Whether you have diabetes, are watching your waistline or are looking to change your lifestyle, here are 9 facts you need to know before you decide to go on a sugar-free diet.
1. What is sugar?
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that our cells use for energy. Our bodies also break most starches down into sugars. It is almost impossible to avoid sugar entirely because almost everything contains at least a small amount of sugar — even milk.
2. Decide what a sugar-free diet means to you
- For most people, going on a sugar-free diet means cutting out refined sugar, so unrefined natural sugars like raw honey or maple syrup are ok.
- For others, going sugar free means cutting out any sources of added sugar. This means avoiding sources of simple sugars like honey and crystalised sugar, but still eating food that naturally contains sugar, like fruit.
- Some people are stricter and treat anything with sugar in it as forbidden — even fruit.
Whatever you decide, consult a registered dietitian or your GP before making drastic decisions about your health and diet.
3. Avoid simple sugars as much as possible
Simple sugars — like most of those in honey, the sugar we use to sweeten drinks and bakes and fructose, the sugar found in fruit — raise blood glucose levels quickly. Generally, the more complex a sugar or starch is, the harder your body has to work to break it down. That’s why dietitians recommend avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars and choosing wholegrain starches.
4. Opt for unrefined carbs
Even though they all get broken down into simple sugars and converted into energy, more complex carbs from unrefined foods keep blood sugar levels stable. Although they can be high in sugar, fruit and veg also provide essential nutrients and fibre to keep our bodies healthy and prevent disease.
5. No added sugar
In South Africa, if a product says ‘no added sugar’ it can’t contain ANY added sugar, not even from syrups like honey, molasses or fruit juice concentrate. But that doesn’t mean the food doesn’t have any sugar in it, because it may naturally contain sugar. Understanding food labels can be confusing, if you’re interested in knowing more, read this seriously comprehensive article on what our food labels really mean.
6. Sugary foods to avoid
Cut out the obvious sugar-laden culprits like fizzy cooldrinks, fruit juices, sweets, jam, chocolates, cakes and pastries. But you also need to be aware that high levels of added sugar can also be found in unexpected products like tomato sauce, sweet chilli sauce, salad dressing, flavoured yoghurt, dried and canned fruit, most breakfast cereals, energy bars, alcohol and in fact most processed foods.
7. Sneaky sugars to look out for
Manufacturers often try to disguise sugar by calling it something else. Keep a look out for these hidden sugars on food labels: dextrose, maltodextrin, fructose, maltose, sucrose, lactose, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, fruit juice concentrate and anything with the word “syrup” (for example corn syrup) attached to it.
8. Swapping sugar for sweeteners
If you’re eating less sugar to lose weight, sweeteners like xylitol and stevia are great low-kilojoule substitutes (you can buy all sorts of sugar substitutes from these health stores). If you’re trying to curb a sweet tooth, rather cut them out, as they can trigger cravings.
9. Avoid processed food
Proponents of a sugar-free diet recommend avoiding processed foods altogether in favour of an all-natural diet. While that might seem daunting to most time-pressed people, try where possible to prepare your own freshly made food — that way you know exactly how much sugar is going into your meals.
DISCLAIMER: Before starting any diet, you should speak to your doctor. You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.