Do you want to give up sugar but you’re unsure where to start? Try our top tips.
Does this mean giving up all sugars?
No. To be clear – when we talk about giving up sugar, we are referring to added sugars, aka ‘free’ sugars. This is the type of sugar which is added to foods and drinks to enhance their taste, either during the manufacturing process or ourselves, prior to consumption.
The NHS recommends we don’t get more than 5% of our daily calories from free sugar – that’s a 30g upper daily limit. Not sure what 30g sugar looks like? That’s the amount in 5 tablespoons of BBQ sauce, or slightly less than a can of cola.
So, here’s how to give up sugar
Do it gradually
Don’t try to stop overnight. It’s hard to break the food habits of a lifetime and going cold turkey is likely to lead to serious cravings. Phase your sugar-free lifestyle in through gradual steps and you’re less likely to crack and find yourself at the bottom of the cookie jar.
Make small switches to start with, over the course of a fortnight. For example, if you usually take sugar in your tea, half the amount. Then after the first week quarter it and so on.
If you find you really can’t live without a sweet brew, try switching to a natural sweetener like stevia or agave syrup. These are sweeter than sugar, so you’ll need less.
If you love breakfast cereal in the morning, try filling your bowl with a low-sugar variety such as shredded whole wheat, with just a handful of your usual high-sugar one sprinkled on top. Then, gradually add less and less as your palate adjusts.
Try making your own sauces
Giving up sugar isn’t as easy as simply saying no to cake. You might be surprised at the high levels of sugar in many jars of savoury sauce. Stir-in tomato pasta sauce is a major culprit – with around 10g added per serving it’s seriously sugary and should be ditched in favour of a low-sugar or homemade version.
Making your own sauces isn’t as tricky or time-consuming as it sounds. A basic pasta sauce can be as simple as softening some chopped onions in a pan with olive oil, adding minced garlic, chopped tomatoes and a handful of dried herbs before simmering around 20 minutes.
You can use this as a base for countless variations, depending on what you have in the cupboard. They work out far cheaper than shop-bought sauces and once you realise how much better homemade sauces taste, you might never go back to the jarred version.
If you love ready-made sauces and aren’t ready to let go, try the low-sugar versions available.
Read the label
If sugar is included as an added ingredient on the label, you should think twice about purchasing the item. A general rule is that if sugar is one of the first three or four ingredients listed, there is probably too much sugar in the food for regular consumption. This is because labels list the most prevalent ingredients first.
Remember, sugar can be classified as various different substances, including:
- corn syrup
- hydrolysed starch
- invert sugar
Check your condiments
There’s a reason why ketchup, chilli sauce, salad dressing, brown sauce and even some mustards are so deliciously more-ish. Many of the most popular condiments on our shelves are packed with free sugar, meaning we can sail through our 30g free sugar recommended limit without even eating anything sweet!
English mustard is a good condiment choice, having only 0.5g sugar per 15g serving, and you can make a delicious sugar-free salad dressing from a drop of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little white vinegar.
If you must have ketchup on your meal, try to limit it as a treat and choose the low sugar versions that are widely available.
Get to know spices
Giving up sugar will be easier if you have ingredients handy which can take its place in your food. Also, discovering the world of spices can be a gateway to becoming a passionate cook. This means you and your family will rely less on high-sugar pre-prepared and processed foods now and in the future.
You can whip up some indulgent pancakes using just butter, flour, egg and milk, with a squeezed lemon, raspberries and some cinnamon sprinkled on top. This makes a dessert or sweet-tasting weekend brunch that you won’t believe has no added sugar.
Vanilla pods will give a naturally indulgent sweet flavour. You can use them to flavour natural nut butters or milk puddings.
Start something new just for you
Giving up sugar can feel like a major sacrifice. You still need be able to treat yourself. This could be the perfect time to take up a new hobby or rekindle an old creative passion.
Even something as simple as beginning a new skincare routine, getting a monthly massage or giving your kitchen a DIY makeover can feel like a new beginning which will remind you that giving up free sugar is going to enhance your life – not make you feel like you’re going without.
Do you have a child with a sweet tooth? Check out our tips on how to reduce sugar as a family
Last updated: 1 April 2020