SUGAR DETOX: HOW TO CUT OUT SUGAR WITHOUT LOSING TASTE
WRITTEN BY STEPHANIE ROME | FEATURED ON:
We all know we should be eating less sugar for optimal health. The World Health Organization recommends keeping “free sugars” to about 5% of daily calorie intake for adults with a normal BMI. That works out to be about 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men.
But what does 6-9 teaspoons of free sugars really mean?
Free sugars include refined sugars added to processed foods and the natural sugars found in things like honey, syrups and fruit juices/concentrates. It doesn’t include the sugars found in dairy or fresh fruit and vegetables.
1 teaspoon equals approximately 4 grams of sugar
For women, this means not going above 24 grams of sugar per day
For men, this means not going above 36 grams of sugar per day
Reading labels is critical here because much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (~1 teaspoon) of free sugars.
And two sushi rolls can contain up to 16 grams. It’s shocking! With sugar hiding in so many processed foods, you can get to up to your allotted 6-9 teaspoons pretty quick!
To help you stay under the WHO’s recommended limit, below are some simple ways to slash your sugar intake without losing taste!
FLAVOR YOUR WATER NATURALLY
Many people say they don’t like the taste of plain water and therefore prefer to drink juice, sweetened tea, soda, beer (kidding on that last one)!
While the food industry would love for us to think fruit juice is healthy, it can contain the same amount of sugar as a soda! If you struggle with plain water, I recommend infusing it with fruit and herbs, such as cucumber or orange slices, mint leaves, berries, fresh ginger root, etc.
Add a few of these natural flavor-enhancers to a big bottle, pour plain water over the top and let it “steep” in the fridge overnight. You’ll have naturally flavored water to sip throughout the next day!
SWAP LOW FAT FOR FULL FAT
When food manufacturers remove fat from their products, much of the taste and texture is compromised. To compensate, they add sugar to improve the taste.
For this reason, not only are low fat products more processed, but they’re often much higher in sugar than their full-fat counterparts. This is especially true for dairy products, like yogurt and milk. For these, I recommend organic, grass-fed, plain whole milk and yogurt. Not only do full fat products taste better, they’re also more satisfying so you end up getting full on a smaller serving.
NATURALLY SWEETEN YOGURT + OATMEAL
Speaking of yogurt, if you’re consuming a flavored yogurt, chances are you are getting an average of at least 10 grams of sugar in one cup! I recommend avoiding all flavored yogurt, opting instead for plain (full fat!) and adding your own fresh or frozen fruit.
The flavored varieties often use a sugar-infused jam to give that fruity flavor. If you like the jam-like consistency of store-bought yogurt, I recommend adding some frozen berries to a small saucepan, warming on the stove and mashing them with the back of your spoon before mixing them.
Same goes for oatmeal. Many store-bought instant oatmeal packets come chock full of brown sugar and dried fruit like raisins and dates. Did you know that dried fruits are a super concentrated source of sugar?
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news (I love Medjool dates as much as the next girl), but unfortunately drying fruit removes much of the water content, concentrating the fructose and making the fiber harder to digest.
I recommend buying plain rolled oats and creating your own delicious oatmeal flavor combos. How about chocolate peanut butter banana? Mix in 1 Tbsp of peanut butter, 2 Tbsp of cacao nibs and ½ sliced banana. Or berry cinnamon pistachio? Or pear vanilla walnut? The options are endless!
EAT MORE NUT BUTTER
If you top your toast with sugary spreads, try swapping half the amount you’d normally use with nut butter, such as peanut butter or almond butter. This makes for a delicious sweet and creamy combination. Plus the protein and healthy fat in the nut butter work to slow down the jam’s sugar hit while satiating your appetite.
MAKE SOME SAVVY BAKING SWAPS
If you love to bake, I recommend playing around with substituting some of the sugar in your favorite recipes for real-food alternatives, such as applesauce, pumpkin puree, mashed sweet potato, mashed banana, coconut butter or macadamia nut butter.
While this may not work for all baking recipes, some (such as cakes and muffins that don’t need sugar for structure) should do just great. You and your family might even like the lower-sugar version better!
EAT SWEET POTATOES
Everyone loves sweet potatoes, am I right? These naturally sweet tubers are perfect for quelling a sugar craving and stabilizing your blood sugar. You can bring out their natural sweetness by baking and topping them with coconut butter (or coconut oil) plus cinnamon, vanilla powder and a tiny pinch of salt.
EAT DARK CHOCOLATE
If you’re a milk (or white) chocolate lover, ease yourself in to the darker variety. Try starting with 50-60% cacao and work your way up gradually – 70%, 80%, 85%, 90%….and then maybe even 100%!
As an old school milk chocolate girl myself, I really had to work on training my palette to like super dark chocolate. As I began to wean off processed sugar in my diet, over time my taste buds changed and things that didn’t use to taste that sweet (like milk chocolate) began to taste sickeningly sweet.
Eating stuff like Cadbury Dairy Milk would make my tongue and teeth feel furry – yuck! I worked my way up gradually and am now quite happy eating 100% cacao chocolate bars (this one is my favorite!) and cacao nibs which contain no added sugar at all. Baby steps!
DRINK FIZZY WATER
We all know soda – both regular and diet – is terrible for us for many reasons (the insanely huge amounts of sugar being the standout!). But a lot of us love carbonated drinks. I recommend naturally-flavored sparkling water (like La Croix), kombucha (ideally, a low sugar brand such as Rowdy Mermaid) and coconut water kefir (such as Kevita) for your fizzy fix.
Or make your own with a Soda Stream–it’s cheaper and better for you and the environment!
Sweet spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, cardamom, anise and fennel, can be really helpful when reducing sugar. They aren’t sweet by themselves but are nice when combined with sweet flavors.
When using them, you often don’t need as much sugar as you’d normally use. For a sweet recipe that contains fruit (like an apple crumble), use fresh fruit (apples) and increase the spice quantities by 50% while decreasing the sugar quantity by 50%. Always add a tiny pinch of salt to sweet recipes as the salt enhances the sweetness!
MAKE YOUR OWN DRESSINGS + SAUCES
Store-bought salad dressings and sauces are notorious for massive amounts of added sugar, artificial ingredients, preservatives and poor-quality oils. If you’re buying things like ketchup, mayo, BBQ sauce or even pasta sauce, be sure to read those labels and choose the one with the lowest amount of sugar per serving.
Even better, whip up your own sugar-free condiments at home. The easiest salad dressing of all time is a squeeze of fresh lemon + a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil + a pinch of salt and pepper.
If you want to get a little more creative, my new eBook, The Keenist Cookbook, includes seven delicious dressings and sauces, all of which are so simple that you just need to shake the ingredients together in a mason jar to combine and they’re ready!
ADD CINNAMON TO EVERYYYTHING!
I go through cinnamon like no one’s business! I’ve started buying 1 pound bags in bulk and storing in the freezer because I was sick of writing ‘cinnamon’ on the shopping list every week.
This spice lends a sweet and warming taste to foods while serving the medicinal purpose of helping manage blood sugar and preventing insulin spikes. Try using cinnamon in places you’d normally use sugar.
Sprinkle it on your morning oats, in your coffee, add a generous dash to your smoothie and make a homemade chai or turmeric latte with it. It can even be used in more savory applications such as including it in a Jamaican Seasoning or Chinese Five Spice mix.
USE STEVIA OR MONK FRUIT
If you’re used to drinking sweetened beverages, such as adding a teaspoon or two of sugar into your morning cuppa joe, I recommend weaning yourself off by swapping half the sugar for stevia or monk fruit, both of which are natural, plant-based, zero calorie sweeteners that do not elevate blood sugar or insulin.
Make sure you’re getting raw, organic green leaf stevia as many of the conventional brands of stevia can be chemically processed and bleached. For monk fruit, I like the Lakanto brand in both the liquid and granulated forms.
EAT HEALTHY FATS
If you’re new to the low-sugar life, you may get some pretty intense cravings as you begin cutting back. Instead of denying yourself and feeling deprived, eat something with healthy fat as a new “treat” to replace the old.
You’ve probably heard this before it’s worth repeating: healthy fat doesn’t make you fat! It makes you full. Good fats slow down the release of glucose into your blood stream, meaning you stay full longer and have few cravings.
Some ideas: 1 Tbsp of coconut butter, handful of toasted walnuts, or ½ of an avocado.