So I think we can agree that we all know we should be reducing the amount of sugar* we are consuming, yes? Yes. But how to do this in reality can sometimes be confusing and end up in you eating more sugar than intended, which defeats the object and can be morally deflating.
If you’re trying to cut down on your sugar consumption but don’t know how, let me give you a few pointers on some simple swaps you can make which will help to cut your sugar load but with minimal difference to your day to day eating habits or your wallet.
*Before I begin, let me clarify what I mean when I say sugar. Our bodies need sugar for energy. Glucose is our main energy source and we get this from the foods we eat (such as fruits and vegetables) and there are other types of sugars we consume found naturally in foods (like lactose from dairy). This is completely normal and natural and I’m not suggesting we need to cut down on consuming these kinds of foods.
What I’m talking about are the artificially processed or added the sugars that are sneaked in to foods where they have no place to be – like in mayonnaise, or pasta sauces or even in yoghurts. These are the kinds of sugars we sometimes don’t even know that we are eating but are having a detrimental effect on our health because of the volumes we consume them in, or the things we’ve traditionally have been told are healthy (and therefore we can consume in abundance) which in reality are ok on occasion or smaller quantities but mindful consumption of these is advised e.g. fruit juice.
1. Cut out ‘low fat’ versions of foods
Contrary to their promise of being better for you, low fat versions of products are actually stuffed full of sugar and other junky ingredients. When companies remove the fat content they have to replace the taste and texture with something to make the food palatable again and so what do they use to fill this void? Sugar! Low fat flavoured yoghurts are one of the best examples of this:
As you can see from the above, just one pot of these contains 19.8g of sugar (see: ‘carbohydrate, of which sugars’). That’s 4.9 teaspoons! By switching to plain full fat yoghurt you’ll instantly save on sugar. Natural yoghurt contains some sugar (lactose) but it should only work out about 4.7g/ 100g of yoghurt. Always check the label – anything over that is added sugar and should be treated with caution. The great thing about natural yoghurt (apart from all the great bacteria) is that it is infinitely customisable and you can get creative with toppings such as berries or low sugar granola or even dark chocolate (because you’ve made your sugar saving and a square or two of dark chocolate won’t kill you – I’m talking about moderation). By eating the full fat version you’ll feel fuller for longer and it will taste delicious. I promise you. We need to stop being so scared of fat as a nation (which is not carte blanche to go and east a stick of butter a day) but the ‘low fat’ label needs to be recognised for what it is – junk food in other disguise. If you are dairy intolerant coconut yoghurt is great alternative but again, go for the naturally unflavoured options.
2. Reduce the amount of fruit juice you are drinking
I know, I know. What could be more healthy than a glass of OJ in the morning? Unfortunately there’s the same amount of sugar in a glass of apple or orange juice as there is in a can of Cola. ‘But it’s natural sugar!’ I hear you cry. The thing is, on a basic chemical level our bodies don’t distinguish between ‘natural’ sugar or ‘processed’ sugar because they all look the same, so our bodies treat them the same. When we eat the whole of the fruit it also contains lots of good stuff (like fibre) which prevents our bodies from going crazy on the sugar. But when we juice fruits we are essentially just extracting the sugar and leaving all the good stuff behind. Which means unfortunately that a glass of juice isn’t all that healthy. I’m not saying don’t ever drink fruit juice again – I certainly still do – but make it an occasional glass of fruit juice or even better try diluting it with water (I prefer sparkling) which also has the added bonus of making a carton stretch further (and you know I love getting value for money out of my food). Seeing fruit juice as an occasional rather than a daily ritual can help to dramatically cut down on sugar.
3. Reduce the amount of dried fruit you are eating
Following on from the above, another easy way to reduce sugar consumption is swapping out your dried fruit for fresh. When fruit is dehydrated (the water is removed) the sugar levels are sent rocketing. Those super sweet raisins in your muesli aren’t the best idea first thing as they’ll give you the initial sugar spike and then leave you craving more later in the day. And portion wise, I can easily eat a whole bag of dried apricots but if I tried to eat the equivalent amount of fresh fruit and I would struggle. Dried fruit is a great little treat now and again but to mitigate the sugar crash I try to eat it only occasionally and combine it with good fats or protein to help slow down the sugar spike e.g. dried apricots and some yoghurt or nut butter.
4. Swap your snacks (‘cereal bars’ for hummus, veg, cheese etc.)
I’m planning on doing a whole post about this but a good one is to swap your sugary snack for a savoury one. Instead of cereal bars (yep, even the vegan, wholefood ones made from dried dates) try some hummus and carrots, or a block of cheese, or a handful of nuts with an apple, or some crackers and smoked salmon. There are lots of yummy savoury options which won’t send your sugar levels in to the stratosphere. My top tip is to be creative – I love sweet potato wedges (roasted and left to go cold) dunked in to really garlicky hummus. I can highly recommend that one.
5. Upgrade your chocolate
Life is too short to go without chocolate. You’ll never hear me argue in favour of completely eliminating chocolate from our diets but I do think we can be smarter about the type of chocolate we eat. The bog standard or cheaper stuff we can buy in the supermarkets doesn’t contain a high cocoa percentage and is filled full of extra junky ingredients such as vegetable oils, sugar alcohols, and emulsifiers such as E442 or E476. By swapping to better quality chocolate you’ll still get your chocolate fix but with some added benefits: dark chocolate contains essential minerals that we need like iron, magnesium, calcium and it is full of antioxidants (which helps to repair cell damage). Again, this doesn’t mean eating a whole bar a day but now and again by swapping out your regular chocolate fix you’ll be doing your insulin levels a favour. I try to choose 75% cocoa level or above (I’ve even tried 100% which I like but it isn’t for everyone), and places like Hotel Chocolat are great for finding darker chocolates without compromising on the fun element or if these are too pricey I’ve noticed that Aldi and Lidl so a range of over 75% cocoa chocolate which come in at under £1.50 for 125g bars which is pretty affordable.
Ok guys, that’s my top five tips for reducing your sugar consumption. I hope you’ve enjoyed this and I you have any smart tips you like to use let me know – I’d love to hear from you.