A personal trainer’s advice for achieving a sugar-free lifestyle
Excessive sugar intake is linked to many adverse health effects.
While it can be said that occasionally consuming small amounts of sugar is perfectly safe, it’s advisable for anyone to minimise their consumption of added sugars and other processed carbohydrates for optimising their health and wellbeing.
Thankfully, the first step towards a naturally sweetened lifestyle is just being conscious of the sources of sugar in your diet. Being mindful of exactly what is going into your body allows you to decide what you are ready to give up, and what you need to hang onto for a little bit longer.
Some expert tips on reducing your intake of refined sugars and other processed carbohydrates:
1: Ditch the sweet drinks
Swap the juices, sodas or energy drinks for water or unsweetened beverages.
With a blender, you can just mix water with your favourite fruits and vegetables for a nutrient-rich smoothie that will provide lasting energy.
2: That includes sweetened tea and coffee
You don’t need to sweeten your tea or coffee, milk contains enough sugar.
3: Go easy on the condiments
Most sauces, marinades and dressings are loaded with sugar but, olive oil and vinegar are healthy substitutes for sweetened salad dressings and you there are usually unsweetened options when it comes to marinades and sauces.
The palate only misses sugar when there is nothing interesting to replace it. Add some spices to your meals if they lack flavour!
4: You don’t have to give up snacking!
Swap sweet treats or snacks for natural alternatives.
Fruits, nuts and trail mixes can be eaten throughout the day to satisfy hunger and your body’s energy requirements and not only do they satisfy sugar and salt cravings, they are also rich in vitamins and minerals.
5: Start your day right
Your morning sets the pace for the rest of your day. Avoid processed grains and other simple carbs, especially sugary drinks and breakfast cereals. The body quickly breaks down simple carbs to sugar which causes a spike in blood sugar levels and a potential crash.
If you’re looking for a sustainable breakfast full of vitamins and minerals, try a mix of plain or Greek yoghurt, oats, chia and any of your favourite fruit and berries.
Cooked eggs are also a highly nutritious way to start the day. I love mine Brazilian style, scrambled and mixed with tapioca powder for natural protein, fats and carbohydrates.
6: Watch your consumption of alcohol
Alcohol is detrimental to your health regardless of what form it comes in so, avoid alcoholic beverages mixed with sugary juices and sodas. You’ll be grateful the next day.
7: Make your shopping list sacred
If you don’t want to be tempted to buy foods you know you shouldn’t be eating, don’t put them on the shopping list!
When shopping for food, follow the store perimeter. Focus on the fridges, fresh foods and whole food items.
The most nutritious diets do not focus on how much you eat, but what you eat. Countless experts recommend basing your diet around foods such as fruit, vegetables, fish, whole (unprocessed) grains and legumes, dairy, nuts and seed, as well as lean meats or vegetarian alternatives.
Fill your fridge with natural products so that you always have healthy alternatives to combat cravings. Avoiding packaged and processed items in the supermarket is a big leap towards a healthy diet and lifestyle.
8: Meal Prep
It’s hard to sustain a diet without a plan. We are all guilty of going for the easy or unhealthy option when we are feeling hungry or lazy. Of course, you are far more likely to reach for the sweet snack when you have nothing nutritious at hand.
If you are making sure your fridge is full of healthy foods then the next level is to start converting those ingredients into wholesome meals for the days ahead. When you have a fridge full of delicious, homemade meals, are you even going to want to open the bag of simple carbs waiting for you in the pantry? I think not.
Many efficient meal preppers will do their shopping and preparation for the week on the same day. While this is ideal, my ‘weeks’ meals usually only last a few days and THIS IS OKAY. I know that when I eat one of these meals prematurely, I am usually saving myself from a poor food choice and at the end of the day, that’s what they’re there for.
I have a weakness for cookies, cakes and brownies. The workaround for this? Baking your own reduced-sugar alternatives at home! You can easily take control of your diet by preparing your meals in advance. Make decisions your future self will be grateful for.
9: Think twice about artificial sugars
While they are sweeter than regular sugars and contain little to no calories, eating artificial sugars can actually trick the body into believing that it is consuming sugar.
Scientists are divided between whether or not artificial sweeteners are safe or unsafe, but numerous studies suggest sweeteners cause weight gain, brain tumours, bladder cancer and many other health hazards, including carcinogenicity in humans.
10: Make gradual changes
If done so gradually, there is a greater chance of success when transitioning from a full sugar diet to a no sugar diet.
A sugar junkie will rarely be able to sustain a no sugar diet if they decide to cut stop their sugar consumption overnight, the cravings, or withdrawals, are just too much.
Not sure where to start? Try banning your worst sugar habit from the shopping list or choose any one of the points on this list.
Every step you take towards a lower sugar intake is a step towards a healthier lifestyle. Never underestimate the significance of each decision you make.
11: Start reading product labels
There are two reasons to do this. The first is to understand the macronutrient composition of your food items meaning, how much protein, fats and carbs.
There are also 61 different names for sugar so, once the individual sources of sugar have been eliminated from the diet, it is advisable to look at some of the items on the shopping list to determine whether or not it is something that aligns with your fitness goals.
12: Recognise your progress
Remember that health and fitness is a journey. You can always go further but you should also always recognise how far your have come.
Never ignore a kilogram lost, a bad habit kicked or an extra kilometre you can run. Progress is good progress, no matter how small.
The best way to lower your sugar intake is through mindfulness of what you are eating and always having healthy alternatives available to satisfy the cravings.
Take control of your diet by preparing your own healthy meals at home and having them on hand to combat cravings.
Just being aware of what sources of sugar you are consuming, while focusing on eating whole, unprocessed foods, will instantly lead to a reduced amount of sugar in your diet.
If you are struggling to kick some unhealthy dietary habits, try some of the simple changes above and see how quickly your relationship with sugar changes.
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About the Author: Harrison has more than a decade of experience on, and off, the rugby field as a representative player, junior coach and part-time referee. His passion for rugby led him to the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers where he studied the human body, exercise and nutrition, before being registered as a health and fitness professional with Fitness Australia and Fitness First Australia. Although the career path has changed, his passion for health, fitness, and Rugby will always remain.