Sugar is the most pervasive food additive that has ever existed. It’s in everything, from your morning oatmeal to your after-dinner treat. It’s there because it makes those foods taste better. But sugar is no innocent taste bud enticer. It can harm your health, affect your mood, and potentially cause you to gain weight.
What is a No-Sugar Diet?
A no sugar diet, also referred to as a sugar-free diet, gets at the root of the problem. With a no sugar diet, all sources of added sugar are removed from your diet. This includes the obvious ones such as the tablespoons of white granules that you heap into your wake-up coffee and the masses of sugar that makes ice cream so delicious. But it also takes on the hidden sugars that are prevalent in many processed foods.
For some people, a sugar-free diet includes cutting out foods that contain natural sugars, such as fruits and grains. But this is more related to a complete sugar detox and isn’t necessarily a fit for every person interested in cutting back on sugar. The degree to which a person cuts out sugars is similar to the various options for a person who decides to become a vegetarian. Depending on their preferences he or she may go vegan, lacto, ovo, or a number of different variants. Choosing one over the other doesn’t make a person any less of a vegetarian, they simply exist at different points along a spectrum.
So, too, with a no-sugar diet. Whether you decide to eliminate added processed sugar sources or go a step further and remove natural sugars as well is a personal decision. Like any decision, however, it should be based on accurate knowledge. To help you make an informed decision about which type of no-sugar diet is best for you, let’s delve into some sugar basics.
Know the Different Types of Sugar
For our ancestors, sugar came in one form; it occurred naturally in such foods as fruit, vegetables, and honey. These foods were both nutrient-dense and limited in their availability by season and geography. The result was that people back then didn’t consume very many sugars throughout the course of their day.
Today the situation is radically different. People are gorging themselves on sugar, with dire consequences.
Why the difference? Because we have created a whole new type of sugar, one that we’ll refer to as refined sugar.
Natural versus Refined
So, what’s the difference between natural and refined sugar? At the simplest level, sugar is sugar. Sugar molecules are basically the same whether they come from a banana or a cupcake. Refined sugar has been extracted from plants – mainly sugar cane and sugar beets – and processed prior to being added to food products in order to improve their taste.
Natural sugars are those that occur in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. While the sugars in these foods are no different from those in processed foods, the other nutrients in whole foods – vitamins, minerals and fiber – are much better for you. In addition to providing the fuel that your body needs to function well, these nutrients also slow down the digestion of glucose, which is what sugar is broken down into when it enters the body. This helps to prevent the insulin spikes which occur when you eat a lot of sugar.
Different Types of Sugar
All sugars are forms of carbohydrate. There are two basic categories of carbs; digestible and indigestible. They are also sometimes referred to as available and unavailable.
Unavailable carbs pass directly through the body unchanged. We used to call this roughage, but now it is better known as fiber.
Available carbs are made up of sugars and starches. Both of them have basic units called monosaccharides, which are sugars made up of a single unit. The most common monosaccharides are glucose, fructose, and galactose. Glucose is the first product of photosynthesis in plants and is the main source of energy for plants and animals. Fructose, together with some glucose and sucrose, is found in fruits. Galactose occurs only in the animal kingdom, as part of milk sugar, which is called lactose.
Starch, which occurs as a store of energy in plants, consists of a large number of glucose units joined together. Starchy carbs are in such foods as potatoes, yams, and grains like rice.
The type of sugar that is extracted from plants and then refined to be used in processed foods is called sucrose. It consists of one unit of glucose added to one unit of fructose.
When deciding whether or not to consume a form of carbohydrate, there is one simple question you should ask yourself . . .
Did this food come out of the ground or off the tree or plant this way?
If the answer to that question is yes, then you are looking at a natural, unrefined food. If not, there is a good chance that it has added sugar. To find out, go to the ingredient list on the packaging. If you see sugar or sucrose or any other form of sugar listed there, put the product back on the shelf.
21 Ways to say ‘Sugar’
If you see any of these names on ingredient lists, read it as sugar and be wary:
|Agave Nectar||Brown Rice Syrup||Dextran|
|Barley Malt Syrup||Corn Sweetwater||Fructose|
|Beet Sugar||Corn Syrup||Honey|
|Molasses||Palm Sugar||Rice Syrup|
|Invert Sugar||Maltodextrin||Maple Syrup|
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
High fructose corn syrup is one of the most common forms of sugar. The average American consumes about 35 pounds of it each year. In high fructose corn syrup, fructose and glucose are not chemically attached. The fructose is immediately delivered to your liver. It turns on a fat production mechanism that can lead to fatty liver. It’s also linked to the same negative health effects as all forms of sugar such as heart disease, cancer, dementia, and diabetes.
There can also be chemical contaminants in high fructose corn syrup, including mercury. High fructose corn syrup is commonly made using mercury cell chlor-alkali products, which can leave residual mercury in it. With the average person consuming some 20 teaspoons a day of high fructose corn syrup, this can lead to a dangerous build-up of mercury in your system.
High fructose corn syrup is a signal that the food that contains it is low quality and ultra-processed. You need to go into your kitchen and identify the foods that contain HFCS. Collect them all up in your arms and drop them into the garbage bin.
Why Is Sugar Bad for You?
There is no human nutritional need that is met by sugar. It is not a food group, or even a food at all. Sugar is a chemical (sucrose) that has been extracted from plants and it contains absolutely no nutritional value. That is why the calories that you get from sugar are referred to as “empty calories”.
The only thing that sugar has going for it is that it makes your food taste better. That’s it!
But that enhanced flavor comes at a massive cost. Let’s consider what refined sugar actually does to your body.
What Sugar is Really Doing to Your Body
Why is sugar bad for you? The possible effects of putting too much sugar into your body include:
- Chronic inflammation
- Premature aging
- Formation of free radicals
- Higher LDL cholesterol
- Hair loss
- Tooth decay
- Acne and skin irritations
- Cardiovascular disease
Every single one of the tens of thousands of taste buds in your mouth have special sweetness receptors. Each of them is also connected to the brain’s pleasure center. In effect, they receive a reward for satisfying the body’s sugar fix.
But the craving isn’t just in your taste buds. Recent research has discovered that sugar taste receptors are also located in the stomach, esophagus and even the pancreas. All of them are linked to your appetite.
When it comes to addiction, cocaine’s got nothing on sugar.
Here’s what Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of The Hunger Fix , has to say about it:
“Animal studies have shown that refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine, heroin, or morphine. An animal will choose an Oreo over morphine. Why? This cookie has the perfect combination of sugar and fat to hijack the brain’s reward center.”
For more than 80 years now, food manufacturers have been well aware of the human sugar addiction. They use this knowledge to increase their profit margins in countless ways. As a result, sugar is in everything. Recognizing this and going on a zero sugar diet will revolutionize your health.
Sugar’s Effect on Insulin Levels
So what does your body do with all that sugar you’re consuming? Here’s one way to think about it: Imagine the cells in your body as tiny cars. They all need gasoline to work. To provide that fuel, sugar has to get inside the tank of all those cells, and it does that through the use of insulin.
When you eat something with sugar in it, the sugar moves into your bloodstream. When there’s sugar in the blood, the pancreas secretes insulin. Now there is both insulin and sugar in the blood. The insulin travels through the bloodstream and binds to insulin receptors on the outside of each cell. This then sends a signal to the inside of the cell to open up a sugar door to allow the fuel that is the sugar into the cell.
However, in order for the signal to get from the insulin receptors on the outside of the cell to the inside where the door is opened to let the sugar in, certain key minerals and other nutrients need to be present within the cell. If they are not there, the door will remain closed.
So what happens to all the sugar? It piles up in the blood.
As a response to this, the body makes more insulin. This is called Insulin Resistance Syndrome. It is also known as Syndrome X and Metabolic Syndrome.
When insulin piles up in the bloodstream in huge amounts, by sheer volumetric pressure, it punches holes in the cell wall and the cell dies.
So, if you’ve ever wondered why people with diabetes get gangrene, and lose their toes, fingers, and limbs, now you know!
Insulin also stimulates the release of a fat-storing enzyme known as LPL. LPL takes the excess blood sugar and turns it into stored body fat.
How a No-Sugar Diet Works
Now that we’ve established that sugar is not only in nearly everything in the supermarket but also extremely addictive, it may seem like going on a no-sugar diet would be almost impossible. In this section, we provide you with a path to going sugar free that, while not easy, is definitely achievable.
Become a Label Reader
Going sugar free requires you to be a detective of sorts. That’s because manufacturers have hidden sugars in many foods that we wouldn’t normally associate with being sweet. Fortunately, the law requires that they disclose what they are putting into the foods they dish up to us. So, the first step to success on a sugar free diet is to learn to read labels.
As you embark upon your sugar-free diet-journey, you may choose to eliminate all foods that contain sugar in any quantity. Or you may choose to limit yourself to foods with less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 grams. This will wipe out 90% of all processed foods.
Many people find it easier to visualize amounts of sugar in teaspoons. In order to calculate the sugar content in teaspoons, divide the sugar content by 4. So, 4 grams of sugar is roughly equivalent to one teaspoon.
When you are reading an ingredient list, remember that the nearer an item is to the top of the list, the more of it there is in the product.
Identify Common Culprits
There are a number of everyday kitchen staples that we often don’t associate with having sugar that you need to know and avoid in order to succeed on a no-sugar diet. They contain what are called hidden sugars. For a list of examples, take a look at our article on how much sugar is in the foods we eat everyday. For now, here are 10 common foods that may have high levels of sugar:
|Ketchup||Canned Vegetables||Soup||Fruit Juice||Energy Drinks|
|Dried Fruit||Yogurt||Granola Bars||Cereals||Bread|
That loaf of bread that looks so appetizing is, in fact, a gooey, indigestible and incomplete protein, a few multivitamins, and a whole lot of sugar. White bread, in particular, is problematic for the body. It’s empty calories— bleached flour that has all the nutrients stripped out of it. That’s why most health-conscious people tend to go with whole-wheat bread. Recently, sprouted grain bread, not made with flour, has also become popular. Sprouted grain bread contains real, living grains with all the nutrients and fiber retained.
We associate rice with healthy food, in part because it’s a staple of the Asian diet. Yet, recent research indicates that white rice may be linked to type 2 diabetes. Harvard researchers found that people who eat white rice are 1 ½ times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who eat minimal amounts. One study published in the British Medical Journal found that the risk of diabetes increased 10% for every extra bowl of white rice consumed.
The problem with white rice is that it is high on the glycemic index. If you have diabetes, it will cause your blood sugar levels to spike. According to the head researcher of the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition, Emily Hu, “People should try to make a switch from eating refined carbs like white rice and white bread to eating more whole grains.”
Restock your Refrigerator
What’s in your fridge is going to make or break your sugar-free diet. The shelves in your fridge should contain the following items:
Water Unsweetened iced tea Fruits and veggies Dairy (milk, cheese, and plain yogurt) Eggs Peanut butter (all natural) Lean cuts of beef, skinless chicken, turkey, and pork
Eat More Fat and Protein
As sugar is often found in foods containing a lot of carbohydrates, when you go on a low-sugar diet, you will likely be consuming fewer carbs. While you’ll want to make sure to still eat healthy carbs like whole grains and vegetables, you’ll also want to make sure you consume healthy fats and proteins, which will help you feel satiated.
Unlike fructose, proteins and fats contain hormones that tell the brain to switch off the appetite when we are full. They are both nutrient-dense foods that slow the emptying of the stomach and balance blood sugar.
A large intake of protein decreases the hormone ghrelin, which leads to a lower desire for sweets. Protein also seems to stimulate fat metabolism. Any foods that are eaten along with protein will have a lowered glycemic index value, leading to a decreased insulin response. This is great if you are concerned about your weight because spikes in insulin levels promote fat storage.
Eating a high-quality protein at every meal is a key to success on a no-sugar diet. The best sources of protein are from fish, poultry, legumes, and nuts.
Fat is also great for keeping blood sugar under control. That’s because it releases a hormone called CCK (cholecystokinin), a digestive hormone that slows down the emptying of the stomach and therefore, in turn, slows down the rate at which carbs get to the small intestine. Fat also fuels the metabolism and is essential to the absorption of essential vitamins A, E, D and K.
Of course, success on a sugar-free diet requires that you eat the right kinds of fats. Monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, and sesame oil are good choices. You’ll also find monounsaturated fats in avocados, sunflower seeds, and many nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are also smart options. There are two categories of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Fish like salmon and mackerel are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids; so are nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseeds. You’ll find omega-6 fatty acids in safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils.
Say No to Liquid Sugar
Drinking your sugar is even worse for you than eating it. That’s because refined sugar in liquid form provides very little satiety. All they do is add extra calories to your system.
As you are probably aware, sodas contain a huge amount of sugar. However, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks are also full of sugar. To keep things simple on your sugar-free diet, you should avoid all of these drinks.
What about diet sodas? Many people think diet sodas are an acceptable alternative to regular sodas. However, researchers at Purdue University have found that consuming diet sodas can contribute to weight gain. The researchers aren’t quite sure why but suspect that it may be psychological.
When a person chooses a diet soda, the researchers speculate, they may reason that since they are not having a regular soda, they can get away with eating a cheeseburger instead of a salad. Another theory is that the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas trick the brain into thinking that you have just consumed a large dose of calories. When those calories don’t appear as promised, the body starts to crave them, which leads to an increased appetite.
The bottom line here is that success on a sugar-free diet requires that you ditch the liquid sugar habit and drink more water. Aim for to 8-10 glasses per day and drink a full glass before every meal.
The Breakfast Cereal Makeover
Many people are shocked to discover how much sugar is in so-called “healthy” breakfast cereals. To pick on just one example, Kellogg’s All-Bran Regular contains 16 grams of sugar for every 100 grams of cereal. That is more than three times the 5-gram limit we suggested earlier!
This doesn’t mean that going sugar-free requires that you avoid cereal altogether. You just have to make smarter choices. Your best option is to make your own muesli at home, as the store-bought variety often contains too much sugar. Simply mix together oat flakes, rye flakes, buckwheat flakes, nuts, seeds, and other wholesome ingredients. You can eat the homemade muesli with milk or yogurt that contains less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 gram serving.
Stop it at the Source
If you were determined to quit smoking, you’d probably make a pact with yourself to stop buying cigarettes. The same thing goes with adopting a no-sugar diet. You need to stop buying products containing a lot of sugar at the supermarket.
Here are four strategies to help you achieve this:
Never shop when you are hungry. Have a shopping list prepared. Stick to the perimeter of the store, where the produce and refrigerated foods are, only picking up the low-sugar items that are on your list. When you see a sugar-laden food that looks appealing, repeat the mantra, “That doesn’t apply to me.”
Focus on Fiber
Fiber is a key ally in your quest to quit sugar. Researchers believe that fiber may play an important role in controlling blood sugar levels because it forms a thick gel in the intestine that helps slow digestion and glucose absorption. This results in lower blood sugar and insulin levels. Some foods with a lot of fiber include oranges, grapefruits, prunes, papaya, zucchini, oatmeal, peas, and strawberries.
Ideally, you should include five servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of whole fruit every day while on a sugar-free diet. That may sound like a lot, but it simply requires having a piece of fruit with breakfast, a nice salad with lunch, and a couple of vegetables for dinner with fruit for dessert.
Of course, if you are going completely sugar-free for a period of time, including avoiding natural sugars, you will want to get your fiber from vegetables, nuts, and quinoa instead of fruit.
Eat Early and Often
If you are one of those people who have gotten into the habit of missing breakfast, skimping on lunch ,and then downing a massive dinner followed by nighttime snacking, you are sending your blood sugar on a wild roller coaster ride. The lack of food throughout the day will cause your blood sugar levels to take a dive, only to go through the roof with your evening feasting. That is a fast track to obesity.
The far smarter way to go is to eat smaller meals more frequently. If you are consuming 1800 calories over the course of your day, 6 meals of 300 calories each spaced three hours apart, will help to keep your blood sugar levels in check as a result of what is called the next meal effect; with another small meal coming up, the less your glucose levels will rise, keeping your insulin levels lower throughout the day.
Resist Partner Pressure
Ideally, your partner will be eating the same no-sugar diet as you, but there are no guarantees. Here are four strategies to prevent your partner from, even inadvertently, sabotaging your sugar-free ambitions:
1. If your partner comes home at night with junk food, ask him or her to keep it out of your sight. Then go over the take-out menu and circle the healthy options for the next time.
2. Take your partner to the supermarket with you, so that when he or she goes alone, it’s clear where to find the low-sugar options.
3. Control your serving sizes at meals by using a salad plate for yourself, even if your partner uses a dinner plate.
4. Challenge your partner to a no-sugar diet duel. Who can get in 25 grams of fiber every day for a week or keep their added sugar intake at zero for five days in a row? The loser has to do the dishes for a month!
30-Day Diet Plan
Here’s where we put everything we’ve covered so far into action. Your 30-day diet plan will take you from sugar bound to sugar free, opening up a new, cleaner, and healthier way of eating that will help you shed pounds and feel fantastic.
We’ll provide you with a 7-day sugar free meal plan, which can be repeated for the first four weeks (keeping to a small inventory of meals will make it easier to keep to the plan during that first transition month) along with some sample recipes and ten tips on how to make a success of your first month of sugar free eating.
7-Day No-Sugar Diet Meal Plan
|Breakfast||1 slice whole grain toast with 1 tsp all-natural almond butter||1 serving multigrain cereal||Oatmeal with milk and berries||1 serving multigrain cereal||1 slice whole grain toast with 1 tsp all-natural almond butter||1 serving frittata with ham and green pepper||2 soft boiled eggs
1 slice whole wheat toast
|Snack||1 small pear|
8 baby carrots
|3 cups air-popped popcorn||Sliced raw vegetables|
1 oz string cheese
|1 small pear|
8 baby carrots
|3 cups air-popped popcorn||1 peach||1 cup frozen grapes|
|Lunch||Lamb cutlets with cauliflower and chili sauce||Tuna sandwich with lettuce, tomato, ½ cup tuna, and 2 slices whole grain bread||1 turkey roll-up|
1 cup honeydew melon
|1 medium whole grain pita with hummus, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers||1 serving Greek-style |
1 cup spinach salad
|1 cup low sodium vegetable soup|
2 slices whole grain bread
|Large salad with 3 oz grilled chicken and ½ avocado|
|Snack||1 apple||1 orange||2 whole- grain crackers with avocado||1 orange||1 apple||1 peach||2 whole-grain crackers with avocado|
|Dinner||1.5 cups whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce|
1 cup broccoli with garlic and onions
|3 oz baked chicken|
1 baked potato
1 cup steamed green beans
1 sweet potato
|1 serving baked cod with tartar sauce|
¼ cup roasted yams
|3 oz grilled salmon|
1 serving quinoa with peppers and beans
1 serving steamed spinach
|1 serving grilled flank steak|
½ cup brown rice
1 cup steamed asparagus
|3 oz roasted pork chop
1 baked potato
1 cup steamed green beans
½ cup steamed carrots
|Snack||1 cup frozen mixed berries||10-12 almonds||Fruit smoothie||1 cup frozen mixed berries||½ cup sliced fruit topped with plain yogurt||Fruit smoothie||10-12 almonds|
No-Sugar Diet Recipe Examples
- 1 cup milk or plain yogurt
- 1 small banana
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
- ½ cup frozen berries
- Add all ingredients together in a blender and blend until smooth.
Frittata with Ham and Green Pepper
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 8 slices ham
- 8 large eggs
- ¼ cup water
- 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over low heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until crisp-tender, for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the ham and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate.
- In a large bowl, beat eggs with the water and remaining salt and pepper.
- Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp. butter in the skillet over low heat. Pour in the eggs and spread them evenly with a rubber spatula. Scatter the ham mixture and cheese over the top, cover, and cook until the eggs are set, about 20 minutes. Slide the frittata onto a plate and serve immediately.
Lamb Cutlets with Cauliflower and Chili Sauce
- 4 cups cauliflower florets
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Desired amount of chilies
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 4 garlic cloves, finely diced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 6 lamb cutlets
- In a food processor with the fitted blade, pulse the cauliflower until it resembles rice. Place the cauliflower rice and chicken stock in a large saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in the olive oil and lemon juice, then season to taste. Cover to keep warm.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the tomatoes, garlic, onion, chilies, salt, and pepper =. Place over medium heat and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5-7 minutes, or until sauce thickens.
- Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium heat, heat the coconut oil. Salt and pepper the cutlets, then sear for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden. Serve the cutlets with the chili-tomato sauce and cauliflower rice.
Ten Tips for Success on a No Sugar Diet
1. Use Sunday afternoons to prepare one or more of the dinner dishes for the coming week, making enough for 2 or 3 meals.
2. Wash and dry a week’s worth of salad greens in advance and keep wrapped in a kitchen towel in an air-tight container
3. When you choose whole-grain breads, look for “whole wheat” as the first ingredient.
4. Use a variety of greens in salads. Darker leaf lettuce is higher in nutrients than iceberg. Try a combination of spinach, kale, arugula, and romaine for added flavor.
5. Quinoa is a seed that comes from the Andes Mountains in South America. It has a high protein content. Rinse quinoa before cooking to remove the saponin, which tastes bitter.
6. Drink 8-10 glasses of water daily, having a full glass before each meal. You can also drink green tea, which is a good source of antioxidants.
7. If you are vegetarian, you may substitute any of the following for 2 ounces of meat: one egg, ½ cup beans, 4 oz tofu, 1 1/2 oz low-fat cheese. 4 oz nuts or 1 Tbsp. nut butter.
8. Steer clear of temptation. Avoid situations where you know you’ll be tempted to cheat. If you can’t avoid it, plan ahead by eating a nutritious sugar-free meal before arriving and bringing healthy snacks with you.
9. Get a good night’s sleep. When you’re tired, you’re more likely to reach for a sugary snack to get a quick shot of energy. Make your bedroom a technology-free zone—that means no cellphone, television, or computer.
10. Exercise regularly. Working out can provide you with the feel-good endorphins to replace the ones that come from gorging on sugar. Exercise will also help to release stress, improve sleep, and blunt appetite, all of which will help you to defeat sugar.
The Road Ahead
Having completed the 30-Day No Sugar Diet meal plan, you will have adopted a number of new healthy eating habits. By having educated yourself on how to stop eating sugar and taking action, you likely will have experienced some amazing changes. You might have lost weight, lowered your blood pressure, achieved clearer skin, and found yourself with a lot more natural energy.
From now on you will no longer need to follow a meal plan. Just continue to focus on eating vegetables, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats. Your sugar-free future awaits – it’s time to embrace it!