Going ‘Sugar Free’ : Advice From Nutritionist Jenna Hope

As part of Sugar Free February I’m going sugar free (cutting out all refined sugar and added sweeteners e.g. maple syrup or stevia) to raise money to donate for meals for the homeless. I wanted to get a nutritionists perspective on if and why reducing sugar intake is a good option and if I was justified in removing unrefined sugars and most of the fruit from my diet.

Jenna Hope (ANutr), MSc, BSc (Hons) a registered nutritionist from Jenna Hope Nutrition wrote this guest post to clarify some commonly asked questions about sugar and going ‘sugar free’.

sugar free february advice

“Why go Sugar-Free?

Sugar has gradually built a terrible reputation. Research has linked sugar to a large number of diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and obesity to name a few. This research is not ground-breaking and it’s relatively widely accepted that sugar plays a role in contributing to these diseases.

Since the rise of the ‘sugar-free’ movement is increasing at a drastic rate it is important that we understand exactly what this means, which sugars we should avoid or reduce in our diet and which ones we require in small amounts.

sugar free february: nutritionists view

 

The ‘sugar- free’ industry & artificial sweeteners

The ‘sugar-free’ industry has radically taken off in the last couple of years. The ‘sugar-free’ product market is saturated and people are consuming more and more of these free-from foods on a regular basis. However, many of these ‘sugar-free’ foods are not sugar free at all.

In many cases ‘sugar-free’ simply means containing artificial sweeteners. Research has linked artificial sweeteners to the change in gut microbiota, increased cancer risk and metabolic disturbances. Consequently I recommend steering clear of artificial sweeteners where possible.

 

What about healthier less refined sugars?

Un-refined forms of sugar such as coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey and dates are also popular and often promoted as healthy. Yes these sugar ingredients are natural but nonetheless they’re still sugar.

Coconut sugar, maple syrup and honey may have a marginally lower glycemic index than refined white sugar, however, they still significantly spike blood sugar levels, promote insulin production (which in excess promotes fat storage) and leave us craving more sweet foods. Some people argue that these sugars can be beneficial as they contain micronutrients unlike refined sugar. However, the amount of micronutrients present in these sugars do not consider them worthy of being ‘healthy’.

honey unrefined sugar

 

Dates and dried fruit are a better alternative to these syrupy sugars as they contain fibre which slows the blood sugar spike and so they may be a better option but should not be consumed in excess. When consuming dried fruits or foods higher in natural sugars I recommend eating them with nuts, nut butter or another source of protein/ fats as these also help slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream.

 

What about fresh fruit?

Fresh fruit seems to be confusing for many people who are trying to reduce their sugar intake, fruit contains a higher amount of soluble fibre which also slows the release of sugar into the blood. Fruit also provides a whole host of micronutrients which are required as part of a balanced diet. I recommend eating 2 portions of fresh fruit a day. If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake opt for lower sugar fruits such as berries. Eating fruit is essential for a balanced diet and is not something you should avoid.

strawberries contain natural sugars

 

What are some good sugar-free snacks?

If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake you may find yourself craving sugar, I highly recommend snacking on foods such as coconut, nut butter or hummus and vegetables to control these cravings and stabilise blood sugar levels.

nuts as a snack

 

Going Sugar Free – in conclusion

Evidently we should be cautious that the ‘sugar-free’ hype may be subject to another fad (when refined sugars are replaced with ‘health’ unrefined sugar alternatives). All these sources of sugar impact your blood glucose levels and consequent insulin release.

Having said this a healthy lifestyle is all about balance, I always encourage my clients listen to their body and learn to understand its needs. I am by no mean suggesting that you never eat these foods, I’m simply recommending that you eat them in moderation and as part of a healthy balanced diet. It is easy to get caught up in the sugar-free FAD but when you take a step back, have a look and consider is it really all it appears to be?”

 

I’m so grateful to Jenna for writing this article. If you’d like more advice from Jenna follow her on facebook, twitter and instagram.

 

 

Here are some important things I think Jenna picked up on and my thoughts about them.

TAKE AWAY MESSAGES

  • Reducing your sugar intake can have health benefits.
  • Beware when reading labels that state ‘sugar free’ or ‘no added sugar’ – they can still contain artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes such as maple syrup
  • Swapping refined sugar for a more natural alternative such as dates will provide you with more micronutrients, but remember – they’re still sugar, so you shouldn’t go overboard eating them.
  • Fruit has lots of health benefits and is a great snack if you’re craving something sweet. Jenna recommends eating 2 portions per day. However, don’t be scared to go over – if it’s a choice between another piece of fruit or a more processed or sugary snack then I would pick the fruit.
  • Limiting your sugar intake is important but don’t become obsessed by it. If you have medical advice to control them amount of sugar you eat then follow this advice. But for most of us it is a balance between being healthy and still being able to enjoy a treat .

 

What do you think about going ‘sugar-free’ and the points that Jenna has raised?

 

References

Lustig, R. H., Schmidt, L. A., & Brindis, C. D. (2012). Public health: The toxic truth about sugar. Nature482(7383), 27-29.

Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Thaiss, C. A., Maza, O., … & Kuperman, Y. (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature514(7521), 181-186.

33 Comments

  1. February 16, 2017 / 8:39 pm

    It’s certainly clear that consuming sugar whether it is refined or a sugar substitute is not good for you and that it contributes to many diseases. It’s also difficult to completely cut it out of your diet as there is hidden sugar in so many foods. I think it is important to remember everything in moderation and to try to eat as much natural, whole foods as you can.

    • February 20, 2017 / 10:27 am

      Hey Sarah, great philosophy. I wanted to do Sugar Free Feb as a challenge, but afterwards I will definitely be taking on the moderation approach as opposed to trying to stay sugar free.

  2. February 16, 2017 / 9:48 pm

    Even though I don’t add sugar to anything, I still feel as though I need educating on what goes where, especially the hidden sugars with a clever name x

    • February 20, 2017 / 10:26 am

      That’s really great you don’t add sugars. I think there is mainly a problem for people who add lots of sugar then go on to eat other sugary and processed things during the day!

  3. February 16, 2017 / 9:59 pm

    Great post! Like you said it is about finding balance and cutting out sugar completely might not be a good move. A reminder to buy more coconut lol!

    • February 20, 2017 / 10:25 am

      Yeah, I think unless you have medical advice then there’s no need to cut it out completely. Just be mindful of your consumption 🙂

  4. Jemma
    February 16, 2017 / 10:02 pm

    Great information, it can be difficult to manage with so many hidden sugars in different foods.

    • February 20, 2017 / 10:24 am

      Thanks. I can’t believe sugar is in so many things! I have got to be on the look out for it this month because I am doing Sugar Free February but I think I will be more relaxed after this- it takes so much time looking on packets!

  5. February 16, 2017 / 10:07 pm

    I would rather have no sugar than artificial sweetners. I HATE the after taste so much. I rarely have sugar on or in hot drinks but it is in everything, cereals, bread, fruit etc so I just allow myself that. We have had the same bag of sugar in our house for well over 2 years (we should throw it away) because we just don’t use it. However, as a treat sometimes we have real coke. And that’s ok…it’s not every day at all x

    • February 20, 2017 / 10:23 am

      Yeah – some sweeteners taste nasty! Although I have to admit that I really like the taste of Pepsi Max, which I think is full of sweeteners. Like you say though, I will have it occasionally as a treat – but actually I never enjoy it as much as I think I’m going to.

  6. February 16, 2017 / 10:57 pm

    I really want to reduce my sugar and have been trying, but can’t cut it completely. Too addictive! Want to try hummus but no idea what to have it with that is healthy. Can only think of unhealthy things to go like doritos or bread lol x

    • February 20, 2017 / 10:21 am

      Haha 🙂 I like to eat hummus with carrot sticks or corn thins (they’re like rice cakes but made of corn- so they taste like popcorn).

  7. February 17, 2017 / 9:32 am

    I totally agree that being healthy is all about moderation and not going over the top with anything you eat x

  8. February 17, 2017 / 10:03 am

    What an interesting post. I have to admit I am tempted with trying to give up sugar x

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 10:19 am

      Thanks Stephanie. Hope it’s helpful if you do decide to reduce your intake.

  9. February 17, 2017 / 4:13 pm

    Sugar is definitely addictive and crazy that its in things you can buy like pasta sauce!! I try to make my own when possible

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 10:17 am

      Hey Catherine – making your own is definitely the best option and something I try and do as well.

  10. February 17, 2017 / 7:08 pm

    Actually I do believe in good quality of honey as a sugar replacement, but there are also good options such as xylithol or erithritol which are sugar alcohols as far as I am concerned. I have reduced my sugar intake quite a few times, but you cannot avoid it completely. Moderate consumption is my approach to it, but definitely trying to choose healthier versions. 🙂 btw great article on the subject

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 10:15 am

      Hey Ana – I think moderate consumption is the best option. You don’t want to not be able to enjoy your favorite snacks sometimes or to eat out – like you say you can’t avoid it completely.

  11. nicol
    February 18, 2017 / 11:13 pm

    i use to eat a lot of sugar but then i changed my diet. my intake since has reduced significantly which is a total shock as i have a sweet tooth. ill have to try giving it up for a month and see how it goes

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 10:13 am

      Hey Nicol, that’s great- well done 🙂 It’s amazing how quickly your body adapts.

  12. February 19, 2017 / 12:48 am

    At the moment, I’m trying hard to cut down on as much sugar as possible Especially fizzy drinks, it’s crazy how addicted you can be to them! xo

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 10:12 am

      I totally agree it’s easy to feel addicted to them. I cut out fizzy drinks a few years ago and now I don’t feel great if I drink more than one glass of something fizzy! I think it helps if you find an alternative that you like – I usually drink water with a slice of lemon or lime.

  13. February 19, 2017 / 11:56 am

    Great post and very informative. Sugars are definitely a no no but need to be good. Will try eating less sugar. Also better for the teeth.

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 10:10 am

      Thanks for your lovely comment 🙂 Hope these tips were helpful .

  14. Candice Nikeia
    February 19, 2017 / 7:42 pm

    I really need to try to go sugar free. I think It will help a lot just like you described!

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 9:52 am

      Hey Candice, hope these tips are helpful if you do try and reduce your intake. My latest blog post also has some more tips.

  15. February 19, 2017 / 10:32 pm

    I know I’m never likely to go completely sugar free but am consciously trying to lower my intake. really good advice on the snacks that are best to eat as it is sometimes so tempting to cave in & have a chocolate bar!

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 9:49 am

      Before I had to stick to Sugar Free Feb I was always tempted by chocolate and caved in- carrot sticks just don’t seem so appealing!!
      I think lowering sugar is a better idea than cutting it out completely 🙂

  16. February 20, 2017 / 9:28 am

    This is so useful, Im trying to lose weight and find so many products reliant on sweeteners which seem to trigger my migraines, or recipes lauded as sugar free that are packed with maple syrup!

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 9:42 am

      I’m sorry you experience migraines- they’re never nice!! Sometimes I wonder if the sweeteners in some products were really necessary – for example veggie burgers!! It’s so hard to find things without sugar/sweeteners.

  17. February 20, 2017 / 3:38 pm

    This is such a good post! I have nearly gone sugar free except in the morning! I need my chai fix so sugar in that is important! other than that I am so glad my sugar cut is going down really well!

    • Heathy & Psyched
      February 20, 2017 / 8:52 pm

      Hahaha, fair enough – I think it’s hard to cut out things like that which make you happy and set you up for the day. If that’s almost your only sweet fix I think that’s good going 🙂

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