J and I just wrapped a 2 week clean eating sprint. I planned out meals to avoid carbs, dairy and sugar as much as possible. J ended up losing 8 lbs! (I only lost 2…why is it always so easy for boys?!). One of the hardest parts of eating clean is cutting the sugar. Especially if you have a huge sweet tooth like my husband does!
Did you know that your blood current can hold an average of about 1 teaspoon of sugar at any given time.
Think about that next time you order that double double (for my non-canadians that what we call a coffee with two cream, two sugars) and muffin for breakfast. A muffin contains about 33g of sugar. A teaspoon of sugar is about 4g. So a muffin is about 8 teaspoons of sugar, add to that the 2 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, and you are already at 10 times what your blood can handle. And that’s just breakfast.
This means that your body now needs to find somewhere to put that extra sugar. Sugar is used by the body to make energy. And it is a great way to get a quick burst of energy (sugar rush anyone?). But sit at a desk all day, or spend a lazy Saturday binge watching Netflix, and that energy doesn’t get used up. Now our bodies need to store it away for later. Guess how it gets stored? As fat.
Also, the more sugar in your blood, the thicker it gets. Almost like syrup. Mmmmm blood syrup. Not to mention the crash you feel when the sugar rush runs out. And that’s just touching the surface of how sugar affects our bodies. Insulin resistance being one of the biggies. Basically, your body needs to produce insulin to process the sugar. The more and more sugar you consume, the more insulin your body needs to produce. Up to a point. And then the insulin doesn’t work anymore. Welcome diabetes or pre-diabetes. Sugar also affects metabolism, mood etc. It is just not needed in the vast quantities that most of us currently consume it.
So how can we start to cut back on sugar when all you see everywhere you go is donuts, candy, chocolate, and delicious desserts? I mean who still has a stash of Halloween candy sitting around? The temptation is everywhere.
Here are some easy and quick changes J and I have made to try to reduce our carb/sugar consumption. Some of these you can do right now, with little effort and you will likely see a difference within days. Now I don’t have as much of a sweet tooth as J does, so he will indulge in sweets more often that I will. But overall our sugar consumption has gone down and we feel better for it.
1. Sprinkle of cinnamon or vanilla instead of sugar
This is a great hack for those that like to sweeten their morning coffee or tea.
First, let’s start with how sweet you like your morning brew. If you are a double double or triple triple (yep thats 3 cream 3 sugar) kinda person, you should start by slowly reducing the amount of sugar you add to your drink. Going cold turkey will be hard to adjust to. For example, I used to like 2 teaspoons of sugar in my tea. I started by cutting back to 1.5 teaspoons. I barely noticed the difference. After a few weeks, I cut it down to 1 spoon. My tastebuds barely noticed. But when I tried to cut back to no sugar, I still felt something was missing.
That’s where cinnamon comes in. It actually helps the body to stabilize blood sugar and tricks your brain into thinking it is eating something sweet. Try it. Just a sprinkle of cinnamon can do wonders. So cut back the sugar as much as you can, and try to replace with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
I don’t need to add sugar to my hot drinks anymore.
Don’t like cinnamon? try vanilla instead. It has the same effect on tricking the brain into thinking something is sweet when it really isn’t.
Swap half or all of your sugar for a sprinkle of cinnamon in your next cup a joe and see if it makes a difference!
2. Swap out your pop or soda for sparkling flavoured water
Pop or fruit juice are the number one sugar (carb) sources that need to be minimized. One can of pop is equivalent to about 8 teaspoons of sugar!
Try to find low or no sugar substitutes. If you are drinking the pop for the fizz, swap that out for flavoured sparkling water. I like lime flavoured La Croix or just plain old San Pellegrino or Perrier water. Or treat yourself to a soda stream so you can make your own flavoured water at home for a fraction of the price.
If you need pop for the energy from the caffeine and sugar, just swap out for an iced coffee or tea (don’t forget hack#1 to avoid adding sugar to it). But honestly, if you focus on reducing overall carb consumption, and increasing fat and protein in your diet (see numbers 4 & 5 below), your cravings for pop for energy will also reduce.
Note: I am not a fan of replacing pop with diet or ‘sugar-free’ version of the same thing. The chemicals that are used to replicate sugar wreak havoc on your body and do not help reduce your overall sugar cravings. In fact some can make you hungrier, can impact your metabolism, and lead to further weight gain. The exact opposite effect of what most people drink diet drinks for! So just avoid the chemical sweeteners.
3. Swap out ½ (or all if you can manage it) the sugar in your baking with mashed banana, dates or applesauce.
If you love baking, then you know that most baked goods are loaded with cups of processed sugar. Try cutting the processed sugar by ⅓ or ½ the amount in the next recipe you make. This should work for most recipes and you won’t even notice a difference in the end result.
Alternatively, you can swap out half the processed sugar with an equal quantity of natural sweeteners such as mashed ripe banana, dates or applesauce (without any sugar added of course). The fruit adds a hint of natural sweetness, and will help keep things moist and delicious.
Or better yet, try baking things that don’t use any processed sugar, like my Paleo Blueberry Lemon Squares.
4. Buy Full Fat Foods
Start to focus on buying the whole food, full fat versions of most things you eat. The biggest reason for this is that most food taste good because of the fat in it. When we take the fat out, the flavour goes too. So manufacturers like to add back all sorts of chemicals, including sugar, to trick us into liking the non-fat versions of the same things.
But then we end up eating more of the ‘low-fat’ version of something because it isn’t as satisfying as the real thing. This leads to additional fat stores in our bodies. So in effect we are actually making it harder for us to lose weight by eating low fat foods. By eating the full fat version of the same thing, you will eat less, because you will feel fuller for longer (fat takes longer to process in our bodies than sugar).
What fats to eat are a topic for another blog, but for now, try to avoid anything labelled ‘low-fat’ ‘cholesterol free’, and especially anything with ‘hydrogenated’ on the label. Don’t eat margarine. Just don’t. And avoid anything that has the word ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘trans fats’ which is just a fancy way of saying man made fat. There is nothing natural about it and it does all sorts of nasty stuff to your body.
5. Read your labels – don’t let sneaky sugars in!
Manufacturers are getting really smart about ‘hiding’ sugar in many foods. Here is a list of things that are sugar by another name that you should try to avoid:
- Sugars – brown, cane, raw, beet, coconut, confectioner’s, malt, barley malt etc.
- Syrups – high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, malt syrup, rice syrup, maple syrup, date syrup etc.
- Chemical Sugars – dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose, lactose, maltose, glucose, polysaccharide, disaccharide, monosaccharide, sucrose, ribose, gulcose solids
- Natural Sugars – fruit juice, honey, cane juice, molasses, sorghum, coconut nectar
- Artificial Sweeteners – aspartame, saccharin, sweet-n-low, sucralose, stevia, nutra sweet, equal
Check your pantry now. How many items have these hidden sugars listed?
Or start getting in the habit of looking at the nutritional facts label of any food you buy – under the ‘carbohydrates’ it will list how many carbs come from sugar. Remember 4 g of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon. For example, most cereals or granola bars have at least 12g of sugar (so 3 tsp of sugar in each serving).
Try to find alternatives of your fav high sugar foods that have less sugar per serving. For example, flavoured oatmeals v. make your own oatmeal. To me, the total sugar/carb content is much more important than how many calories a food has per serving because that will tell you how your body will process this food – the more sugar → the more chances it will be turned into fat.
Still have a raging sweet tooth? Try eating some fat or protein with your sweet treat. It will help slow down the absorption of the sugar, and lead to eating less in the long term. So rather than just eating an apple, add some nut butter, or eat your fruit with a serving of plain yogurt.
I hope this was helpful, and has inspired you to start being more conscious of the food you consume. J and I still love our desserts, but now it is more of a special occasion thing rather than a nightly occurrence. Ok, maybe that’s more me than him. He still needs a hit of sweet at night, so most days we stick to fresh fruit for ‘dessert’, since that is the lesser of all evils. It’s a work in progress.
What have you done to cut your sugar intake? Share your tips below!
Want some more low sugar food inspiration:
Try my Paleo Lemon Blueberry Squares or this hack for Apple Pye I just posted on my instagram that has all the apple pie flavour, without the dairy or wheat. But remember these are still a form of sugar and should be consumed as a treat, not an everyday food!