With all the recent press around sugar and the negative impact it poses to our health, it’s hard to ignore the reality that too much cake is no longer so sweet. But trying to cut down or quit cold turkey is challenging and, like most things, often leads to failure or a binge.
So are there ways we can slowly wean ourselves off sugar that are more effective? Here we explore five approaches that might just help.
1. Eliminate certain foods
According to accredited practising dietician Natasha Murray, 75 percent of the sugar we consume comes from processed foods like soft drinks, cereals and cakes. The other 25 percent comes from what we consciously add to food.
“Start reducing your sugar intake by keeping a food diary and circling the obvious sweet foods you eat regularly or in large amounts, or the ones you reach for when tired or down,” Natasha said.
By acknowledging how much you consume and when, Murray says it’s easier to start implementing change.
“Start choosing smaller serves of these foods and drinks or try to save them for special occasions. Alternatively, when a craving hits, snack on fresh fruit or nuts, yoghurt or cheese and crackers instead.”
Murray also advises cutting down your sugar in tea or coffee by half until you get used to the taste.
2. Educate yourself about hidden sugars
By educating yourself about the quantity of sugars in processed foods and the different names under which they’re listed, it’s easier to make healthier choices.
“Sugar quantities in a product are listed on the nutrition panel on the back,” Murray said. “One teaspoon of sugar is about five grams.”
Sugars can be listed under a different name and include anything ending in ‘ose’, such as glucose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose and fructose.
Other sugars are hidden in the form of raw sugar, molasses, treacle, syrup and fruit juice concentrate
“Choose the food with the least amount of sugar and try to choose foods where sugar isn’t listed in the first three ingredients,” Murray suggests.
While education is key, Murray reiterates that sugar in small amounts is not dangerous and fad diets or books promoting total sugar elimination should be avoided. Instead, she recommends looking at nutrition posts, blogs and newsletters written by accredited practising dieticians for research-based advice.
3. Be realistic
We’ve all been known to throw ourselves into a diet full throttle, only to rapidly lose steam. The reason? Because our goals are unsustainable.
“When a food is banned, or becomes a ‘forbidden’ food, it becomes more desirable and can lead to overeating or bingeing,” says Murray. So as to avoid this, Murray recommends remaining realistic about your diet.
“If you have a favourite food you can’t live without, don’t eliminate it,” she says. “Allow yourself to have a small amount once or twice a week and really enjoy it.”
And if you’re still struggling, talking to a dietician to receive individualised help and a tailor made sustainable plan can help.
By substituting processed sugars with natural sugars or artificial sweeteners, it’s possible to get your sweet kicks without doing so much damage. So topping your cereal with a small serve of fruit or berries is great. But piling it on is not.
“Replacement sugars found in some fruits or purees are still sugars so need to be used in moderation,” Murray explains. “And it’s the same when it comes to artificial sweeteners.”
Sweeteners currently available in Australia include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol and maltodextrin.
“Natural product Stevia can be a good alternative, but is not great exclusively as it leaves a bitter aftertaste.”
5. Being mindful and changing habits
Reaching for a snack when you’re bored is a common habit — as is confusing hunger with thirst.
“Eating regularly through the day can help alleviate boredom or habit eating,” says Murray. “And not eating while distracted by your TV, phone or computer is also important.”
Murray suggests having a glass of water when you think you’re hungry to really determine if you are. She also notes that making good changes to your daily habits can help you kick the bad ones to the curb.
“If you buy a soft drink at 3 pm every day at work, try going for a quick walk at 2.45 pm instead to boost energy levels and alertness and follow it up with a glass of cold water.”