Thoughts on Reducing Sugar in My Diet
I thought I would write this blog to share my experience of reducing sugar in my diet. Before you read on, I would like to mention that this isn’t scientific in any way and that I’m also not a nutritionist - this is simply my account of what worked for me.
As you’ll see, it was never processed sugars for me. It was mostly natural sugars from fruit, honey and dried fruit. I haven’t completely banished sugar from my diet and I still have it, I have just massively cut down.
So here, I share with you all my tips and tricks, from my own experience. Of course everyone is different and some people's body works well with sugar, but for me, I have discovered I work better with high fats and carbs over sugar.
Where it all Began
I’m sure you are aware of the saying ‘an apple a day…’
The reason for cutting down on sugar was more of a test of my willpower and I was also intrigued to see if it made any difference to my body.
When I decided to do this, it was more of a test to see if I could actually do it, as I knew I was addicted to fruit, as crazy as that sounds, but in turn my body started to change quite dramatically – I started to feel better in my clothes, less bloated, my digestive system was working better and my energy levels had increased.
I used to live by the saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ but rather than 1 apple it would sometimes be 2-3 apples in a day which, looking back now, is crazy and I couldn’t imagine eating that many today. I had got into the habit of picking up fruit whenever I fancied eating something (which was often!) I would opt for fruit because it’s healthy, so why wouldn’t I eat it at any opportunity since it’s full of nutrients, fibre and goodness? A usual day for me would be breakfast of pancakes or porridge, topped with fruit and honey or I’d build up a smoothie or juice full of fruit, rather than vegetables then I'd always have an apple after lunch and dinner.
How I Used to Feel
Before I changed my diet, I used to complain about feeling bloated and uncomfortable the majority of the time. Sometimes my stomach would look as though I was pregnant it stuck out that much and it was rock hard and really hurt. I used to blame a lot of it on being a coeliac as I was used to being sensitive to all sorts of food.
My alternative choice for breakfast
My first realisation was when I noticed more posts on social media showing people eating eggs and greens for breakfast and I thought, BROCCOLI FOR BREAKFAST? WHO DOES THAT!!! But the more I saw these posts, the more I started to read online about sugars and what effect it has on the body. I could relate to a lot of them: bloating due to the fructose in sugar; IBS similarities; can’t lose weight; hormone issues; always craving sugar – and that’s to name just a few.
So, I thought to myself I may as well try eating greens with eggs and feta for breakfast and see how I get on. I was very surprised how good it was and actually I soon realised how little I started to snack between each meal as I felt fuller for longer and a lot more satisfied.
Once I started making these food swaps and reducing sugar I started to notice after a couple of weeks that I didn’t feel so bloated in the face and body, to the point where my clothes started fitting better. Then because I didn’t feel really bloated and uncomfortable, I felt better in myself and my energy levels increased. I also lost weight on the scales – I can’t remember how much exactly but it was enough to feel like a new person and friends even asked what I was doing to lose weight! My digestive system changed dramatically too and a lot of the issues I was having for years before weren’t even crossing my mind anymore.
The best thing about all of this was that if anything, I was eating more food than I ever did before. I was having sustainable, filling, balanced meals which contained healthy fats, carbs, protein and vegetables. I found I wasn’t reaching for snacks anymore between meals.
It is important to add healthy fats into your diet when reducing sugar as it is satisfying, tasty and keeps you full. Healthy fats to include are coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, fish, avocados, nuts, chia seeds, seeds, omega 3’s, feta, goat’s cheese and eggs.
How I felt at the Beginning
I really struggled with not having fruit or something sweet when I fancied it as I was so used to grabbing something without having to think about it. Sometimes it put me in a bad mood as I would really crave it and I felt like I was punishing myself or depriving myself of something I wanted. I would also think ‘will one or two pieces of fruit really make a difference?’
It’s quite extreme to completely cut something out of your diet in one go, so I wouldn’t advise that. Instead, I’d suggest cutting down little by little. I went the wrong way about it and when I found myself occasionally giving in and having the odd thing here and there, I’d be really annoyed at myself.
After about 10 days I started noticing a difference in my body and how I was craving sweet things less and less. The longer it went on, the less I ate and it also clarified that the majority of the time I was eating out of habit.
Breakfast Fit for a King… or Queen
Breakfast is such an important meal to start your day as it gets your metabolism going and helps you to stay focussed for the day ahead.
As I said earlier, I used to start my morning with a bowl of porridge or Greek yoghurt, topped with homemade granola, fruit, honey and a sprinkle of goji berries or other dried fruit. I would add all the extra bits for a photo for social media but also loved the taste of it. What I didn’t take into consideration was the amount of sugar I was racking up before it was even 9am and I was puzzled as to why I was looking at the clock an hour later because I was hungry!
Breakfast for me now is a balanced diet of healthy fats, protein, vegetables and carbs. This can sometimes take a little longer to make, but I make sure that I make time for it. Most mornings I will put some broccoli and asparagus for example on a tray with a little coconut oil and leave it to cook for 12-15 minutes while I finish getting ready, then I’ll put the eggs on at the end.
Lucy’s Breakfast Options:
- Overnight oats. A popular choice at the moment. Leave overnight. I normally go for oats, nut milk, peanut butter, cacao powder and cacao nibs.
Other ingredients I also use are cinnamon, nuts, Greek yoghurt, Chia seeds, grated carrot, half a banana, turmeric, nutmeg, 4-5 blueberries. Play around and create different overnight oats so they don’t get boring. The image above is a other alternative and you can choose your preferred topping.
- Porridge and homemade low sugar granola
- Eggs – whatever way you like them (scrambled, fried, poached) with feta, avocado and vegetables to mix things up a bit.
- Omelette – a really great, filling option. Sometimes I cook these and take them with me into work. You can play around with so many ingredients, too, so they never get boring.
Omelettes with your favourite vegetables are a nourishing and satisfying meal, great for any time of day
- No sugar pancakes. For these I use buckwheat, oats, quinoa, baking powder, eggs and almond milk. For the topping, I’ll usually go for lemon juice & zest, Greek yoghurt and cacao nibs. Or when I’m after something sweeter I’ll make a homemade chocolate sauce which is just equal amounts of Lucy Bee Cacao Powder and Lucy Bee Coconut Oil.
- Low sugar juices and smoothies – again a perfect one to play around with, no two are ever the same!
Breaking the Habit and Having the Motivation to Start
Starting is by far the trickiest part.
Start today, not tomorrow, or next week, or after an event because after that event another excuse or reason will crop up as to why you can’t start right now. Just imagine how you may feel in two weeks’ time if you start right now?
Habits are hard to break – it takes roughly 10-21 days to break them (depending on what you’re reading) but stick with it, as the reward will be worth it.
Try to work out what time of day or what it is exactly that triggers your sugar cravings. Write it down to remind yourself, whether it be walking down the sweets’ aisle in a supermarket, watching the Bake Off, or seeing someone else eat something naughty. By writing things down, you are physically reminding yourself not to do those things which should help with your willpower.
For me, I would always eat something sweet after lunch as my meal didn’t feel complete without it. Another time I noticed my cravings kicking in was when I would get in from work. I don’t think there are many people reading this who get home and don’t go straight to the fridge to see what’s inside, regardless of whether you’re hungry or not! It’s a HABIT and one that can be brought to the conscious memory if it’s written down and you remind yourself of it.
I found it really hard to break these habits but I just made sure that I was proactive. I planned my snacks instead of eating the first thing in sight. I would take something like a handful of nuts; ½ avocado; celery; cucumber with homemade hummus to work with me. It may seem a little extreme, long winded and sometimes impossible to stick to when you start but the more you stick to it, the easier it will become – your taste buds will adjust and also your go-to snack choices will change.
Another way to find motivation is doing it with someone else. Ask someone you trust like a close friend or your partner to team up with you to tackle sugar together.
Lucy’s snack suggestions:
Lucy Bee Drinking Chocolate/Cacao Powder has no added sugar or fillers. It makes a rich, full, traditional hot chocolate drink
- Plain nuts
- Hummus and veg
- Rice cakes
- Dark chocolate
- ½ avocado
- Cacao nibs
- Greek yoghurt
- Chai Latte
- Turmeric Latte
- Cacao hot drink
- Raw vegetables
Mindfulness When Choosing What to Eat
When you start, the most important thing is to be mindful about what you are planning to eat that day or week. This way you’ll learn what things have sugar in and what to start trying to avoid. It may sound overwhelming but this doesn’t have to take up much of your time, just check the label before purchasing something
Here is a list I stick to and find handy when being mindful, I hope you do too –
- Do a shopping list so you know exactly what you need. This will stop unnecessary items appearing in your trolley
- Make sure you do your food shop on a full stomach
- Before you start, have a clear out of your kitchen. Whatever is in your cupboard will get eaten, so give it away before you find yourself eating that half-eaten pack of biscuits
- Ingredients in foods are listed in descending order of weight. This means the higher up the list that sugar appears, the more there is of it
- Check condiments and salad dressings. I’m always shocked to see how high up sugar is in some brands. If sugar appears in the first 5 ingredients then make your own – we have recipes on our website, in our books and they’re also available all over the internet
- Get inspired. I find a lot of my inspiration from social media and the internet
- Education is key. Read books, blogs and watch documentaries to learn more
- Don’t be fooled by marketing and clever packaging. A lot of campaigns will trick you into thinking something is healthy through clever wording or branding. They’ve used terms like “naturally healthy” “natural bar” – always check the ingredients
- Don’t add sugar to meals, you don’t need it. If a recipe suggests it, try it without or reducing it as most of the time you won’t even notice. For example, a lot of tomato sauces suggest adding sugar – WHY? Tomatoes are full of flavour and are sweet enough!
- Make your own marinades, again try not to add sugar even if the recipe states it. This is the same with making your own dips, sauces and salad dressings
- When eating out try to stick to low sugar meals. Avoid descriptive words such as sticky, glazed, caramelised, teriyaki and creamy
- Some curries can be sweetened a lot so try and go for grilled. For example, rather than a Chicken Tikka Masala, try and go for a Chicken Tikka
- Avoid ‘low fat’ and ‘fat free’. These may have reduced fat but usually a lot of sugar has been added to give back the flavours
- Pick fruits lower in sugar (see below)
- Freeze fruit. Use half a banana and freeze the other half. Use a couple of pieces of mango, freeze the rest and use it another time
- Young bananas - the greener a banana is, the lower in sugar
- Try to stop or limit how many fizzy drinks, squash, juices you are consumin
- Make your own flavoured water. Add citrus fruits, fruits or herbs. The majority of shop-bought flavoured waters are full of sugar
- Try and cook from scratch as much as possible - this way you’re in control of what goes into your meal
- Add more flavour to foods by playing around with different spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, chai, turmeric are all great additions. Zest and juice of citrus flavours like lemon, lime and orange are so refreshing. Try cacao or other superfood powders – there is so much out there to try. Experiment!
- Sushi – a healthy quick pick up? This one surprised me but a lot of sushi contains sugar, you’d be surprised when you look at the ingredients how high it is
- If you are a tea or coffee lover and always add sugar, work out how much sugar you have. Try to half or quarter it each time, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to ween yourself off
- Play around with cutting down the amount of sugar when you’re baking
Strictly speaking, I try to eat low to no sugar from Monday to Friday, unless I’m going out for dinner. At the weekend, I’ll allow myself to have a couple of things here and there – this way you don’t punish yourself. I’ll normally find I feel bloated afterwards and then realise how much I hate feeling that way.
Fresh Fruit and Dried Fruit
Sometimes people think I’m crazy when I say I avoid eating fruit. Although it’s good to have the odd piece of fruit here and there due to its nutritional benefits, antioxidants and fibre content, it is still naturally high in sugar so don’t go crazy with it. I would recommend being aware of what other sugary things you are eating as this will dose up the intake even more. Having said that, always opt for fruit over a packet of sweets!
The amount of sugar in fruits
Low Sugar Fruits (per 100g)
High Sugar Fruits (per 100g)
Avoid dried fruit. Fresh fruit contains water, whereas dried fruit contains no water meaning they can make you very bloated.
On the subject of fruit, be aware of juices and fresh juices. My sister, a Nutritionist, always says that you would never eat 5 oranges one after the other but when you are drinking juice you are effectively doing just that and consuming all the sugar that goes with it!
Ways to Make Your Smoothies Lower in Sugar
- An obvious one – try to limit your fruit portion. Add 1-2 pieces of (low sugar) fruits
- Halve your fruit and freeze the rest
- Add fat. It can help make you feel fuller for longer – avocado, coconut oil, nuts, nut butters, chia seeds, flax seeds, cacao nibs
- Go half and half with your liquid. For example, half coconut milk/half water, half coconut water/half water. This cuts down on the sugar and keeps you hydrated
- Use unsweetened plant-based milks, such Lucy Bee Coconut Milk
- Add vegetables – kale, carrot, beetroot, spinach, cauliflower, mint, parsley, cucumber or celery
- Add a little lime or lemon for a zesty twist
- Add ginger for a little heat
- Add protein. Use a natural protein to help you feel fuller for longer such as silken tofu, Greek yoghurt or coconut yoghurt
- Add carbs. Oats and quinoa flakes are perfect
What is Fructose?
Food companies add fructose to food to make it tastier and more addictive. They often use corn syrup (a form of fructose) as a sweeter alternative to glucose. The reason for this is simple – it triggers those happy brain signals that make us go back and want more.
Fructose comes from two sources – firstly as a naturally-occurring sugar in fruit and secondly as an added ingredient in processed foods.
It’s this added ingredient in processed food that is a problem. You can probably think of some obvious foods to be wary of such as carbonated drinks and artificial sweeteners but would you necessarily think of the likes of BBQ sauces, salad dressings, breads and soups?
Although fructose has a lower GI, it is potentially more dangerous to us than any other form of sugar.
If You are Going to Have Sugar
Remember, everything in moderation. Life is about balance. If you are going to have sugar then these are the sugars I would go for. Remember sugar in its various forms is still sugar and our body/brain thinks of them as the same thing:
- Manuka honey
- Vanilla extract
- Medjool dates
- Maple syrup
- Banana (and fruit)
All of our recipes can be found here.
Lucy, CIBTAC accredited beauty therapist.
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