Quitting sugar is not actually as daunting as you may think. I am actually talking about the high GI, free sugars that wreak havoc with your health thus causing disease and illness, and not the healthier sugars like those found in whole fruits.
In this post I will show you how I quit sugar, plus we will take a look at refined sugars and their devastating effects on your body, how to eat for weight loss, and the 6 foolproof ways to curb sugar cravings for good, allowing you to lead a healthy lifestyle that makes you feel good about yourself.
The Price of too Much Dietary Sugar
We’ve all heard it said SO many times that sugar is bad and that we need to cut down or pay the price, but the scary thing is we’ve all become desensitized to the scaremongering. And a high price it can actually be, as too much refined sugar in your diet can contribute hugely to not only type 2 diabetes, but also heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome and obesity. Not a pretty list that’s for sure!
Knowing all this should be the catalyst for a person to quit sugar for good, but we are not creatures of reason, and it’s not always that simple, especially when sweet treats feel so addictive. It’s a tough one for sure, and can be a struggle, but cutting down in any way you can on the white stuff really is vital for the healthy life you deserve, and in this post I am going to show you how to do it with the least side effects as possible.
What are free sugars?
Not all sugar is created equal; that’s the first and most important fact you need to know. Firstly, we have the kind of sugars that come under the terms of free, fast or high GI sugars. These are basically any sugar that has been fractionated from its original state (such as when oranges are made into fruit juice). The same refining method applies to white and brown table sugars, icing sugar, coconut sugar, fruit juices, and also syrups such as maple, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, and honey.
As you can see, there are some free sugars on that list that are considered healthy, and some of them ARE actually “healthier” For instance, maple syrup and honey also contain other nutrients which would be a reason to choose them over other sweeteners, but they still must be used in moderation.
You might also be interested to know that brown rice syrup is actually low GI, though more research is currently being done into its true health benefits and whether or not it’s a viable sweetener for long term use, so don’t quote me on that just yet.
Sugar and Dangerous Belly Fat
Although the so called healthier free sugars do contain some nutrients, they will unfortunately act in the same way as any other refinied sugar in the body by causing a high sugar spike, and then the subsequent insulin release to clear those sugars from the bloodstream (usually they are stored in fat cells, and unfortunately, these refined carbohydrates are more likely to go on as dangerous belly fat). This means sugar should only be consumed in very small doses if you want to keep your BMI in a healthy range.
If your’e going to quit your sugar addiction for good, then you are going to need some good alternatives to help you through the cravings. The unfractured type of sugar is natural and also so much better for you, and comes in the form of whole fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, and anything else that hasn’t had the fibers and bulk of the plant removed.
The reason they are healthier is because their natural fibers and other nutrients slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, therefore making them much lower GI. (GI is short for glycemic index, which is a number associated with the amount of carbohydrates in a given food; the lower the better).
How to add whole sugars to your diet
You can use these whole food sugars in your cooking and to sweeten other foods, for instance: add a semi ripe banana into a super greens smoothie, or use dates and other dried fruits to sweeten cakes and biscuits, both of which will give you that sweetness you crave but without the nasty side effects of refined sugars.
Dates are in fact a superfood with so many great benefits that most people don’t even realise. They are deliciously sweet (especially the medjool variety dates), chewy, low GI, and perfect for busting sugar cravings when they strike. They are also the perfect training food as they will give you a slow release of energy to keep you going even through a grueling workout session.
In fact, with a little imagination, there are so many ways you can use whole sugars to sweeten your diet that you need never use refined sugars again.
ALL refined carbohydrates (which includes not only sweet things, but also white flour, white rice, white pasta, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, confectionery, and basically anything that contains free sugars) are all considered medium to VERY high GI foods.
But, and here’s the complicated bit; you can slow these sugars down with the addition of protein and healthy fats if they are in the same meal. So, by using this method you can have high GI free sugars and get away with it a lot more than if you were to eat free sugars on their own. The addition of healthy fats and protein will slow down the sugar release, but will not make the food healthy as such, just a healthier way of consuming it. But this method is by no means a get out of sugar free card (if only) and all sugar nust still need to be used in moderation.
Low GI Carbohydrates
Even whilst eating lower GI carbohydrates such as unsweetened dried fruits, whole fruits (especially the higher sugar tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple, bananas and papaya), and starchy vegetables such as potatoes and parsnips it is always wise to have some healthy fats and/or protein with them, such a handful of nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil, or coconut oil .
Doing this will slow down the naturally occurring sugars, making for a more filling and substantial snack which will also keep your blood sugar stable, thus leading to less food cravings later on.
I guess I didn’t really know I was in the grips of a sugar addiction until I tried to give it up. I went cold turkey as an experiment for one month, and when I say cold turkey I mean COLD TURKEY! I didn’t even have any high sugar fruits, milk or cheese (because of the lactose, which is another type of sugar), and definitely NO free sugars, refined carbohydrates, yeast or alcohol. In fact, nothing that would cause that cycle of a sugar spike and the inevitable crash.
I kid you not, the first few days were just horrendous, and the only thing that got me through was sucking on a few sugar free sweets when things got really bad. I didn’t sleep very well, had terrible brain fog, was highly irritable and had severe cravings. I even had the shakes at one point. Yep, things got pretty ugly fast, which sounds familiar right? Well these are all signs of an addict coming off of any other drug.
Is sugar like a drug?
Recent research has suggested that while sugar is not ‘physically’ addictive like other drugs, it is more an addiction to the high you feel from the feel good endorphins that it triggers in the brain. So I guess in a way that could be called some kind of addiction, and my experience of giving it up certainly proved that. Although I do believe that there was some form of candida type die off involved in that crappy feeling I had – either way, you can certainly crave it intensely for days.
But the good news is, after the initial 3 to 4 days of feeling pretty awful, something magical started to happen and I started to notice changes, the most prominent being my sleep. I had always suffered insomnia, but on the sugar free diet I slept more deeply and soundly than I can ever remember, or since I was a kid at least.
In fact, I could go to sleep at will, weirdly, which was something that I’d never been able to do before. Other very noticeable things that happened included the fact that my skin looked a million times better, and I could also think much more clearly as brain fog lifted.
Sugar and Stress
I also noticed I didn’t feel as stressed in situations that would previously have stressed me out, so it’s obvious to me now that sugar keeps you hyped up, wired and on edge, and you don’t even know it’s happening when you know no different. What a revelation I had!
The sugar free diet kept me calm and chilled out, which is a state of mind that cannot co-exist with anxiety and depression and the reason why I believe it is 100% worth the time and effort of cutting free sugars from your diet, especially if you suffer from these conditions. It just may help take the edge off if nothing else, and of course you should visit your doctor if symptoms persist.
You probably don’t have to go to the lengths that I did to detox from sugar. Just cutting out the free sugars and keeping in the natural sugars will be fine, and you will still notice a huge difference in your health and vitality, plus you wont get the horrid side effects if you don’t go to such extremes.
Hidden sugars in food
Even people who say they are not a ‘sweet person’ are more than likely eating way over their daily quota of sugar and not even realising it, simply because it can come in under your radar in so many forms.
Just look at most of the so called savory items in your kitchen cupboards and you will see exactly what I mean: Sauces, pickles, gravy powder, stock cubes, potato chips, and most convenience foods ALL contain sugar in some form which will be more than likely disguised under a different term, or chemical name that you won’t recognise. Astonishingly, there are over 50 chemical names for sugar.
I know I may have gone to extremes with my no sugar diet, but that’s just me, and was part of my research into the low sugar diet. I would recommend you cut down slowly, or just cut down your refined sugars and still eat whole fruits for sweetness. I didn’t stick to this extreme way of eating for good, even though I felt fabulous and learnt a lot about myself, it’s just not practical to give up all sugar forever, however it is VITAL to cut drastically down if you eat the average American diet.
Everything in moderation is a good motto, and 90/10 seems to be the right ratio that keeps me fit and healthy. That’s 90% good stuff, and and 10% for treats.
Building new neural pathways in your brain
Doing this extreme low sugar diet did stand me in good stead, because learning new ways of eating without added sugar really changed my taste buds and helped me to build healthier food habits for life. It also helps to build new neural pathways in the brain, which is a crucial thing when it comes to long term changes and forming new habits. I have never since gone back to eating refined sugars (except on very odd occasions) so something definitely clicked.
Here are some of my favorite ways to cut down sugar and nip those sugar cravings in the bud. They pretty much always work for me and have helped me transform my health and body for the better.
1. KEEP BLOOD SUGAR STABLE
Possibly the most important rule of all, because if your blood sugar is stable then you won’t be on that roller coaster of sugar cravings. To do this you should always eat low GI foods, which means NO refined sugars or carbohydrates, and also try to food combine correctly. Making sure you eat proteins, low GI carbohydrates, and a little fat at every meal or snack will all help slow down the sugar release into the bloodstream.
The Brilliant Avocado!
Say hello to my little friend… the awesome avocado! One of the very best foods for keeping blood sugar stable (and I know I go on about them a lot in my posts, but they truly are a wonderful food that deserve to be praised) is the avocado. In fact, just half in the morning or at lunch helps keep me from craving sugar practically ALL DAY. Smash them on sourdough toast or make a delicious weight loss shake with them.
Another great thing to incorporate into your diet is coconut oil, and all things coconut for that matter; such as raw whole coconuts, dried flakes, coconut cream, milk and water (make sure they have no added sugar). I know you may be thinking ‘what about the calories and fat?’, but when you eat these things in moderation and on a low sugar diet, then you shouldn’t gain weight. It’s the demon SUGAR and nasty trans fats that makes us fat more than anything else.
I have since discovered that according to a lot of plant based experts that oils in any form need to be eaten in moderation only. Oils are refined, just like certain sugars so be mindful of how much you consume. Sticking to fats in their whole forms as in the case of the whole foods plant based diet means you can eat fat in it’s natural form. Avocados, nuts, seeds, and quinoa are just some examples of whole fats.
2. DRINK LOTS OF WATER
It’s surprising how thirst can trick you into thinking you need an energy boost from sugar, when actually you’re just plain dehydrated. When you’re dehydrated, your body gives you the signal that it needs energy before it gives you thirst signals (thirst signals seem to be one of our body’s less evolved mechanisms); in fact, we can already be severely dehydrated before we actually feel thirsty.
Try to drink at least 1.5 to 2 liters of pure or filtered water daily. When you do this, you may be fascinated to see lots of other little health niggles clearing up, including the banishing of cellulite; and your skin will be just AMAZING too!
This is another important one, and something I personally notice when I don’t get a good nights sleep. When you’re tired, you will crave quick sugars for energy, and cravings are easy to give into under these circumstances as you will also have low willpower when you’re not rested. Make sure you try to get a good 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night (or whatever amount you know your body thrives best on) and you will keep this problem to a minimum.
A wonder spice to be sure, cinnamon has been proven to help control blood glucose levels and reduce sugar cravings. It does this by reducing the insulin spike after meals that can often lead you to craving more sugary foods.
You can add cinnamon to many of your meals, hot drinks, smoothies, baking or herbal teas. (Always buy good quality cinnamon of the flaky bark variety as shown in the picture, and not the hard rolled sticks, as they are not the same). To be sure you know what you’re getting, it’s a good idea to buy the bark and grind it yourself either in a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar, UNLESS the packaging specifically states ceylon not cassia cinnamon.
5. PROBIOTICS AND FERMENTED FOODS
These will help keep your blood sugars under control by keeping your body’s good bacteria healthy and proliferating. When you have too much bad bacteria in your gut (which is the stuff that makes you crave sugar because sugar is what it feeds off of) you will feel out of balance and crave more and more refined carbohydrates and fast sugars.
Taking a good probiotic may help this, but eating lots of gut friendly foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kombucha, pickled vegetables, kefir and plain yoghurt will also help keep the gut in balance.
It’s actually really easy to make your own sauerkraut at home because you can make it in big batches. Plus it will have the added bonus of being a completely raw food too (see video below for more details).
In order to quit sugar for good, you will need to eat a low GI diet, because it’s obvious that stable blood sugar is the VITAL component in the fight against sugar cravings. Cutting drastically down on sugar may help boost your general health and vitality alongside a healthy diet and regular exercise, both of which are very important too.
I would love to hear your own experiences of giving up sugar and how it affected you, so please feel free to comment and let me know. Also, any questions you may have on this topic will be happily answered. Thanks for reading, and have a great sugar free day!
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