Knowing how to reduce sugar intake is a handy skill to have when battling an addiction to sweet treats, and aren’t we all? On September 12th 2021 I decided to drastically reduce my sugar intake in my diet and here’s how it went.
There are very few benefits if any, to consuming large amounts of Sugar. It is a known fact that it leads to weight gain and can contribute to tooth decay on the lower end of the scale and heart disease and diabetes on the higher end. Nonetheless, consuming a surplus of sugary treats is socially acceptable and even expected. At seminars, training days and work meetings we find platters laced with sweet treats in the form of cakes, chocolates and biscuits, ready to give us our next sugar rush. In addition to this, if we aren’t offered sugary food on a platter in real life, people’s social media feeds are embellished with food porn of the sweet variety.
I realised that I was consuming too much sugar when I found myself having a monthly Haribo binge at a specific time of the month. I would buy a large pack of the Supermix variety and found myself eating more incrementally each time. I went from two large handfuls to half the pack in one go- to eventually devouring the whole pack. As it goes, these monthly sugary cravings weren’t even the tip of the iceberg. I was habitually eating handfuls of sweet biscuits and dipping them into my tea in the evenings, as well the odd mini cake or chocolate bar. I was also addicted to fizzy drinks. It was apparent that like so many of us, I was addicted to sugar. The body has an amazing way of communicating with us and we often know when we are abusing it. That feeling of guilt after eating too many sweets or fatty foods? Yes, that’s our intuition along with our bodies telling us that perhaps we ought to be a bit more mindful in our self-care. For me it came in the form of tiredness after consuming sugary snacks or carbonated drinks- the obvious symptom of an energy crash after having spiked my insulin levels so rapidly.
I took to the internet trying to learn how I could even begin to curb my sugar addiction- yes, addiction. Previously I wouldn’t have accepted this to be a thing, however I was finally able to admit it to myself and wanted to do something about it. Below I will outline how to reduce sugar intake in simple steps.
The first thing I did was to educate myself. Yes most of us have a basic idea of what is good for our bodies and what isn’t. In fact, when we make poor choices we often know this and that we are over indulging. I knew perfectly well that drinking excessive amounts of sugary carbonated drinks, sweets and biscuits were not conducive to a healthy diet, however I really had to sit down and inform myself on what could be at risk if I were to continue with my habits. Upon learning what the specific disease risks were, I set about finding more practical information on how I could make informed choices on what I chose to snack on, sugar wise. The British Heart Foundation Website really outlined the importance of understanding that sugar had MANY different names. I began to learn the lesser known ones and made a note to also avoid them within reason.
Aside from educating myself on how to reduce sugar intake, I learned that my huge sugar consumption also came down to a range of different factors which were:
Mainly allowing for huge gaps between meals without snacks, not even slow release ones. As a result, by the time I returned home in the evenings I would be ravenous and reach for something gratuitously sweet and readily available.
A lack of meal preparation then fed into this, also increasing the chances of reaching for a sugary snack.
Forming poor habits in the form of allowing myself to consume harmful amounts of sugary substances without allowing myself to dwell on the consequences they might have.
I started to religiously read the backs of food packets in the supermarket. I would spend ages, pouring over the nutritional information. To my dismay, I found that so many so called ‘savoury’ foods had sugar contained in them. Things as simple as a jar of pasta sauce or a tin of baked beans or soup, even savoury cheesy biscuits! You name it, sugar was everywhere. I did it though. I made a point to find no added sugar alternatives and went with them. I felt a growing sense of achievement that I had successfully removed sugar from my life. Admittedly I became one of those annoyingly smug people who gleefully told people that I didn’t eat sugar when they offered me treats. Of course, they were impressed every time because sugar addiction is absolutely no joke and most of us, who can consume sugar (non-diabetic) absolutely will.
At this stage, the hardest thing was letting go of chocolate as I knew it- large creamy bars of regular milk or dark chocolate. I found something called ‘black chocolate’ in a brand called Montezuma. It was 100% cocoa solids and contained no sugar. I was slightly nervous when I took it home and anticipated the taste. After all, this was going to be all I would be able to have from now on, I thought glumly. When I tasted it, it had a strong bitter kick but tasted rich and surprisingly moreish. I allowed myself to eat three squares at a time, adjusting myself to it and happy in the knowledge that it was at least, as an antioxidant, good for me. I was in fact being very good, but if I were to instruct someone on how to reduce sugar intake, I would not advise this stringent, punishing method of going cold turkey on sweetness. Still, I continued with it.
At this first stage of my sugar free/ low sugar journey, I refrained from eating absolutely anything with sugar in it.
I cut out:
- All sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolate apart from ‘black chocolate.’
- Processed breads containing sugar
- Processed tinned foods such as beans and soups containing sugar
- All sweet drinks including fresh fruit juices
I managed this for two straight months. However after this something began to happen. I started to physically struggle with the absence of sweetness. You would think it would have gotten better, however I was run down and exhausted battling winter illnesses on top of being a human being who simply wanted something sweet sometimes. Still I refused to fold. I actually produced alternatives for these times which I will speak about in another post- they really helped to keep me on track.
With Christmas on the horizon I began to think about what I would have for dessert on Christmas day/Boxing day. I decided that I would bake a cake and in this instance, break my rule of not consuming fresh fruit juice. Yes! I would make a cake and sweeten it with pineapple juice, I thought to myself. Ingenious, I thought, mentally patting myself on the back. In the end, I was too busy with Christmas preparations to make this cake and ended up having a sugar free whipped dessert from the supermarket. It wasn’t the greatest to be honest but I survived it!
Remarkably I somehow managed to avoid every sweet treat that was in my cupboards this Christmas season and there were and still are too many: multiples boxes of chocolates, a pack of chocolate rolls, two packs of chocolate brownie treats, a tin of Roses, a special pack of shortbreads presented in a mini- lighted house, the list goes on and yet I somehow managed to let not one pass my lips. I am genuinely not being boastful here and I do believe that a part of this mental resolve comes down to the fact that I felt a great sense of achievement from knowing how to reduce my sugar intake and somehow, eating a sweet treat, would ruin all the progress I’ve made so far and possibly have a negative effect on me. Besides this, high sugar foods do make me crash badly and I have genuinely benefitted from ridding myself of that unpleasant feeling.
The main two pieces of advice I would give someone on how to reduce sugar intake would be:
- Educate yourself on what sugar in excessive amounts does to the body so that you know why you are making this choice and to help keep you motivated (this was major for me).
- Only cut down your sugar intake to an extent that you are comfortable with. In hindsight I believe that I was excessively harsh on myself at the beginning of this lifestyle change and have since reintroduced moderate amounts of (mostly diluted) fruit juice into my diet for nutritional purposes. I am considering taking Manuka honey for its benefits if I get a cold or flu as I currently don’t eat honey as it is still technically sugar but a naturally occurring one.
I hope this has been of some help to someone. Have you ever reduced your sugar intake? How did it go and what did you cut down on or substitute the sugar with?
Let me know in the comments below!