It can be hard to reduce sugar from your diet, especially if like me you were raised to have a sweet tooth! I have certainly cut down, and those sweet treats are hard to ignore but they can have health consequences.
Added sugars are empty calories that your body doesn’t need, and they can pack on the pounds pretty quickly. The average person has about 22 teaspoons a day in various forms and that’s more than triple what women should be having.
The easiest and most obvious problem to spot is weight gain, but diabetes is also a risk so have a look at how you might help yourself to better health by reducing your sugar intake.
It is easy enough to check on what you are adding to tea or coffee, and reducing the number of sweets, biscuits or cake you eat is straightforward too.
But sugar lurks in processed foods, including savoury ones like sauces and dressings, as food manufacturers use sugar to extend their products’ shelf life.
Aim to eat more fresh foods and fewer pre- packaged ones.
Is it sugar?
Not always as easy to spot as you may link but these are few of the names for added sugar:
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrate
Brown rice syrup, malt syrup, high fructose corn syrup, date syrup
Galactose or glucose
Brown sugar and honey are also forms of sugar, although honey does have some health benefits but again use it only in moderation.
Some people find it hard to give up sugar immediately, a bit like smoking, so it’s best to cut back in steps.
If you usually enjoy your coffee with 2 spoonfuls of sugar, try it with 1½ and keep stirring in a bit less and less over time.
Personally it took me a year, and I only had 1 teaspoon in coffee. By the end of the year I was literally dipping the end of the teaspoon in the drink and then into the sugar so I had only a few grains, but after that I enjoyed my coffee with no sugar at all.
Rather than sugar, lemon, liquorice, and anise are good flavourings for tea particularly herb teas. For coffee, try cinnamon, vanilla extract, or unsweetened cocoa powder.
If you drink milk, stir some in drinks to add sugar that’s natural, but not sweet. In coffee if you heat the milk that releases the sugars in the milk so will give you a little boost while you cut down.
If you are a coffee house frequenter then always ask and check for the sugar information as some, such as flavoured lattes, can have large amounts – between 15-23 teaspoons in the large chains – and this has increased by between 25-80% since 2016.
A normal can of carbonated soft drink has 8 teaspoons of sugar but try not to switch to one with artificial sweeteners – which many companies offer – as they have their own health risks.
Instead find ones with less sugar, or natural sugars and drink fewer of them. You need to cut down slowly but try alternating a sugar drink with a homemade lower calorie one with soda or sparkling water and a dash of lime cordial or vanilla essence or a small amount of natural fruit juice.
Artificial sweeteners can be 150 times sweeter than sugar but have little or no calories. That may sound like a good thing, but they may make you crave sweets , leading to more unhealthy food choices.
Artificial sweeteners don’t spike your blood sugar, so they can help you manage your diabetes but always ask your doctor if- and how long – you should use sugar substitutes.
The sugar found in fruit is a better way to sweeten your diet. Sprinkle a ew raisins and chopped dates into cereals, salads and grain dishes.
Add fruit chutneys to grilled or roasted meats, poultry, and fish but be careful about eating whole fruit since natural sugar is still sugar.
Lower in sugar are any of the berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and surprisingly peaches but highest in sugar are bananas, grapes and cherries.
Some servings of cereal have as much sugar as three chocolate chip cookies so try switching to whole-grain hot cereals like regular cooked (not instant) oatmeal.
They usually have very little or no sugar and you can mix in some apples and cinnamon to give you a little sweetness.
Heat it up
Grilling or roasting brings out the sweetness in fruit so add to desserts or enjoy them all by themselves. Think baked apples, poached pears, grilled pineapple, and so on.
You can do the same with vegetables too as roasted sweet potatoes and carrots are surprisingly sweet, compared to their raw versions. Sautéed onions and roasted red peppers can add sweetness to many savoury dishes.
Spice it up
You detect 80% of flavour through your nose so trick your brain by cutting a quarter of the sugar in non-baking recipes and replacing it with sweet-smelling spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.
Spices are good for your body, too as they’re packed with nutrients like calcium, fibre, iron, magnesium, and vitamins like C, K, and A.
Bake with unsweetened apple sauce in place of sugar in your muffins, banana bread, and cakes. It adds texture and taste, and no added sugar.
Try a 1-to-1 swap to start, and experiment until you hit the right balance. Since apple sauce is watery, cut down on liquids in your recipe to compensate.
Frosting on cakes is something I struggled to give up, but try this chocolate-avocado mix on your next cake. It has less sugar then usual chocolate toppings and has nutrients like fibre, healthy fats, and protein, but make it an occasional not a regular treat!
Mix 2 ripe avocados in a blender or food processor.
Add ½ cup cocoa powder, ¼ cup maple syrup, and ¼ tsp vanilla extract.
Salt to taste.
A major weakness for me, so instead of denying yourself choose dark/plain chocolate. It usually has less sugar and fat than milk or white chocolate.
Studies have shown that dark chocolate can keep your heart healthy, too. The higher the cocoa content, the better so look for 70% cocoa or higher. Nibble 1-2 ounces a few times a week for a smarter way to satisfy your sweet tooth.
This is where much of our ‘unseen’ sugar lurks in barbecue sauce, ketchup, and salad dressings. These are often loaded with surprising amounts of sugar so why not make your own seasonings and condiments?
Whip up an easy vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Italian spices, and garlic and spice up low-no-sugar-added pasta sauce with a dash of chilli.
At menopause weight gain can be an issue, no matter how healthily you try to eat, but certainly reducing your sugar intake can help.
Hormone balance is also essential for weight loss so check your progesterone and oestrogen levels are in balance and choose a healthy diet that will help you minimise your sugar risk.