will always help to restore the body and leaves us less likely to go looking for our next sugar hit
Satiety – there may be less satisfaction with food in general for a little while, so eating well is important to avoid any need for quick-fix energy from sugar-laden foods
A Word of Caution: Commit or Create a Vicious Cycle
Last week in this Blog we looked at the relationship between dopamine, sugar and the reward system. The most important thing to remember is that there will be a period of withdrawal. Sticking to a low sugar diet for just 1 week actually increases the reinforcing value of foods high in added sugars.(9) In other words, a blowout after 1 week will actually make a sugar addiction worse by reinforcing the reward system.
How Naturopathy Can Help
Our Naturopaths can, of course, give you the extra guidance and resources you might need to get started and help keep you keep on track by:
- Designing your sugar-free detox plan to suit your needs
- Providing Meal Plans on request
- Assessing nutrient deficiencies that may contribute to cravings
- Supporting Mental health to reduce cravings
- Ensuring in-depth assessment of blood sugar regulation to rule out issues like Type 2 Diabetes or Insulin Resistance
- Prescribing herbal medicines that work effectively and specifically for sugar cravings
Parting is such sweet sorrow
When it comes to saying goodbye to sugar, remember to be patient, consistent and give it time for real change. Sugar, after all, really is bittersweet. Remember the health benefits of a low sugar diet are totally worth it.