How To Get Started With A No-Sugar Diet

By Ashley LoseApril 7th 2021

We are addicted to sugar

Americans are addicted to sugar and we use it for virtually everything – we bake with it, drink it, exfoliate our bodies with it, and are always finding new uses for its fine crystals. Think of your own sugar habits, how much sweetener did you put in your coffee this morning? How many sugars were in the soda you had with lunch? We’re hooked on sugar. Studies show that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugars a day. While it may not sound like a lot, these added sugars count for a whopping 350 calories you likely didn’t know you were consuming.1 That’s because most of those extra calories are hidden and come from soft drinks – Pepsi, Sprite, Fanta, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, Coca-cola, take your pick.2 It’s also in our cereals, yogurt, oatmeals, spaghetti sauce, and many of the processed foods that the line shelves in the grocery store. We’ve developed a sweet tooth in America and food manufacturers are catering to our fondness for candied foods and drinks. (You may also want to see: How Losing Weight Affects Your Body and Brain)

If you’re trying to lose weight and begin a healthy lifestyle, reducing the number of sugars and calories in your diet is a great place to start. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to: 3

  • Diabetes
  • Fatty liver disease 
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Cancer

By embracing a sugar-free diet, you’ll significantly reduce your risk of these health conditions. In this article, we’ll guide you on how you can reduce your sugar intake or start a sugar-free lifestyle to improve your health.

How To Get Started With A No-Sugar Diet

Cut out sugary drinks

Everything you put into your body counts, including the liquids you consume. Let's say you're the type of person who enjoys a refreshing coca-cola at lunchtime, that single can of soda adds up to about 150 calories in just a few sips.4 What if you also had a flavored tea, hot chocolate, or sugary coffee that morning. Do you see where I'm going with this? Sugars have no nutritional benefit and we consume them without much thought. If you were to keep up your habit of drinking just one sugary drink every day, paired with your regular diet you could gain up to 15 pounds in sugary carbs. That's a lot of extra pounds for something you absolutely do not need in your diet.5 

How To Get Started With A No-Sugar Diet

Eliminate processed foods

Do you want to start your day feeling energized without the coffee? Need a burst of energy at lunchtime without chugging energy drinks? Want to lose weight and eat food that’s good for your health? If you answered yes to any of these questions I’ve got a solution for you – eliminate processed foods from your diet. If you want to cut down on the calories you consume, lose weight, and maintain healthy eating habits, eliminating processed foods with tons of added sugars in them could be the weight loss secret you've been looking for.  (See also: Can My Chiropractor Help Me Lose A Few Pounds?)

Not all processed foods are bad but highly-processed foods are. When you think of processed foods you may just think of the frozen section isle in the grocers but according to the U.S Department of Agriculture, processed foods go beyond the frozen pizzas and breakfast burritos. It’s any food that’s been chopped, cut, washed, cooked, canned, dried, dehydrated, mixed, packaged, cleaned, milled, or had any alterations from its natural state.6 Some of these processes we prefer but we don’t want foods with high doses of sugars, fats, salts, added flavors, preservatives, and other additives sanctioned for our human consumption. These foods are designed by food scientists to be highly-addictive and increase our cravings so that we continue to buy more of them,7and we do. Lunchmeat, crackers, chips, cereals, frozen dinners, cookies, soda, how many of these things were in your shopping cart this week? These highly processed foods have become a staple for us to add to our pantries totaling about 60% of total calories consumed in the American diet.8 Had enough yet? Let’s talk about what you can do to reduce your sugar intake for good. 

How To Get Started With A No-Sugar Diet

Read your food labels 

Sugar is the general name for the short-chain carbohydrates that are in our foods and beverages9 but sugar goes by many different names. As people have gotten wiser about what they eat, manufacturing companies have made identifying the bad ingredients a little harder to find. That said, spotting sugar in your foods can be tricky but we’re going to help you decode the many names it goes by. In general, a good tip for unveiling the sugars in your food and drinks is to look for ingredient names that end with “ose.” 

How To Get Started With A No-Sugar Diet

Here’s are some of the most common names for sugar.10

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Maltose
  • Sucrose

In addition to clearly labeled sugars, such as brown sugar, invert sugar, cane sugar, raw sugar, or corn sweetener sugar can also be known as:11

  • Agave nectar
  • Came crystals 
  • Corn syrup
  • Evaporated cane juice 
  • Fruit juice concentrates 
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Malt syrup 
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Syrup

While it may take a little longer at the grocery store for you to read the nutritional information before you buy, it’s worth it for the longevity of your health. Check the labels for how many calories are in the foods and how much energy you’ll get from each serving. Look for how many servings are in the container. Know what nutrients it contains and the percentage of daily value those nutrients provide.12 Once you develop a habit of investigating the foods you buy and making health-conscious decisions about what you consume you’ll be well on your way to a healthier way of eating.   

How To Get Started With A No-Sugar Diet

Purge your pantry

As with any new habit, start slowly. Instead of tossing everything in your kitchen with sugar in the trash, begin reducing your sugar intake. Use this time period to wean yourself off processed sugars and choose foods with natural sugars like fruits which are also packed with nutrients.  (Check out: How to Lose Weight In 12 Weeks)

  • Try putting less sugar in your coffee or tea. 
  • Get an unflavored yogurt instead of the french vanilla one you usually grab. Or add berries and make your own naturally sweetened. 
  • Pick whole wheat bread and pasta with no added sugars.
  • Drink more water. 
  • Reconsider dessert.
  • Choose nuts, seeds, whole fruits, or hard-boiled eggs for snacks instead of your usual granola bar. 

It’s important to start with these small changes instead of cutting sugar cold-turkey in order to reduce your risk of sugar withdrawals. Yes, that’s a real thing. Brain scans have shown that intermittent sugar consumption has a similar effect to other drugs and addictive substances.13 In a recent study sugar was noted to release opioids and dopamine in the brain, making it a highly addictive substance that we could become dependent on.14,15 As you begin cutting sugar from your diet you make notice an increase in cravings, a desire to binge on sweets, or an overall crankiness.16 It will pass, just continue to make healthy decisions like the ones we mentioned above to curve your cravings.   

Sources:

  1. Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-20.

  1. Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009;120:1011-20.

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The sweet danger of sugar. Harvard Men's Health Watch. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar#:~:text=Over%20time%2C%20this%20can%20lead,pathological%20pathways%20to%20heart%20disease.

  1. Malik, V. S., Schulze, M. B., & Hu, F. B. (2006). Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 84(2), 274–288. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/84.1.274

  1. Malik, V. S., & Hu, F. B. (2015). Fructose and Cardiometabolic Health: What the Evidence From Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tells Us. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 66(14), 1615–1624. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2015.08.025

  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Process Foods and Health. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/

  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Process Foods and Health. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/

  1. Martínez Steele, E., Baraldi, L. G., Louzada, M. L., Moubarac, J. C., Mozaffarian, D., & Monteiro, C. A. (2016). Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ open, 6(3), e009892. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009892

  1. Shepherd, S. J., Lomer, M. C., & Gibson, P. R. (2013). Short-chain carbohydrates and functional gastrointestinal disorders. The American journal of gastroenterology, 108(5), 707–717. https://doi.org/10.1038/ajg.2013.96

  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). How to spot added sugar on food labels. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/#ref29

  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). How to spot added sugar on food labels. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/added-sugar-in-the-diet/#ref29

  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2020, March 11). How to Understand and Use the Nutritional Facts Label. Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label

  1. Nicole M. Avena, Pedro Rada, Bartley G. Hoebel, Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Volume 32, Issue 1, 2008, Pages 20-39, ISSN 0149-7634, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019

  1. Nicole M. Avena, Pedro Rada, Bartley G. Hoebel, Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Volume 32, Issue 1, 2008, Pages 20-39, ISSN 0149-7634, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019

  1. Colantuoni, C., Rada, P., McCarthy, J., Patten, C., Avena, N. M., Chadeayne, A., & Hoebel, B. G. (2002). Evidence that intermittent, excessive sugar intake causes endogenous opioid dependence. Obesity research, 10(6), 478–488. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2002.66

  1. Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 32(1), 20–39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019

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