Over the past six months to a year, the hype about sugar has been monumental. We have been told about the extent to which sugar is added to almost every food that tastes remotely sweet and even to some of the most unexpected every-day staples such as milk and bread.
It has become increasingly important to be educated on how our food is made and what goes in to it in order to make informed decisions on diet choices, ultimately impacting on our health and wellbeing. With this in mind, I became increasingly aware that the ‘naughty’ treats I was consuming on a regular basis were eventually impacting on my mood, skin and in the long term, my weight.
I knew that the only way I could make a real change to all of this was embrace a lifestyle change and try to cut out as much sugar from my diet as realistically possible while upping my exercise regime. By this I don’t mean i’m living completely without sugar, as I previously mentioned, sugar is hidden in so many daily meals that this would be an unrealistic task to set myself and one that I think would ultimately failure, leading me to reverting back to my old sugary habits.
Instead, what I have tried to do is make simple swaps and compromises on everyday meals and snacks while still allowing treats in moderation to satisfy my sweet tooth. I’ve now been following this regime since January and it’s been a lot easier than I initially thought it would be. I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my over all mood and energy levels, I’m no longer craving the 4pm sugar hit!
I wanted to share some of the really simple things i’ve incorporated into my diet, leading to a change of mindset towards food – one that makes me think of food in terms of what its offering my body such as its nutrients and vitamins content.
Let me know what you think of these seven steps in the comments below.
1) Get smart about condiments
Everyone these days knows that many condiments have added sugar, what I didn’t quite realise was the extent of how much was included. Heinz Tomato ketchup contains 23.6g sugar per 100g or 2.6 per serving, similarly, Heinz salad cream has 17.5g of sugar per 100g. Not enough to be too concerned about you say? That’s what I thought, but then I considered how much per week I consume, in terms of salad dressings, ketchup and other condiments collectively, THEN you realise that it does make a difference.
I’ve since swapped to the reduced sugar ketchup – I personally can’t taste any difference at all so this wasn’t much of a compromise for me. What I will say though is that, the reduced sugar version isn’t always available at the smaller supermarkets so you do have either order online or go to a larger branch. Easiest thing to do is just buy a few at a time to ensure you aren’t left short and end up buying the full sugar version as you can’t get hold of the other – I’ve learn’t this the hard way.
Another thing i’ve changed is to use natural taste enhances such as fresh chilli, lemon or garlic rather than condiments in my food.
2) Replace Chocolate with naturally occurring alternatives
This was one of the hardest things to do at the beginning. For that reason I really believe that the most effective way to go about giving up sweets, chocolate, cake and general desserts is to simply go cold-turkey. Cut this out of your diet for two/three weeks’ and you’ll find that you almost completely stop craving it. The first week is the hardest as you really miss the sugar hit, but after this time your body will adapt and you can soon be out of the habit.
In terms of long-term practicality, I’m not sure it’s realistic to never have another sugary treat again and if you’re anything like me then denying yourself can ultimately lead to sugar binge during a moment of weakness and set off a downward spiral. To combat this, I allow myself healthier treats once a week such as a big bowl of blueberries, peanut butter with an apple, a NAKED bar of some sort etc. This way I feel satisfied and not like I’m constantly denying myself things I enjoy. I’m a big believer in moderation to promote a healthy lifestyle but the trick is not to abuse this.
It’s also important to be committed to this way of living and take it seriously to avoid giving-in – I started by setting myself a target of sticking to it for one month. Setting achievable goals and taking time to acknowledge them is a great way to stay motivated and keeping momentum.
3) Prep, Plan and Exercise
I find that every time I plan what I’m going to have for lunch, I make much healthier choices. This also goes hand-in-hand with taking regular exercise. Since I’ve been making the time to go to a exercise class at lunch, not only do I have something else to focus on rather than what i’m going to eat, I’m much more likely to reach for a salad or soup rather than a calorie heavy baguette and crisps post workout.
What’s also helped me is having around 4-5 healthy meal options that i’ve tried and tested and that are easy to get hold of at lunch (i’m not organised enough to make them from home yet¡) I can then rely on these when i’m struggling to find a health option or don’t have enough time to worry about what to eat.
4) Treat yourself at the weekend
By ‘treat yourself’, I don’t mean go crazy and eat whatever you want at the weekend, rather allow yourself the more indulgent food such as good burgers, steak and big bowls of pasta so you don’t feel like you are denying yourself anything. I’m also a big believer in eating quality food – if you want a burger, don’t go to McDonalds, go to the butcher and buy mince to make your own, not only is it much more satisfying but it is so much better for you. By eating healthily 80% of the time you can reap the rewards of a healthy lifestyle but also indulge in treats 20% so you don’t feel like you’re completely missing out.
5) The truth about yoghurts
I used to fall into the trap of going for the ‘low fat’ yoghurts in a bid to reduce my fat intake. However, most ‘reduced fat’ versions make up for the lack in taste by adding extra sugar – a significant amount of extra sugar.
Now I tend to stick to the natural yoghurts and try to avoid flavoured one’s altogether. If I want to add some flavour I’d add in some fruit like a banana or blueberries which makes it more of a treat. Or have it with bran flakes for breakfast.
6) Change your Cereal
Cereals are often one of the worst culprits, even the one’s marketed as ‘healthy’ options are packed with sugars. I swapped my Special K for either Bran flakes or simple oats. If i’m lagging in the afternoon, a small bowl of cereal often gives me the boost I need to get through the afternoon.
7) Discover the benefits of herbal teas
I’m a self confessed tea addict, you can’t beat an English Breakfast tea to start the day. Having said this, over the past few years’ I’ve discovered the fast variety of natural teas and their health benefits. My absolute favourites that I reach for every day are peppermint (or fresh mint) if you are at a cafe or restaurant and chamomile (check out the chamomile and honey tea). They help me to stay hydrated while having a positive effect on my mood.
What steps have you taken to reduce your sugar intake recently?