A World Without Sugar
Imagine a world without sugar or sweeteners. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it. Yet we’d all suffer from significantly fewer health problems if we reduced our sugar intake. These days, the average Brit consumes 238 teaspoons of sugar a week without knowing it – that’s 34 a day! Just to put this into context, back in 1900, our great grandparents were eating just 3 tsp of sugar a day. These days, the World Health Organisation recommends 6 tsp. (women) and 9 tsp. (men) of sugar a day.
Now, I’m no saint. I have a huge sweet tooth but what I’ve learnt recently is that eating too much sugar can lead to external and internal health issues and a number of other things including: Weight gain, skin problems, depression and poor mental health, premature ageing, dental problems, hyperactivity, poor sleep and feeling sluggish, poor concentration, type 2 diabetes and poor heart health.
We have ‘good’ bacteria in our gut which helps process our food and with bowel movements and too much sugar affects this balance too. Yep, and hidden sugars are everywhere: Pasta sauces, baked beans, fruit juice, condiments, soft drinks (even the ‘healthy’ ones), you name it.
Consuming both obvious and hidden sugars has become a habit for many of us. So where do you begin to change the pattern?
30 Day Sugar Detox
Recently I took part in a 30-Day Sugar Detox. I didn’t just give up refined sugars either. As part of the detox, which I did with Nutritionist Catherine Jeans, I limited my intake to 1-2 portions of fruit a day (with zero fruit intake for the first 7 days). I also cut out white carbohydrates (for most of the time) and had only one portion of whole grains three times a day.
The detox didn’t exclude all naturally-occurring sugars such as those found in carbohydrates, milk and fruit but these were kept to a minimum. I even avoided sugars considered healthier than refined ones, including agave syrup, coconut sugar and maple syrup and foods sweetened with date syrup. I didn’t even eat anything continuing artificial sweeteners! (There’s no sugar in these ‘diet’ options but you’re still likely to crave sweet things after enjoying the sweet taste from sugar-free alternatives.)
It wasn’t easy but what made it achievable was having meal plans, helpful hints and tips to support my routine. The first week was easier than I’d envisaged. I felt lighter and more energised too, but more about some of the other highs later.
Despite what I read online, I didn’t get the headaches, nausea, cravings or mood swings during my first week. I did have a very slight head ache for a few days but nothing paracetamol didn’t fix. The other difficult part was the time it took to prepare and shop for the detox but it’s worth the effort – as a result, nearly two months later, many of these new habits and brands have stuck around.
Make sure you stock your cupboard and fridge with as many sugar-free foods and hacks as possible and do a menu plan for the week ahead, including a list of things you can snack on. Stick this to your fridge!
Eat with your ears: Make your meal plan descriptions sound delectable. (I referred to my fridge list it every time I was peckish or wanted something to look forward to – it meant I didn’t feel deprived and I knew what I could reach for.)
Foods to avoid: alcohol, refined white grains, crisps, sweet treats and pastries, most breakfast cereals, very sweet fruit, dried fruit, very starchy veg, cordials and fizzy drinks, ready meals and processed foods, cereal bars and flapjacks.
Foods to eat in moderation: dark chocolate, cashews, fruit (2 portions a day), raw honey, beans and pulses, starchy grains and occasional alcohol (red wine, gin/vodka).
Foods to fill up on: Lean protein, low starchy vegetables, healthy fats, temperate fruit and oily fish.
Sample Menu Plan
Here’s an idea of the things you can eat on a sugar detox. If you eat meat and fish you’ll have more options than below:
Chocolate chia seed and vanilla puds (see previous post)
Super green and ginger breakfast smoothie
Avocado and sprouting beans on toasted brown sourdough
Scrambled eggs and kale
Asparagus and blue hens’ poached eggs (these eggs have a rich, bright orange yolk)
Yoghurt with fresh berries and chopped nuts
Mixed mushroom and thyme omelette, with roasted veg side salad
Courgetti pasta with homemade basil pesto and feta (or salmon)
Vegetarian crustless quiche with salad
Salad nicoise with soft boiled eggs and homemade vinegerette
Garlic portobello mushroom with kale
Homemade salmon (potato-less) fish cakes with spirilized stir-fry veg
Stir fry with tofu, brown udon noodles
Veggie cottage pie topped with cauliflower and celeriac
Veggie sausages, lots of greens a small dollop of sweet potato mash
Sugar-free cacao and avocado pie
Homemade harissa hummus and veg sticks
Oatcakes with cream cheese
Hard boiled egg
The Curve Balls
I’ll cut to the chase – I did slip up a handful of times which is easily done, if like me, you fall unwell a couple of times during the detox (it’s hard to be healthy when you’re poorly!) and especially if you have weddings, parties or birthdays – it’s not always possible to take your own pack up. My biggest faux pas is pictured below – Churros, during this year’s Latitude – uh huh! (I was good as gold for the rest of the festival, promise).
Of course, it’s much easier to stick to the detox when you’re home or if you plan your meals fastidiously. When I wasn’t as prepared as I’d hoped, that’s when I became unstuck.
So go easy on yourself. It doesn’t matter if you trip up, get back up again and keep going. I did and I was glad I stuck to it.
How I felt afterwards
I did feel much lighter and brighter. I actually felt fuller than I usually do because I was eating more protein. Yes, there were times I was hungry but actually knowing the foods I could eat, meant that I didn’t want to overeat. I lost some weight too which was a bonus!
Benefits of the Detox
• I realised that my mainly vegetarian diet doesn’t usually contain enough protein (and I’ve since found out I’m actually anaemic). So I’ve now started to incorporate more healthy proteins into my diet
• Doing the detox has changed my habits! Not all of them (I do still love white carbohydrates) but the positive impacts include:
o I’m having proper healthy breakfasts again and as a result snacking less or grabbing unhealthy foods before lunch
o Snacking less in the evening
o I’m eating around 40% more whole grains than I was
o I’m eating fewer carbohydrates than I was (I was eating a lot before!)
o Drinking around 70% less alcohol in the evenings
o I’ve reduced the amount of chocolate and vegan ice cream I eat (this was almost every night, now it’s twice a week)
o I’ve now keep slices of sugar-free tortes in my freezer (ooh, get me!)
o I’m not drinking as much caffeine and actually enjoy a good quality decaf coffee now and then (make sure you find a good quality bean form your favourite local independent coffee house)
It’s £69 to take part in Catherine Jeans’ online detox course. I’d really recommend going through a nutritionist like Catherine because you’re more likely to stick to it and you’ll fully understand the facts – you’ll be armed with a really informative presentation on sugar, a selection of meal plans and recipes to try and a host of tips and hints to help keep on track. For more about how you can take part in the 30 Day Detox.