My sugar-free Day
I thought I should trial a sugar-free day to see how I fared as I ask so many people to cut down on sugars. Sweet foods are the most commonly reported weakness from clients with many experiencing cravings for sugars and other carbohydrates. I too have a 'sweet tooth' and when I indulge it is always a dessert, usually chocolately! Ok so I am quite controlled and know all about hidden sugars and avoid them which was an advantage, but I still felt denied by my rules. It was similar to when I tried 500 calorie fast days to get the feel for the 5:2 diet.
In the last blog I explained that if sugars are not needed for immediate energy they get stored, mostly as fat. And the insulin released to ‘deal’ with the sugar in the blood also blocks the breakdown of fat. Reducing sugar is a cornerstone of weight loss.
The 5 Rules
1. Only have foods that were 5g or less of sugar per 100g (5% sugar)
2. No artificial sweeteners - they aren’t natural, they encourage the taste for sweetness and even though low/no calorie may stimulate appetite.
3. Whole fruit exception – one of the few fruits below 5% sugar is raspberries. The fibre and nutrients from fruit are important but no concentrated fruit sugars are allowed (those where the pulp and skin is removed). No juice, smoothies, tinned or dried fruit.
4. Vegetable exception – even some vegetables are above 5% sugars! Parsnips and carrots are two. However, no vegetable restriction, get all the fibre, beneficial plant compounds and vitamins & minerals that you can.
5. Natural yogurt exception – milk (any fat level) is approximately 5% sugar but natural yogurt is 6.5-7%, because it requires more than 100ml of milk to create the same amount of yogurt. Eat ‘live’ unsweetened yogurt with the beneficial bacteria.
Intrinsic sugars are those found in the cells of whole fruit and vegetables and there is also sugar (as lactose) found in milk products. The sugars I recommend avoiding are neither of these but are called non-milk extrinsic sugars and are found in honey and fruit juice concentrates, also soft drinks, cakes & pastries, and confectionery. They contain calories but few nutrients.
My Food Diary last Friday:
- Breakfast: porridge made with unsweetened almond milk, crushed brazil nuts
- Mid morning Snack: celery sticks with soft cheese
- Lunch: Innocent Indian Daal Veg Pot, Yeo Valley natural yogurt with raspberries
- Afternoon Snack: 2 Ryvita with houmous, sliced tomato and olive oil
- Dinner: Homemade Chinese chicken with cashews and broccoli with brown rice
- Drinks: Water, redbush tea, one small (125ml) glass of dry white wine (it was a Friday!)
A few dilemmas
I’m a cereal girl but not many breakfast cereals have no sugar added to them. Porridge oats and Shredded Wheat are two. Just check your cereal packet, you’ll be surprised.
Tip: If you think you are being healthy by having porridge made with water or skimmed milk but then you add dried fruit/jam/sugar or syrup to it, try it made with semi or whole milk and if you need a topping try seeds, nuts or cinnamon. You will soon start to taste the natural sugar in the milk.
I was going to have a Chinese take-away with the family but ended up cooking instead. Going sugar-free is tricky if you want to eat out. Most Chinese restaurants add sugar to their sauces as do Indian restaurants. It would be a good idea to tell the restaurant you are trying to avoid sugar and ask for advice.
Convenience and eating a low sugar diet is difficult. Prepare as much as you can yourself then you know what’s in it, a low sugar diet is easiest when scratch cooking from whole foods. After dinner I really wanted some dark chocolate but even my 85% cocoa bar was 14% sugar so I put it back in the cupboard for tomorrow!
Tip: Even tomato pasta sauces have sugar in the ingredient lists and add to the small amount of natural sugar in the tomatoes. Look for how high up the sugar is in the ingredients list. Try swapping Dolmio Bolognaise sauce at 4.5% sugar for Ragu Bolognaise sauce at 7% sugar.
It’s not easy to find out the sugar levels in alcoholic drinks, there is no nutritional info on most labels. I had to consult my trusted Nutritionist’s bible McCance & Widdowson’s ‘The Composition of Foods’. Dry white and red wines are less than 1g of sugars per 100ml. Beers, many spirits, cider, fortified & other wines are higher. Yippee I hear you say, but beware. They are a source of energy (calories), often in addition to the day's food and drink intake, can be consumed in quantity, and could alter your judgement about food intake! A 125ml glass (1.5 units) is titchy.
- Natural yogurt (better to add fresh fruit or 1tsp honey as it’s less total sugar) for any fruit yogurts
- Porridge oats, Shredded wheat, Oatibix/Weetabix or eggs & bacon in place of most breakfast cereals, pastries/breakfast biscuits or cereal bars
- Water, herbal teas, tea & coffee, coconut water (Vita Coco), milk & milk alternatives for fizzy drinks or squash
- Dark chocolate for confectionery
- Phase down then out on sugar added to cereal or hot drinks ¼ to ½ teaspoon at a time
- Dry white or red wine for a spirit and soft drink mixer
Last Friday was a challenge and finding healthy snacks needed some thought, it was lucky I was working from home. Time for planning and cooking are tricky and I will appreciate that more when making recommendations. Your taste buds do adapt to less sugar and soon things you used to like will taste too sweet for you so within a 12 week weight loss plan you will start to see that happen. And I believe it's important to have flexibility so some treat days are built into the 12 weeks. Cutting down on sugars will make you feel better by giving you steady energy, extra nutrients and helping you to a healthy weight.