How to cut down on sugar
OK, so if you’re keen to start cutting down on the amount of sugar in you and your family’s diet, you’ve likely already stopped the obvious offenders like fizzy drinks, juice, cookies and desserts (good on you!). What you might not have considered though, is all the other foods sugar sneaks into, and boy can it add up.
You’ll quickly realise how much sugar there is in our food system when you start reading labels. Ideally you’ll be eating mostly foods that don’t even have a package or label (i.e. fresh, nude food!), however if it is in a packet you might want to check its nutrition information on the back, and if sugar is one of the first two or three ingredients listed it’s probably not a great choice. Note that sugar hides under numerous different names, so you’ll also need to be on the look out for high fructose corn syrup, glucose, sucrose (or anything ending with ‘-ose’ for that matter), molasses, honey, and any kind of ‘syrup’ (e.g. maple syrup or brown rice syrup). On top of that, you ideally want the product to contain less than 10g sugar per 100g.
- Cut out or cut down on all added sugar. Added sugars are the sugars and syrups that are added to foods when they are processed or prepared, whereas naturally occurring sugars are already present in foods like fruit and milk, just as nature made them. If you add sugar to your coffee, tea or breakfast cereal, cut back gradually (so your taste buds don’t get a shock!). My general rule is cut down by half for a week, then half it again, and then have none. You’ll eventually find that just a splash of milk in your coffee or tea, or some fresh fruit on your yoghurt or cereal is enough sweetness.
- Make sure you’re eating enough protein and healthy fats. Including some protein and/or fat with each meal helps to lower the total glycaemic index of the meal (meaning it has less of an effect on your blood glucose (sugar) level) and keep you fuller for longer. Meals high in just carbs and sugar can spike your blood glucose level quickly, only to fall quickly too, leaving you hungry again!
- The jury’s still out on this one, but it’s my opinion and that of many others, that artificially sweetened food and drinks are not a good substitute to get your sugar fix. In fact, I strongly do not recommend them. On top of having no useful nutrients, (and all the yucky additives) the ‘fake’ substitutes confuse your body’s cravings for sweet. You will never kick your craving for sweetness when your body is so used to such a high level of sweetness, leaving you to crave more and more!
- Buy ‘unsweetened’ – yoghurts, almond milk, nut butters (like peanut butter), canned fruit, and drink only plain water as your regular drink throughout the day. If you’re drinking flavoured water you might want to check the label too!
- Enjoy your sweet foods straight as they would come from nature, which is mainly from fruit and milks. Yes, honey and maple syrup can be straight from nature too, but they’re very concentrated sources, so limit them to only using a bit.
Tomato sauce, baked beans, jam, most mueslis/granolas and ice cream are all very high in sugar. Luckily, these things are all easy to make at home with considerably less sugar than the store-bought versions. For the record, I think a little bit of sugar in your diet is fine, preferably from fresh fruit. And of course, I can’t say no to a really good dessert every once in a while as a treat! How you eat most of the time, not on the odd occasion, is what matters!
Tomato sauce is such a useful condiment that gets well-used in summer, but it does contain a surprising amount of sugar – even up to a teaspoon of sugar per tablespoon of sauce! If you or your kids are big fans, consider making it yourself for an even tastier, more nutritious addition to your fish and chips. This recipe for homemade tomato sauce from NADIA magazine makes the most of the beautiful tomatoes in season during summer, and still has some sweetness to offset the acidity.
Most store-bought cereals and mueslis are loaded with sugar, but that needn’t be the case when you make it at home. Make a big batch with all your favourite nuts, and adjust the sugar content (in the form of honey and maple syrup) to your own preference with this delicious recipe for gluten-free muesli. If you’re not gluten-free you can use jumbo oats in place of the rice and quinoa puffs if you like. To keep your sugar intake really low (or if you have diabetes), you could even do away with the dried fruit all together and add more nuts or coconut instead, however I think a bit of sugar from natural sources such as fruit is fine.
Jam is a favourite toast topping, but of course usually needs a huge amount of sugar (on top of the natural fruit sugars) to get it to set in a thick spreadable consistency and stay preserved. Enter chia seeds – these brilliant wee South American seeds absorb liquid, making them perfect for replicating the texture of jam with little to no added sugar. You get all the fruity flavour and natural sweetness, without the added sugar – it’s amazing! Try my raspberry chia jam and I bet you’ll be converted! You could use any fruit for this jam simply by stewing the fruit first with a little water, then stirring through the chia seeds and popping in the fridge to set. Kids needn’t know their favourite jam has just been given a health makeover!
Baked beans are a Kiwi pantry staple, and so useful for an easy breakfast/lunch/dinner when you’re not feeling very creative. However, the canned variety is often packed full of sugar and salt, so I prefer to make my own from scratch (it only takes 10-15 minutes). The cool thing about making them from scratch is that you can use any beans you like – my gourmet baked beans recipe uses a mix of butter beans and kidney beans for maximum nutrition and flavour. Serve them with some poached or scrambled eggs and you’ve got a deliciously healthy high-fibre meal.
I couldn’t live without ice cream, so I make my own quick cheats version of it using frozen fruit and yoghurt or a bit of cream. Here’s my low sugar boysenberies and cream ice cream recipe.
To be doing what I am today is a dream come true. It all started when I was 12 years old. I was watching TV after school one day and Jamie Oliver was cooking up a storm on The Naked Chef.