Want to quit refined sugar? Here’s how
Nutritionist Steph Lowe can outline a raft of benefits from quitting refined sugar, and the good news is she has just as much practical advice on where to start.
Among the positive health impacts are keeping your energy stable during the day instead of relying on those quick sugar fixes from foods you crave; reducing your risk of chronic illness in the long term; improving your mood; better skin and preventing inflammation.
Keeping the cravings at bay is all about satiety, Steph says.
“When you consume sugar, natural or refined, your body produces insulin to assimilate glucose into the cells. That circulating insulin keeps us hungry and keeps us on the carbohydrate train. Your body goes on this roller coaster of looking for more sugar and more energy.”
Steph says more nourishing food choices mean you don’t have to snack as frequently.
She warns reducing refined sugar intake isn’t easy – in fact Princeton University research shows sugar could be as addictive as drugs like cocaine.
The World Health Organisation is one that’s encouraging us to consume less sugar as it revises its intake guidelines. It currently recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake, but says a further reduction to below 5%, or six teaspoons per day, would provide additional health benefits.
“It’s quite a big issue encouraging people to go from 20 teaspoons a day to the recommended six because it’s quite a complicated addiction,” Steph says.
Her advice about how to reduce refined sugar consumption is “just eat real food” – or JERF for short.
“Real food doesn’t come in a box or a packet. Real food comes off a tree, out of the ground or from an animal. It’s a great way to indirectly eat better rather than someone saying ‘don’t eat this’.”
She says JERF can be a simple method to follow when you’re shopping at the supermarket, just by shopping to eat better. And that means not being tempted by those checkout specials or many of the foods found in the middle of the store.
“It’s fruit and veges, it’s meats, some cheese, or full fat yoghurt. Real food is found in the perimeter of the supermarket and we shouldn’t have need to walk down the aisles.”
Steph says if you do buy some boxed or packaged items, check the label so you’re fully informed about what you’re buying. Ingredients are listed in order of proportion, and if there are more than five ingredients, it can be good to think about a more nutritious option, she says.
When you’re evaluating sugar content in foods, she recommends being aware of hidden sugars. Marketers can label sugar using its various names, so it’s not always clear if an ingredient is sugar, Steph says.
And an analysis of a product’s sugars should also include checking the nutritional information panel. If there is less than eight grams of sugar in every 100 grams of product ingredients, that is a healthy choice, she says.
Steph also recommends buying food with quality top of mind.
“There might be better options than we can get at the supermarket and if we take an ethical approach we start to think about where that food comes from. When we talk about protein, it’s important to get grass fed and pasture raised and think about how well the animal is looked after, because the animal’s health impacts on us. We might swap to a butcher who we can have a conversation with about food quality.”
The move to more ‘real food’ doesn’t need to be an uphill climb, she says, adding people should notice their desire for refined sugar heavy foods lessening over time.
“Take it step by step. If you start eating real food just for one or two meals a day it’s a great place to start prioritising real food and removing refined sugar from your lives.”
Steph Lowe is part of the team at The Natural Nutritionist in Melbourne. She’s a sports nutritionist and triathlete who’s been gluten free for nine years.