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23 Feb, 2023

Our Guide to Going Sugar-Free


Whilst we don’t ever suggest denying yourself of the occasional indulgence, what is important is that we stay in control of our body and our habits and don’t become dependent on or consume too much refined sugar. It’s not so much giving up sugar, but taking up energy, balance and control.

The problem with sugar is that it can upset our cognitive chemistry, blocking and crossing signals that disrupt our natural bodily intelligence and encourage us to reach more frequently for the addictive sugary foods that makes us feel bloated and sluggish.

A lot of sugar cravings come from blood sugar imbalance. When you consume sugar, your blood sugar level spikes and your body releases insulin to lower it to a safe level. If the insulin brings your blood sugar level too low, your body then craves foods that will raise it and increase your energy. This is where the term ‘blood sugar rollercoaster’ comes from. When we eat sugar, our brain releases chemical rewards, such as dopamine. Which is why sometimes it can feel like we’re addicted to sugar.

Cravings can also originate as a result of lifestyle – stress can cause the hormone cortisol to flood your body, releasing glucose from your liver, which in turn raises your blood sugar level. Poor sleep can also trigger excess eating as your body looks to combat your fatigue. It’s important to listen to your cravings and try to determine their root cause: true hunger, emotional eating or habit. Sugar can also negatively impact our gut health by encouraging the growth of bad bacteria in our gut microbiome, such as candida and yeast. These types of bad bacteria can then cause poor digestive health, inflammation, brain fog and sometimes severe illnesses.

‘We are a nation of sweet tooths, consuming more than twice as much sugar as the global average.’ said The Guardian in Dec 2021.

Obesity numbers in the UK are soaring unfortunately, and the cost to the NHS is worryingly high. Figures published in November by NHS Digital found that almost one in three children in their final year of primary school in deprived areas of England are obese. Thankfully, the country are beginning to address this, ‘the tax on sugary drinks may have prevented more than 5,000 cases of obesity every year among girls in their final year of primary school’, research suggests. However, this is much more to be done.

“We all know that indulging every sugar craving and self-medicating with sweets at times of stress isn’t sustainable, but few will get to see the consequences of those behaviours in the way that those of us who work in healthcare do. I regularly meet patients whose lives have been devastated by complications of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. The costs for those patients, both personally and to the NHS, are spiralling” says Doctor Tamal Ray.

Do you often reach for something sweet for a 3pm pick-me-up or after a meal? Or are you prey for the frequent supermarket snack or packaged food? If so, it may be likely that your sugar intake is higher than you think.

Here are our 6 steps to help you cut down on sugar:

1. The easiest way to make sure you don’t become victim to hidden sugars is to get in the kitchen as much as possible. By cooking from scratch and avoiding processed foods you will remove a lot of the sugar from your diet, hidden or not. Head over to the recipe section of our blog for inspiration. We highly recommend the Stuffed Middle Eastern Sweet Potatoes as well as the Roasted Tomato Curry. Try our Rhubarb & Apple Crumble, made with fruits and natural sugars, if you're really craving something sweet.

  • Plan your meals mostly around pulses – beans, lentils and chickpeas – to keep them both delicious and filling.
  • Spices can enhance the natural sweetness in food. Add cinnamon to apples or pears and roast, mix with yogurt and add to cereals for a naturally sweet flavour.
  • Go with cacao. Mixing cacao powder with coconut oil creates a refined sugar-free chocolate sauce. I always need a chocolate hit and this is the perfect healthy option. I like to mix the melted cacao and coconut with oats and roast for 10 minutes to make a chocolatey cereal. Or add to warmed rice milk for a sugar refined sugar-free alternative to hot chocolate. We suggest trying our recipes for delicious dairy and refined sugar-free Millionaire Bites or Beetroot Brownies.

2. If you’re baking, try to use honey, maple syrup or even better, fruit, as sweeteners, in place of highly refined sugars, and also make use of spices such as cinnamon. I always stew down leftover fruit to make compotes and add a dash of honey to sweeten. The compote should last 5 days in the fridge and adds a good sweet kick to breakfast or pudding. Give this Apple & Raspberry Compote a go, delicious on top of banana bread with Coyo.

3. A good breakfast can set you up for a day of stable blood sugar and help control your appetite and, ultimately, weight. Starting the day with a sugary breakfast is a sure-fire way to set you on a blood-sugar rollercoaster, so try to avoid consuming any sugar for as long as possible each day.The key is to eat a breakfast that contains slow-release carbohydrates (to maintain steady energy levels) as well as a little protein, and healthy fats to help keep us feeling fuller longer. Eggs and avocado on rye is a good option, as is a bit of coconut yogurt with porridge and seeds.

4. Hidden sugars and food labels are a minefield to navigate. You can find hidden sugars in nearly everything processed, and sometimes not where you’d expect, such as cereals and jarred sauces. Food companies can be sneaky and try to hide sugar in the ingredients list with names a consumer might not understand. Look for the following names for added sugar and try to either avoid, or cut back on the foods where they are found:

  • corn syrup
  • corn sweetener
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • molasses
  • syrup
  • sugar
  • molecules ending in "ose" (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).

5. The problem with the promise of 'zero sugar' and 'zero fat' products is that something has to replace the sugar and the fat, and it's often something nasty. Highly processed low-fat food products, think yogurt, cereals and ready meals, are often bulked out with extra sugar and stabilisers to compensate for the flavour lost when fat is removed. A study by Rotherham Institute for Obesity found that a whopping 40% of ‘low fat’ supermarket alternatives had more sugar in than their full fat counterparts. Bottom line, don’t be fooled by ‘sugar free’ or ‘low fat’ labels, as these products may well contain other nasties in their place.

6. We believe that just three days of wholesome, nourishing food can help curb that 3pm sugar craving and help reset your taste buds. Our meal plans were designed to keep your blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day, to ward off any cravings or crashes. Browse our meal plans now.