Sugar is addictive. Australians are eating 4.5 times the recommended 6 teaspoons per day. But there are ways to painlessly reduce sugar and still enjoy life, whilst reaping the benefits of better health.
Here are my favourite strategies:
- Gradually reduce sugar intake (or go cold turkey just for a month). This will increase your sensitivity to sugar and enable you to appreciate subtle amounts of sugar in foods, reducing your addiction. Foods high in sugar will become unpalatable.
- Read the labels. Watch for sucrose (regular table sugar), glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, maltose, malt, maltodextrin, ribose, galactose, maltodextrin, fruit concentrates, agave syrup (mainly fructose), cane syrup, high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, honey and molasses.
Of these, fructose is the most harmful. Since our bodies break sucrose into fructose and glucose, we need to limit regular sugar as well as fructose.
Ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight. One way to make it appear that there is less sugar in a product is to add several sources of sugar. Read the labels of peanut butter, sauces, breakfast cereals, snacks, juices and of course soft drinks. Four grams of sugar equals about one teaspoon.
- Avoid large quantities of fruit juice because this is such an easy way to consume large quantities of sugar. Whole fruit is different as, unlike juice, it contains lots of beneficial fibre and phytonutrients.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. Aspartame has been linked to behavioural and cognitive problems and may be associated with increased BMI and cardio-metabolic risk.
- Eat slowly to bring out the sweetness. Digestion starts in the mouth. Our saliva has the ability to break down the starch in foods into sugars. Slowly chewing bread or any starchy foods will turn the starch into sugar. Try chewing a piece of bread for a few minutes - you will notice an increasing sweet taste!
- Switch to dark chocolate. The magnesium and flavanols in chocolate protect our brains, lift our moods and generally benefit our health. It is the added sugar that that turns chocolate into a liability. Try 70% cacao or higher and eat it with a date, or a slice of apple to minimise the bitterness.
- Sweeten foods with fresh fruit instead of sugar. Replace sweetened yoghurt with natural yoghurt and frozen berries. Add diced orange and apple to cabbage salads with a dash of olive oil replacing sweet dressings.
- Watch the dose, especially for children. We are used to adjusting medication for children based on their weight. We need to adjust the dose of sugar as well. A piece of cake for a 20 kg child is the equivalent of four pieces of cake for on 80 kg adult! Also, early exposure to sweet foods can make it harder to get over a "sweet tooth".
- Balance your diet, gradually replace sweet foods and refined carbs such as processed cereals, white bread and flour with fresh whole foods especially vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses, whole grains and healthy protein.
Be patient with yourself and reward successes. Changing habits takes time but the health rewards are always worth it.
Dr Helen Hudson, Retire & Flourish