It’s the ultimate comfort food and one of the hardest addictions to kick. Our consumption of sugar is contributing to the huge rise in the number of people who are overweight and obese, and therefore at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and cancer. The white stuff wrecks your skin, causes premature ageing, disturbs your sleep, causes mood swings, ruins your teeth and saps your energy.
Here, sugar expert Dr Marilyn Glenville reveals the secrets to curbing your cravings for good —with a seven-point plan to show just how much sweeter life can be without it.
On your first day, it’s important to axe from your diet all the savoury foods that contain added sugar. People often don’t think about how much sugar there is in some of our much-loved brands. Foods to think about are tomato (spaghetti) sauces, mayonnaise, salad dressings, baked beans and soups. A shop-bought sweet chilli sauce, for example, lists sugar as the first ingredient. If you still want to use this kind of sauce, make it yourself – adding a little pure maple syrup to give it that sweet taste.
Look for unrefined carbohydrates like whole grains, nuts or seeds to build into meals. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar. The more unrefined they are, the slower this happens and the less the effect on your blood sugar. You can change an unrefined carbohydrate into an even slower releasing one by adding protein as you eat it. So, if you’re having porridge you could add ground nuts and seeds (vegetable protein), or add tuna (animal protein) to a jacket potato. The protein slows the rate your stomach processes food. Try sprinkling cinnamon on your porridge too – it aids in balancing blood sugar by helping cells take up glucose.
On day three you need to learn to keep your blood sugar balanced — so it’s important to make sure that you are eating little and often. As well as having a good breakfast, lunch and dinner, try to also include a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack… sugar-free, of course. Don’t go longer than three hours without eating (this is especially vital for women) or your blood sugar levels will drop and your body will give you a craving for something sweet to fix things quickly.
It’s time to cut out caffeine. Think about the amount you’re getting – in coffee, tea, colas or energy drinks. They will cause a similar roller coaster effect as your body gets from sugar, making it release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. And these are classed as stimulants because they can cause a drop in blood sugar – and can then trigger either sugar cravings or an increase in appetite in general. But there’s another reason this can be a big win. When we are changing habits, we can easily be caught out by those unnoticed “natural stable-mates” – such as tea and biscuits or coffee and a chocolate bar. So it can be easier to break a habit by breaking the association. If you aren’t having the cup of coffee, it reduces the likelihood you’re going to think about having the chocolate bar.
Choose the booze. Remember, alcohol will affect your blood sugar. So think about the types of alcohol and which has a lower sugar content. Red wine is thought to be one of the healthiest alcoholic drinks because it’s high in antioxidants – but you could also have white wine and add mineral water for a spritzer, leaving less room for alcohol. Also the drier the wine, the less sugar – so a dry white is a better option. Fortified wines, such as sherry and port, are high in sugar, while beer has a lot of carbohydrate which will turn into sugar. Spirits are considered “better” because they don’t contain sugar – the bigger concern is what they are mixed with, as the mixers often will. And liqueur spirits such as Cointreau, Drambuie and cherry brandy also have high levels of sugar.
Fruit is good for us, but it also tends to be high in sugar — so now it’s time to cherry-pick the best options. Veg is always a better choice, but if you want to add in fruit then go for berries as they will have the least amount of sugar. And go for fresh or frozen because tinned are likely to be packed in syrup. You can also use some tomatoes (yes, they are a fruit!) and, staying on the organic, try mushrooms too to add variety to savoury dishes.
No matter how often you tell yourself, ‘This is crazy! Stop using sugar as a treat’, your brain is just wired that way. So now you’ve broken the pattern, start to rewire your neural pathways by rewarding yourself with choices that are cleaner, healthier and kinder to your body and mind. A feel-good pampering session can not only give you a psychological “reward”, it can also support your detox. Look out for MLD (manual lymphatic drainage), deep tissue massage, clinical aromatherapy or myofascial or neuromuscular techniques.