For those of you out there who regularly follow my blog you will probably already know I’ve been on a bit of a sugar free campaign for a while. A reformed sugar addict of old, the former me would happily:
- Chomp my way through sugary yoghurts and sugar coated packaged mueslis’ for brekkie
- Hydrate myself with sports drinks such as ‘Powerade’ (because how can all those fit famous athletes that endorse it be wrong huh –err right)
- Treat myself to a date scone or muffin (because I’d worked out extra hard and deserved it).
- Nurture an unhealthy addiction to Vogels fruit toast topped with lashings of jam or honey.
That was a whole lot of sugar I was sucking into my system. The ironic thing I thought it was pretty damn healthy and harmless, as typically, such high carb, low fat offerings were often the staple of an endurance athletes diet. I’ve done a complete 180 on this theory now and my diet staples are now made up of natural fresh foods with an emphasis on lots of veggies, high protein and healthy fats.
Just over a year ago I cut sugar out of my diet – I went hardcore for the first 2 months to completely detox the system and cut out everything with sugar as well as sugar alternatives. Since then I’ve been pretty much 95% sugar free. However lately I’ve noticed I’ve gotten a bit slack with a few little extra treats sneaking back in and it’s given me the boost of motivation to make June the month to focus on clearing out any sugary cobwebs that may be lurking in my eating habits as well as my pantry.
I’m putting my June sugar detox challenge out there in case there are any of you that want to hop on board and join me in sweeping up those little morsels of toxic sweetness that are really no good for us at all.
I’m sure the evils of sugar and it’s relatives (meet honey, maple syrup and agave nectar) are not new to most of you out there, as the last year 18months have seen a bit of a sugar free movement going on the world over.
The low down on sugar and candid truth on how it can deteriorate your health and physique, have been lifted by such best selling books as ‘Sweet Poison’ (David Gillespie), ‘I Quit Sugar’ by Sarah Wilson, and ‘Rushing Woman Syndrome’ (Libby Weaver) to name but a few. These books along with the abundance of great blogs out there will scare the bejesus out of you on exactly why sugar is an unhealthy addition to your daily diet. I won’t go into heaps of the science here but in a nutshell here are the reasons to make you consider kissing sugar goodbye.
- Sugar makes you sick – Sugar is a major cause of many chronic health disorders such as diabetes, infertility, chronic fatigue, anxiety, hypertension and even certain types of Cancer. It also has a detrimental effect on your immune system meaning you are more likely to pick up colds and viruses going round. In addition to the above (as if that weren’t enough) it promotes inflammation in the body and the health issues that come with that. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the link between sugar and illness.
- Sugar makes you age – Consumption of sugar triggers a process called glycation which attacks collagen and elastin which are the fibres in your skin that make it springy and taught and less likely to wrinkle when you frown and smile. So a lasting love affair with dairy milk chocolate, custard slices and other slabs of sugary goodness could also mean hello to premature wrinkles. You could be slapping various expensive creams on your face, applying chemical peels, botox and all the other latest products that promise to keep you youthful but at the same time be shoveling in sugary morsels that will get you wrinkling like a prune. Nourish your skin from the inside out, with good, natural, fresh and sugar free foods – that will feed your skin better than a needle full of botox.
- Sugar zaps your energy – The irony of this one is that people often eat sugar to provide them with an energy boost, which the sugar provides along with an insulin boost to help metabolise the sugar. Shortly after the sugar high comes the sugar crash, where your energy slumps and you feel like crap. What’s the best way to lift you out of it – more sugar possibly and thus begins the rollercoaster of sugar addiction. Your body is secreting crazy amounts of insulin to cope with the sugar and there comes the link with diabetes.
- Sugar makes you fat – Sugar makes you fat on two levels. Firstly most foods with high sugar content have high calorie content. Too much sugary food often means too many excess, empty calories that provide limited nutrients so the body can’t use them to regenerate and rejuvenate. These excess calories get sent over for a complimentary stay in the comfort of your fat cells. The second reason sugar sticks to your butt, thighs and particularly your waistline is linked back to that excessive insulin secretion. Insulin is often regarded as the number fat storage hormone along with cortisol and the stress sugar places on the body will get that increasing too.
- Sugar rots your teeth – This is probably the one that most of you do know about. We hear this as kids and actually this is pretty much the only point that school teachers will talk about when referring to the ills of sugar, but this is only part of a much larger more sinister picture.
When I talk to people that are contemplating giving up sugar I usually ask what their key motivation or reason for doing it is. Most people say to lose weight but as you can see above there are oh so many reasons for giving up sugar besides weight loss.
Lets get on to ditching sugar today!
So are you still with me? Are you convinced and committed to rising to the sugar detox challenge? I’m hoping that was a yes response to both those questions. OK then, lets do this? Where do we start?
3 steps to sugar free liberation
My approach to ditching the sugar is based around a 3 steps so that we ease into this gradually. I want this challenge to be about introducing new habits that you can easily incorporate into your lifestyle. The idea is that each week you go into the next phase building on the step before.
Step 1 – Week 1
In this phase eliminate all the usual suspects that very obviously contain sugar such as
- Cakes & Slices
- Ice cream
- Lollies (aka sweets or candy for those of you non-kiwis out there)
- Soft drinks
Step 1 is also about cutting out the less obvious suspects that contain sugar such as
- Bread (particularly gluten free)
- Tomato Ketchup
- Jars and bottles of sauce
- Chutneys and relishes
- Rice crackers (Check out the ingredients on seaweed flavored rice crackers)
- Sushi (Sushi rice often has sugar added)
- Thai cuisine (this often has lots of palm sugar added)
You might be able to see a bit of theme in the foods above – the majority of them are processed foods. There is a lesson there in itself – if you buy a lot of packaged processed foods you are relinquishing control of what is in those foods. Stick to fresh, unprocessed foods and make things from scratch and that way you know what’s going in it.
If you do eat anything packaged study the food labels for any sugar lurking within.
Step 2 – Week 2
In this phase continue cutting out anything with processed sugar in but also cut out
- Agave nectar
- Maple syrup
These are super high in fructose, which is as bad for you as sucrose (some would argue worse). Often people replace sugar with this these products thinking they are healthier but the truth is they shoot up your insulin and can be as many detrimental side effects as refined sugar.
Step 3 – Week 3
Step 3 focuses on limiting fruit intake. It’s not (I repeat NOT) about cutting fruit out as fruit also has lots of nutrients that are great for us but it also contains fructose so moderation is key. Keep fruit to no more than 2 portions a day and where possible opt for low fructose options, such as berries, plums and kiwis. A list of high, medium and low fructose fruits can be found here.
Evolving the taste buds
As you go through each phase you will find your cravings for sugar will gradually diminish. I actually find that if I eat something with lots of sugar in now it leaves a funny after taste in my mouth and an almost burning, tingling sensation. I also notice that on the rare occasions I’ve had foods with lots of sugar such as a sugary dessert it has given me a headache – I wake up the next day almost feeling like I’ve got a hangover – a sugar hangover. Both my taste buds and my body have evolved from going without sugar for so long that my body gives me much clearer warning signs to reject the sweet stuff. This is why I’ve got to this point, those few little extra treats that I’ve mindlessly eaten have left me feeling yuck and reminded me not to cut too many corners on my sugar free lifestyle because it’s not worth it and I don’t need it.
There is life after sugar
Many of you may think that a life without sugar sounds like a bleak affair but I promise you it isn’t. I love food and I will always love to indulge in a taste sweet treat with a cuppa. However I’ve also noticed my sweet cravings aren’t the sweet cravings of the past when only a slab of chocolate cake or snickers bar would do. Now a few squares of homemade sugar free chocolate or a bliss ball with a cuppa are enough to see me through. I also find I love the creativity and accomplishment that comes with experimenting with sugar free baking.
Don’t use this sugar free challenge as a blip that lasts for a month, at the end of which you intend to bathe in a bath full of m&m’s or have a hot date with box of ‘Milk Tray’. Use this as the start of new lifestyle that ditches the sweet stuff and along with it sickness, premature wrinkles, rotting teeth, energy slumps and an expanding waistline.
Recipes to get you started
There are heaps and heaps of amazing blogs and sites out there that promote the benefits of a sugar free lifestyle and offer lots of fantastic sugar free fab recipes and additional useful reference information.
Here are few you might like to explore
My little blogs recipes are a very humble offering in comparison to these great sites. However, I like to keep chipping away doing my impression of a sugar free ‘Nigella Lawson’ in the kitchen when I feel some culinary motivation. With that in mind here is one of my recent creations. My sugar and grain free granola, this is for those of you granola and muesli lovers out there that have joined in the sugar free challenge but want your morning muesli fix. This is a bit of a hybrid I’ve adapted from a few I’ve found when googling the net. Hope you enjoy it as much as my family and I did.
Eat-Sweat-Think Sugar & Grain Free Granola
- 2.5 cups of nuts (I used a mixture of pecans, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts)
- 6 prunes
- 6 dates (chopped)
- ½ cup of sunflower seeds
- ¼ cup of sesame seeds
- ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup of raw cacao (this is optional if you fancy it a bit chocolatey)
- ¼ cup of Chia seeds
- ½ cup of coconut threads
- ½ cup of coconut flakes
- Seeds from a vanilla pod (or teaspoon of natural vanilla extract)
- ½ cup coconut oil (melted)
- ½ cup rice malt syrup
- Zest of half an orange
- 2 heaped teaspoons cinnamon
- Place the nuts (saving half a cup) in a food processor along with the prunes. Whiz on a high speed until it looks to be a to medium crumb.
- Add the raw cacoa, cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla, rice syrup, seeds, coconut oil and coconut threads until combined.
- Transfer mixture to a bowl and add the chopped dates and coconut flakes, mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
- Spoon mixture in a deep baking tray that has been lined with baking paper.
- Press the mixture down firmly into the tray with the back of a spoon.
- Place tray in the oven to bake for 20 to 25 mins in an oven preheated to 170 degrees celcius. Check regularly to make sure it doesn’t burn as all ovens bake a bit different. It should become a nice golden brown colour.
- When the time is up remove from the oven and allow to cool thoroughly (you might want place in a cool place or even in the fridge).
- After the mixture has completely cooled remove from tray. The mixture should have an almost cluster like consistency. Great served with some blueberries, almond milk and dollop of Greek yoghurt.