We know it’s bad for us, but that doesn't always seem to matter. Sugary foods and drinks just taste so darn good!
As human beings, it’s not always easy to resist things that are bad for our health. However, Britain’s addiction to sugar is so serious that talk of a “sugar tax”, aimed at making unhealthy products less affordable (and thus less appealing), continues to gather momentum, and was a prominent part of the Chancellor's latest Budget announcement.
Earlier this year, a report by Cancer Research UK and the UK Health Forum showed that a 20% tax on sugary drinks could reduce obesity rates by 5% in the UK by 2025. That’s the equivalent of 3.7 million fewer obese people. While a sugar tax could help matters, we have to take responsibility for ourselves.
Three big reasons to give up sugar
Carly Tierney, a personal trainer at Fitness First Clubs and an expert nutritionist to boot, gave us her three top reasons for starting a sugar detox.
1. Weight loss (this time it’s for good!)
“You'll shed weight - and quickly, too! You'll be able to control your insulin better. In turn, your blood sugar levels will be under much better control. You're not dieting, you're simply eating healthier. When most people go on a diet, they cut calories, often far too low, with no real care given to the quality of food they eat. The weight lost dieting almost always makes its way back around your belly eventually.
“When you cut out sugar, the focus is on the sweet stuff, not calories. If you steer clear of sugar there is a good chance that your weight loss will be permanent.”
2. Better gut health - steer clear of the sugary yoghurt drinks, though!
“Sugar breeds bad bacteria in your gut. Given that a majority of our immune system is controlled in your tummy it's no surprise that an overgrowth of bacteria triggered by too much sugar affects our health. Indigestion, diarrhoea, constipation and irritable bowels are a few signs that bad bacteria is starting to take over any good bacteria that might exist. A good probiotic can help, the pill form, not the sugary yoghurt drinks!”
3. Improved mood
“You may not know it, but if you're struggling with anxiety or depression, cutting out sugar could help. There was a piece published in the British Journal of Psychiatry that showed that middle-aged people who regularly consumed processed foods, typically high in refined sugar, were much more likely to suffer from depression than those who ate a less processed diet.
“Sugar is massively addictive. Feeling good, almost high, when you eat something sugary is a sign that you need to hit the brakes. Sugar ignites our brain's pleasure zone, which is activated again when we indulge in something sugary. This vicious cycle continues until the pattern is finally broken. It's hard at first, but like giving up anything else addictive it gets easier and the cravings eventually stop.”
11 ways to remove sugar from your diet
- Learn where it lies
Okay, you know that chocolate, cake and cola are off limits, but sugar will still get you!
It can lurk in the least obvious of places. Foods such as cereal, flavoured yoghurt, granola bars, fruit, ketchup, salad dressings, pasta sauces and alcohol can all have high sugar content, so make sure you read the labels.
- Make small changes first
Rather than cut it out completely perhaps start with your drinks. Lose the sugar in your tea, switch from squeezed orange juice to flavoured water and start checking the sugar content in different brands of the same foods.
- Don't skip breakfast
Breakfast keeps your blood sugar levels stable, meaning you're less likely to reach for that chocolate bar. An ideal breakfast would be oats and a couple of eggs, for example.
Earlier this month, Cancer Research UK revealed that Brits really do love their breakfast, so much so that 80% of people have eaten breakfast foods for dinner at least once. One in three of us eat “brinner” at least once a week, with eggs on toast being a particular favourite.
- Limit alcohol
Alcohol contains more calories than sugar per gram. Not only that but it leads to a vicious cycle for sugary cravings. We've all woken up the morning after a night on the sauce and tried to eat every scrap of unhealthy food in the house.
Exercise helps to reduce stress levels, which is a major contributor to sweet cravings. Exercise also supports blood sugar level control, leaves you feeling energised, helps you sleep and makes you healthier.
- Don’t give up on snacks
You can't have that Mars bar but that doesn't mean you shouldn't eat regularly. Snacks like two oatcakes with a slice of avocado and some cottage cheese, or a fat-free Greek yoghurt, berries and nuts, are perfect.
- Get your vitamins
Especially vitamins B and C, which help to produce energy from the food that we eat.
- Learn the other names for sugar
Fructose, corn syrup, sucrose, etc. Sugar has many guises and as this source suggests, there are at least 61 different names for it on food labels. Familiarise yourself with them!
- Save up your sugar for the good stuff!
The idea of cutting down on sugar is not to say that you never eat it again but rather that you save its consumption for treats like a slice of cake. Foods like soup, dressings, yoghurt and cereal don't have to be, and really shouldn't be, sugary.
- Buy products that are unsweetened
Add more natural flavours such as vanilla, cinnamon, lemon, lime and nutmeg; great for your waistline and just as tasty. We’ll give you a few practical examples shortly.
- Stick with it!
Giving up sugar can initially feel impossible. But if you learn to make your own dressings and get used to the food swaps, you can be sugar savvy. The health benefits outweigh any initial discomfort or frustration. You'll notice that fresh foods taste better than ever as your food habits change and will find that your cravings naturally decrease.
Recipes to try in your quest for a low-sugar diet
As Carly suggested in her 11 steps above, the key to gently weaning yourself off sugar is to replace it with sweet natural flavours. Here are a few recipes that allow you to put this trick into practice.
Key lime pie
Here we’re using lime, honey and vanilla to give the dish some natural sweetness. There’s no need for added sugar at all!
10 sugar-free cinnamon Graham crackers - most large UK supermarkets stock a version of these
3 tablespoons of honey
1 ½ cups of almond milk
½ cup of lime juice
½ cup of fat-free Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons of butter/low-fat margarine
3 medium egg yolks
Optional: Fresh vanilla pods (avoid vanilla extract as this contains 13g of sugar per 100g on average)
• Use a food blender to turn your crackers into fine crumbs. Combine these with your melted butter, honey and a tiny pinch of salt, and press the mixture into the bottom of a bowl.
• Bake this in the oven at 160C for around 10 minutes.
• Now mix your almond milk, yoghurt, eggs, lime juice and zest into a bowl and whisk vigorously. You can add your vanilla in at this point if you are using it.
• Pour this mixture on top of your crumbly base and put in the oven for a further 15 minutes.
• Allow it to cool and then place the pie in the fridge for at least four hours. For best results, leave to set overnight.
• A traditional key lime pie will have cream on top, but our version is healthier and still tastes fantastic. If you are feeling indulgent (everyone’s allowed a ‘cheat day’, right?) whip some cream up and pipe it on to the top of your pie.
Healthy pancakes recipe
We recently showed you how to make healthy pancakes, and with more and more people choosing to eat “brinner”, we thought it was worth revisiting. Here’s our Apple Pie Pancake recipe again…
110g of plain flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
275 ml of skimmed milk
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Half a teaspoon of powdered nutmeg
Low-fat Greek yoghurt
Crack your eggs into a bowl and gradually add the milk and flour, mixing until you have a lovely smooth batter. Add a splash of olive oil to a pan and heat it up before pouring your pancake mixture in.
Slice your apples and stew them in a small amount of boiling water for a couple of minutes. Add your cinnamon and nutmeg and continue to heat through until the apples are soft. Scoop your mixture on to your pancakes and add some Greek yoghurt to the mix.
Nutmeg, raisin and coconut cookies
This is an easy recipe that makes use of the natural sweetness of numerous delicious ingredients.
1/4 cup of hot water
1 cup of raisins
1 cup of oats OR almonds – you choose!
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
50g desiccated coconut
2 teaspoons of honey OR 1 teaspoon of Stevia sweetener
½ cup of butter
400g of natural peanut butter
• Add your raisins, nutmeg and cinnamon into hot water and leave to soak for around five minutes.
• Meanwhile, mix your oats/almonds, coconut, butter, peanut butter, eggs, baking powder and honey/sweetener in a bowl.
• Add your raisin, nutmeg and cinnamon mixture to the bowl and work into a dough.
• You may need to add a little more water as you work the mixture. It needs to be smooth and supple enough to shape into separate cookies.
• Use a cookie cutter (or do it by hand) to create 15-20 separate biscuits on a greased tray.
• Bake in the oven at 160C for 10 to 15 minutes.
Of course, your diet is only one part of your overall fitness journey; you need to be exercising too! Why not take advantage of our free guest pass offer and head down to your local Fitness First Club?