Yep, you heard it right, Sophie says, “Don’t give up sugar!”. The reason is that you won’t be able to! Sugar is a carbohydrate that’s in almost every fruit and vegetable. We need these slow-release sugars to survive. They give us energy. But, we DO need to think about is our intake of “added” sugars, and the form of sugar that we eat. We add these sugars when we cook to make the food delicious (there’s nothing that won’t taste better with a pound of sugar and a pound of butter, right?). And then there’s the sugar (in its many guises), that’s liberally added to processed food to it palatable.
If there’s ever a time reduce our added sugar intake, it’s now! But I said “reduce” not “give up”. As we head into Fall, we’re going to be seeing pumpkin spice everything, and pumpkin spice lattes, pancake mixes, and desserts are usually loaded with added sugar. But, I’m not going to suggest that you give up or eliminate even these added-sugars entirely. It’s easy to set yourself up to fail if you go extreme on yourself, because we are so accustomed (if not addicted) to the taste. Moreover, added sugars will spike your blood sugar, giving you a temporary “high”, and then you will crash and then crave more. What goes up, must come down. My suggestion instead, is to think about smart and easy ways that you can change the way you eat sugar, and the form that it comes in. This way you can feel good about the progress you make, rather than beat yourself up for not giving up sugar, which is almost impossible.
The only way that some people have been able to give up table sugar entirely (and this is is the case for many diabetics), is to replace it with artificial chemical sweeteners. But, this isn’t a healthy choice for most people. Artificial sweeteners have been directly linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And they a not gut-friendly either. If you are diabetic and unable to function without the taste of very sweet foods and beverages (which is very normal), then I totally understand that this whole thing is way harder for you. You’re between a rock and a hard place because you have to go as sugar-free as is humanely possible, and yet it’s extremely tough and unpleasant to give up the sweet taste too. However, if you can begin to slowly reduce your artificial sweetener use, you’ll be in way better shape in years to come.
A few years ago, I challenged clients and readers to try to give up sugar and/or artificial sweeteners entirely. But, I realized that the harder people try, the more likely they are to set themselves us to fail. Also, as soon as you know you “shouldn’t” be eating something, you want it all the time…you cannot get it out of your head, right? So, I’ve found a far more effective approach is to take baby steps. One little change a week is the sure-fire way to succeed in your quest to reduce your added sugar intake. So, I offer you 3 levels of challenge to choose from. The main thing is that you don’t get too restrictive or rigid. When we clamp down on ourselves, we almost immediately set ourselves up to fail. We’re all at different places on our wellness journey, so I invite you to jump in where you know you can and will succeed. You get to choose whether you want to go beginner, intermediate or advanced. But before you decide, I strongly recommend that you choose a step that is EASY and doable for you.
Before we begin, let me cover a few FAQ’s
- What about the low-glycemic sugars such as coconut sugar? The whole low-glycemic concept is still controversial. It would take me a whole post to explain why, but understand that a sugar that is labeled “low-glycemic” may not reduce the speed or spike in your blood sugar levels. Sugar is sugar. So don’t let this fool you into spooning coconut sugar onto everything you eat.
- Are sugars like coconut sugar better for me? It depends on what “better for me” means. If you are looking for a sugar that won’t spike your blood sugar or affect your insulin response, then the coconut sugar isn’t necessarily much better for you (see above). If, however, you’re looking for a sugar that is less processed than white table sugar, and one that contains some trace nutrients, then coconut sugar may be a better choice. It’s also tastier.
- What about Agave Nectar? It’s a syrup that will spike your blood sugars just as much as white table sugar. Some truly raw agave nectars may have a few trace nutrients in them. But DO NOT load your food or beverages with agave syrup thinking you’re making a healthier choice as far as your blood sugar is concerned.
- What about raw cane sugar and brown sugar? Again, it still spikes your blood sugar, but it’s less processed than white table sugar, so may contain trace, and I mean TRACE minerals.
- What about Honey? Raw, local honey is a great choice for those of you who aren’t vegan. I class it more as a food than a sugar because it does contain nutrients, and has medicinal properties. I don’t recommend heating or cooking with raw honey. It destroys all the health benefits.
- Maple syrup? It’s still a simple sugar, which will spike your blood sugar. As with raw brown sugar, coconut sugar and all those less-processed sugars, the plus (which marketers run with), is that it contains trace nutrients, but not enough to honestly warrant its use in place of sugar. It is delicious though!!
- What about fruit? For most people, fruit is absolutely the best way to enjoy sugar. Because it’s loaded with fiber, the blood spike will be significantly lessened. If you are type 2 diabetic, you should be able to enjoy low-sugar fruits.
- Is Stevia or Monk Fruit better? There are about equal. Just make sure that they are not blended with an artificial sweetener. They sometimes are.
- What about sugar alcohols such as Xylitol and Erythritol? These are okay sugar alternatives for some people as they won’t spike your blood sugar at all, and they are low-caloric. However, use with caution because some people’s tummies are sensitive to them. I am fine, whereas Xylitol is a total laxative for my husband (he was not happy with the last batch of Brownies I made with them!). I prefer Erythritol to Xylitol because it doesn’t seem to have so much of a laxative effect. If you have IBS or any digestive issues, I would recommend avoiding all together. NEVER let either near a dog because its highly toxic to them.
- Is there any “sugar” that you consider healthy? Taking all the alternatives into account, your best bet is to go with date sugar because it’s a food and not an empty calorie. Keep in mind that it’s not as sweet as sugar, and is not nearly as sweet as the sugars that you are probably used to baking with.
- Favorite subs for baking? Date paste (make your own by simmering dates in water and blending), ripe banana, pumpkin puree and applesauce.
- Start reading nutrition labels on the food you buy. You aren’t going to be able to eliminate sugar entirely. It’s in everything, but what you can do is begin to understand and thus control the amount that you eat. Here’s a simple way of doing this: See how many grams of sugar are listed on the label for a particular serving size (for example: 12 grams sugar in 1/2 cup of granola). Divide this number by 4 to find out how many teaspoons this equates to (12 divided by 4 is 3). So you’ll know that half a cup of that delicious granola (and half a cup is TINY), contains 3 tsp of sugar. Just spend a couple of weeks getting the hang of reading labels so you can start to get an actual visual of how much sugar you are really consuming during a day. You might even want to write it down (breakfast 3 tsps, lunch 2 tsp, snack 6 tsp, dinner 3 tsp etc). The general recommendation by most health professionals is that you try not to eat more than 6 tsp a day.
- If you have 2 packets of Splenda in your coffee or tea, dial down to one.
- Replace your artificial sweetener in your beverages (Splenda etc) with Stevia, erythritol, or monk fruit.
- Allow yourself one treat a week. Eat a piece of delicious fruit on the other days, and look forward to your treat on whichever day you choose to eat it.
- Get a drink from the coffee shop made with unsweetened non-dairy milk, and a packet of Stevia, Monkfruit, or Raw sugar in place of your artificial sweetener (if you are diabetic, you’ll need to go with the Stevia/Monkfruit option).
- Cut back on diet soda to allowing yourself to have just one a week for a treat.
- Dial down the amount of sweetener (even Stevia or Monk Fruit) that you add to a beverage. If you normally do 1/2 tsp, do 1/4 tsp. If you do 6 drops of Stevia, do 3. The idea is that you are weaning yourself off the super sweet taste.
- Only buy unsweetened dairy or non-dairy milks and yogurts.
- Start exploring the ingredient labels on foods, looking for the many names that sugar is called and often hidden under.
- Try one of baking subs mentioned above when you bake.
- Go one week without a baked good, dessert or cookie and see how you feel.
- Invite your friends, neighbors, and community (church, school etc) to do sugar-free Holiday cookies this year.
- Use coconut sugar, raw sugar or maple syrup in moderation.
- Make a smoothie loaded with fresh berries and add 3 dates or a few drops of Stevia to sweeten it.
- Read the ingredient and nutritional labels on cereals/breads/crackers etc, and work out how many tsp of sugar are in each serving by dividing the grams of sugar by four.
- Try making my Pumpkin Chai Scone recipe.
- Eliminate diet soda for one week.
- Eat a piece of fruit as your “sweet treat” for a week
- Go a day or a week without any kind of added sugar or sweetener
- Purge your pantry and fridge/freezer for foods that contain added sugars
- Buy bread without any kind of sweetener (just 4 ingredients: water, flour, starter and salt is all that’s needed).
- Make your own oatmeal from rolled oats (or overnight oatmeal) and add dates, berries, chopped apple, pear or sliced banana as your only sweetener.
- Drink your coffee and tea unsweetened. Try Yogi Teas, which are naturally sweetened.
- Try a green smoothie without the sweeter fruits such as banana and pineapple.
- Try a juice made from veggies only and zero fruit (spinach, kale, romaine etc).
- Find a permanent sub (Kevita is a great sub) for diet soda
The main thing to realize is that no one is perfect, and neither should they be. There also isn’t a one-size-fits all. Also keep in mind that if you work out a lot, you can get away with a lot more sugar – it’s a very simple equation: calories in and calories out. I know this doesn’t take the inflammation factor into account. Sugar is not good for your overall health and can trigger inflammation in the body. But so can stress. We always need to consider the overall impact of all our lifestyle choices. It’s not rocket science to understand that we all need to eat less sugar – actually way less sugar. It’s an empty calorie, which does more harm than good. But easy does it. Most of us want a sweet treat once in a while, and unless you are diabetic, it’s not going to harm you.