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The average amount of sugar consumed in the United States is still around 94 grams per day, or 358 calories, despite the fact that it may seem that Americans are doing so less frequently than in recent decades. That’s a lot of sugar, but things don’t need to be this way. To greatly reduce this number, you can even adopt a sugar-free diet.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that cutting out sources of extra sugar from your diet can aid in weight loss while also lowering your risk for a variety of common health issues, including type 2 diabetes, digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, and more. Sugar is after all unhealthy. So what can you eat that is still filling but free of sugar?
You’ll get the majority of your calories from proteins—like grass-fed meat, eggs, or fish, for example—as well as lots of vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, and other detoxifying foods when following a low-sugar or sugar-free diet. Even though the transition away from eating a lot of sugar may seem difficult at first, causing cravings and even other symptoms that can mimic “withdrawal,” you’ll probably start to see results in a few weeks.
Consuming excessive amounts of sugar can worsen inflammation, mess with hormone production, drain your energy, and even affect your mood and sleep. Because of this, quitting your sugar addiction and substituting nutrient-dense calories for “empty” ones will result in noticeable changes.
A Sugar-Free Diet: What Is It?
A sugar-free diet (or no-sugar diet) typically discourages eating high-carbohydrate foods like grains or fruits, which can still be beneficial but do contain natural sugars, as well as all sources of added sugar (like soda, snack bars, and desserts, for example).
Depending on your objectives and preferences, there are numerous different low-sugar meal plans available. You can decide to cut out pretty much all sources of sugar from your diet, including things like fruit and even some vegetables, or you can pick to cut out only processed foods that are highly processed and sweetened and high in empty calories. In any case, there are many advantages to replacing sugar with satiating, nourishing foods like lean proteins and healthy fats. Another benefit is that most sugar-free or low-sugar diets don’t require calorie counting because doing away with processed foods usually yields results on its own.
The advantages of consuming less sugar instead of more whole foods are:
- Help with losing weight and preventing obesity
- Lowered risk for type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
- Gaining more energy
- Having more stable moods
- Reduced risk for inflammatory digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, candida, IBS, and intolerance to wheat/gluten or FODMAP foods — many also notice less constipation, diarrhea, stomach bloating or acid reflux
- When sugar contributes to obesity, a sugar-free diet lowers the risk for conditions related to metabolic syndromes, such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, and heart disease
- Possibly less risk for cancer
- Protection against fatty liver disease
- Better protection against other common conditions related to inflammation, weight gain, and nutrient deficiencies like hemorrhoids, kidney stones, peptic ulcer, PMS, autoimmune diseases, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and neurological diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
To reduce your sugar intake and deal with cravings for sweets or refined carbohydrates — a very common problem among most people looking to lose weight or improve their eating habits — there are five main steps which are discussed in more detail below:
- Eat more fiber.
- Increase the amount of protein in your diet.
- Increase your intake of healthy fats.
- Consume sour (including probiotic/fermented) foods.
- Read ingredient labels carefully when grocery shopping to know exactly what you’re consuming, as most people are unaware of how much sugar they’re consuming.
Why is a high-sugar diet unhealthy? Sugar can alter the gut microbiota, increasing intestinal permeability and thus inflammation. It can also contribute to overeating and obesity, resulting in a slew of negative physiological changes.
A low-sugar, low-glycemic index diet can help balance your blood sugar levels throughout the day, prevent insulin resistance (a long-term effect of a high-sugar diet), protect you from fatty liver disease and heart disease, control your appetite, and keep you fuller and more energized for longer. A sugar-free or low-sugar diet is very similar to a “low-glycemic index diet.” The glycemic index (GI) is defined as “a measure of the blood glucose-raising potential of a food’s carbohydrate content in comparison to a reference food (generally pure glucose, or sugar).” The GI number of a food indicates how quickly it is converted into sugar after consumption; the higher the GI number, the more dramatically the food will raise your blood sugar level.
All carbohydrates raise blood glucose (sugar), but this does not imply that they are all unhealthy and should be avoided. Sugary, processed foods have a much greater impact on blood glucose levels than whole, unprocessed foods. Table sugar, white bread, white rice, white potatoes, white flour, and all other types of sweeteners, for example, have high GI values.
A food’s GI value is determined by several factors, including how much sugar it contains, how processed it is, the fibre content, and what other types of foods it is paired with (this determines “the glycemic load”).
- High-GI foods with a lot of added sugar and/or refined grains that you should avoid in your diet include:
- Most breads, processed breakfast cereals, cookies, snack bars, cakes, and desserts are refined grain products made with white flour.
- dairy products with added sugar
- soda and bottled juices are examples of sweetened beverages.
- all varieties of table/cane sugar
Depending on your health, all other natural sweeteners such as honey, syrups, molasses, and so on should be avoided, and in some cases, other sweet ingredients such as dried fruits (raisins, craisins, and dates) and starchy root vegetables (such as white potatoes, beets, or winter squash) should be avoided.
Best Sugar-Free Foods
Healthy protein foods:
Grass-fed beef, lamb, venison, or other game
Free-range poultry like chicken or turkey
High-quality protein powders, including bone broth, collagen, whey protein (ideally from raw goat milk) or pea protein
Lentils, beans, and other legumes (ideally soaked and sprouted to help with digestion)
Wild fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc.
Organic natto or tempeh (fermented soybean product)
Raw milk and fermented dairy products like kefir or yogurt
High-fiber foods (may contain small amounts of natural sugars):
Cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.
Other veggies (aim for a combination of cooked and raw) like bell peppers, cucumber, carrots, green peas, okra, turnips, squash, zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes, etc.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds
Beans like black beans, navy beans, adzuki, lentils, lima, split, mung, etc.
In moderate amounts, whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats, amaranth, buckwheat, teff, farro, etc.
In smaller amounts, other fruits that are a bit higher in sugar, like apples, bears, figs, prunes, oranges, grapefruit, melon or kiwi
Coconut oil, milk, butter or cream
Real virgin olive oil
Nuts like walnuts, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, etc.
Seeds like chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.
Other oils like MCT oil, palm fruit oil, hemp seed, flaxseed, avocado oil, etc.
Sour foods, probiotic foods, and other detoxifying ingredients:
Cultured veggies like salted gherkin pickles, olives, or kimchi
Kombucha or coconut kefir
Natto, tempeh or miso
Lemon and lime juice
Apple cider vinegar (use some in salad dressing or in water with some lemon juice)
All fresh herbs and spices, like ginger, garlic, parsley, oregano, turmeric, etc.
Stevia (extract, green crystalized or drops). Stevia is a no-calorie, natural sweetener that makes a good sugar substitute in recipes. Use it in drinks or on foods in place of regular white table sugar.
How to Avoid Sugar (Sugar Detox):
Read the ingredient labels carefully so you know exactly what’s in the food you’re eating. (7) This is especially true when purchasing or consuming “sneaky” sugary foods such as condiments, sauces, canned foods, beverages, and so on.
Aim for 35-40 grams of fiber per day to keep your appetite in check. Begin by eating more high-fiber foods, such as fresh vegetables and nuts and seeds like chia seeds and flaxseeds.
Drink plenty of water to aid digestion and elimination. Aim for eight glasses of water per day.
If you must sweeten foods, begin with stevia (rather than artificial sweeteners). If you can’t stand the taste of stevia, you can use natural sweeteners like raw honey, blackstrap molasses, dates, or pureed fruit in small amounts (like bananas or apples).
Also, limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Many mixed drinks are high in sugar and calories, and alcohol can increase your appetite and trigger cravings.
Even if the food is low in sugar/carbs, try to limit packaged foods that are highly processed and very salty in your diet. Replace fast foods and fried foods with healthier alternatives that you can prepare at home — this way, you can control the ingredients.
A sugar-free diet is based on the following principles:
White granulated sugar, dextrose, fructose, brown sugar, confectioner’s powdered sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, inverted sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, nectars (for example, peach or pear nectar), raw sugar, sucrose, and others should be avoided.
Eat balanced meals that include a healthy source of protein, vegetables, and healthy fat. This combination will help you feel fuller, energized, and focused throughout the day. If you do include carbohydrates, try to make them complex carbs with fiber, and watch your portion sizes.
Don’t consume your calories. Avoid soda, juice, and artificially sweetened beverages. Instead of sugary drinks, try plain water, seltzer, herbal tea, bone broth, or black coffee. In small amounts, unsweetened coconut milk or water can also be beneficial.
Suggestions for sugar-free meals:
For Breakfast: Unsweetened oats with nuts, seeds, coconut milk, stevia, and cinnamon; avocado toast with hard-boiled eggs; unsweetened goat’s milk yogurt with grain-free granola; and a homemade green smoothie.
Lunch: consists of a large salad with sliced chicken and avocado; quiche with soup and salad; a salmon or turkey burger; and a homemade brown rice bowl with veggies and beans.
For supper: a palm-sized serving of steak with veggies and possibly some rice or quinoa; a piece of fish with salad, veggies, and half a sweet potato; chorizo burrito, tacos, or empanadas; balsamic chicken with tomato and mozzarella; brown rice, broccoli, and chicken stir-fry.
You may experience some side effects when changing your diet, depending on how many carbohydrates you continue to consume after eliminating sugar. These usually go away within one to three weeks as your body adjusts to eating less processed foods and more healthy fats and fiber.
To help your digestive system and appetite adjust, you may want to gradually transition to a lower-carb, sugar-free diet. It is not uncommon to experience some of the following side effects while changing your diet:
- Tiredness or a lack of energy
- Bloating and gassiness are examples of digestive problems.
- Fog in the mind
- Sleep and appetite modifications
The Bottom line
A sugar-free diet (also known as a no-sugar diet) is one that eliminates added sugars and most processed foods. This diet, like the low-glycemic index and low-carb diets, helps reduce your body’s reliance on glucose (sugar) for energy.
A sugar-free diet can help you lose weight, normalize your blood sugar, prevent insulin resistance, reduce cravings, give you more energy, and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Try focusing on the following changes to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet: Reduce or avoid sugary foods such as cookies, cakes, candy, and soft drinks; pair carbohydrates with proteins and healthy fats to make your meals more filling; consume unprocessed complex carbs rather than simple carbs; and limit your consumption of flour and white refined grains. Eat more high-fiber foods like vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and less starchy foods like white potatoes, white bread, rice, and so on.