What advice do you give to people about lowering their sugar consumption?
It depends on the person, their current state of health and how much processed or natural sugars they already have in their diet. For those people who are ‘all or nothing’ when it comes to diet changes or those that don’t have much processed sugar in the diet, they can usually manage to cut it out completely and suffer the withdrawal symptoms for a few days. In my practice this is often done as part of an intestinal cleanse or gentle detox.
For other clients who respond better to gentle change or have high levels of processed sugars they can reduce more gradually by keeping higher levels of natural sugars at the beginning and subsequently reducing those as their palate starts to adjust.
It’s important to remember that sugar is addictive so it is a mental and physical challenge.
What are the most common questions you get asked? And how do you respond?
Is it ok to eat fruit? – the short answer is yes, but in moderation! Fruit contains lots of compounds which are beneficial and protective against many diseases, helping to keep us healthy. But many are high in natural sugars so be careful with limiting tropical fruits like mango and pineapple and stick to small serves of lower sugar fruits like berries and apples. Moderation is essential and vegetables should be the focus of fresh produce consumption, many people eat 4-5 pieces a day believing they are being healthy and don’t need to eat as many vegetables. For the average person 1-2 small pieces per day is sufficient, try to eat seasonally and eat it with meals so the sugars are balanced by the rest of the meal.
Are artificial sweeteners ok? They can be useful in weaning off a highly processed diet but from an overall health perspective they are not recommended as they usually contain synthetic or highly processed chemical compounds which are not natural and can be detrimental to health. Some have also been shown to spike insulin levels and will keep you craving sugar longer term.
Will it be tricky for some people? Can it be an emotional experience lowering sugar? How do you help with that process.
Reducing sugar is difficult for most people, even if they have a very healthy diet. There’s usually a period of 2-5 days when a person can feel tired, headachy and experience mood changes or cravings. This is normal as the hormones in the body shift and adapt to the change in blood sugar levels.
It’s important that people realise it won’t be easy so they can have some coping strategies in place – some people will prefer to start at a weekend so they aren’t at work feeling tired or irritable. For others they will be better at work so they have a distraction. Planning your meals and social calendar in the first few weeks will also be essential, when you feel really hungry and there’s only a vending machine nearby is when you get tempted to make bad choices.
Eating out can be a challenge in the beginning so have a look at the menu before you go and ensure you know the sort of meals that are available. Many dishes with sauces can have surprisingly high sugar levels and ‘healthy natural’ snacks are often packed full of sugars from dates, honey and agave. And remember that there is sugar in most alcoholic drinks too so preferably avoid it completely in the early stages.
What are the best types of foods to help with sugar cravings?
Ensuring that you have a balanced diet which is as unprocessed as possible is essential. It should be focussed on meals which are high in fresh produce, especially vegetables, high protein foods and healthy fats. The combination of fibre, fats and protein will ensure a slow release of sugar into the bloodstream and help to keep you feeling fuller and satisfied throughout the day.
For most people I don’t advocate snacking between meals but eating every 3-4 hours may help in the first couple of weeks to reduce cravings and risk of going for the sugary snacks.
In the ideal diet you will be getting the majority of your carbohydrates from vegetables but including occasional lower GI grains such as quinoa, brown rice and oats is a good start if you’re switching from a highly processed diet.
Use herbs and spices to add flavour to food and make it more interesting, spices like cinnamon are great because it has natural sweetness but it actually helps with regulating blood sugar.
The natural sweetener stevia may also help with the transition, this herb has traditionally been used for supporting blood sugar balance so it’s preferable to other artificial sweeteners but remember part of the long term change is to rebalance your taste buds so they are more sensitive to sweet. This reduces your need for additional sweetness. And using the whole leaf stevia is best – it can easily be grown in a small pot (and is now available at Bunnings).
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