We’ve been doing a lot of reading about healthy eating recently, maybe it’s to do with realising (probably a little too late!) that it is time to get fit for summer, but also because there seem to be so many new health ‘kicks’ at the moment. From juicing to supplements to going full-on vegan, there is a lot to get your head round. And we know the dangers of listening to fads, fashion and fly-by-night trends when it comes to your health.
But Sarah Wilson’s book, I Quit Sugar seemed a little different. The Facebook page, with almost 840,000 fans and Instagram, with 265k followers, prove that there is a real appetite for finishing with sugar completely. And Sarah claims that 1,180,000+ people around the world have already made the step to follow her eight-week programme.
So what’s it all about and what does it really mean for your health? Is quitting sugar the answer?
Sugar is widely regarded as the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. And added sugars (like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) contain a whole bunch of calories with no essential nutrients. Sugar is bad for your liver, your teeth and can even cause type II diabetes and cancer.
So, that’s the scaremongering out the way.
But sugar does make you feel good. Ever experienced a` sugar ‘high’? That’s because sugar releases dopamine in the reward centre of the brain (like abusive and addictive drugs). Plus it gives you energy. When you’re reaching for that Mars Bar at 3pm it’s your body’s way of saying it needs a bit of a boost.
With all the negative press about sugar you would think people would want to avoid it completely. But that is harder than you’d think, with sugar present in a surprising number of places. So even when you think you’re being ‘healthy’, you aren’t.
Low-fat and ‘diet’ foods often contain extra sugar to help improve their taste and to add bulk and texture in the place of fat.
Don’t think if it’s savoury it’s sugar-free. Ready-made soups and sauces may contain added sugar, and fruit isn’t safe either. The natural sugar in some fruit, including apples, has increased in recent years as new varieties are created to satisfy our desire for even more sweetness. Then there are the real offenders. A can of soft drink, on average, contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar.
So what should we be eating?
The new recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UK’s official nutrition advisors are that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should consist of added, or ‘free’ sugars. This equates to approximately five-six teaspoons (25g) for women and seven-eight teaspoons (35g) for men.
What would happen if you gave up sugar completely?
Sarah Wilson says that if you stop eating sugar you stop “eating crap” and that a sugar-free diet takes your mealtimes back to how your grandparents used to eat. In her book and on her blog she presents an eight week programme with meal plans, online videos and forums so you can chat with your fellow sugar-quitters.
In lots of ways it does make sense to quit sugar. Simply cutting out one type of food makes it simple to focus your diet. And you can’t deny the negative impact that sugar can have on your body. Avoiding processed meals and just eating “real food” inevitably makes you more healthy and gets rid of that mid-afternoon energy slump. Eating three hearty, filling meals and skipping desserts and chocolate binges have to be good for you, whether you’re trying to get in shape or want to implement a full-on lifestyle change.
However, I am not sure if I am ready to take the plunge into quitting sugar. Giving up anything from your diet needs careful and serious consideration and it isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Even though we, as a society, do over consume sugar I do not believe it is an evil or poisonous toxin that must be eliminated. Not least because of the sugars from fruit that I am sure I could not do without.
Sugar is a food that you should target for reduction but remember that small amounts can fit into a healthy diet. Just watch out for sugars sneaking into foods where you don’t expect them to be. And don’t be too cross with yourself if you end up reaching for a biscuit or a juicy apple. Enjoy a little bit of sweetness in your life.