Updated: Mar 20, 2020
It’s true that small amounts of natural sugar in a healthy active person’s diet won’t cause outrageous outcomes in terms of weight gain or health problems, but a little higher-than-usual intakes of sugar can cause unwanted unhealthy results in the body.
Diabetes, Heart disease, weight gain and fatty liver disease are some of the health complications that could potentially be caused by a diet with excess amounts of sugar once it turns into fat deposits.
Even though the benefits of starting a low sugar diet are very clear, sometimes actually getting started can feel overwhelming and complicated. Many people might feel obligated to turn to this way of eating to solve health complications, it’s true. But the low sugar diet should be thought of as an act-now type of lifestyle change for most people. Natural sugars are perfectly healthy in moderation, but added sugars from processed foods can be detrimental. In this article, I will show you a little more of how I turned my diet into a Low-Sugar diet and what were the pros/cons I found, as well as the tips I can give you to make it a smooth transition knowing that it can be hard to go full 180 degrees on it all at once.
Like I mentioned earlier, a low sugar diet might be an obligated change for people with certain health conditions (diabetes/heart diseases) but it is certainly beneficial to all. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that adults in the United States get around 15% of their calories from added sugars alone, not including natural sugars, such as those in products such as fruit and milk.
Not only that, but the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men (or 100 and 150 calories, respectively). But in reality, we eat way more — nearly 12 teaspoon per day for women and more than 17 teaspoons for men, according to a 2016 study. That means that we are consuming over 2x the minimum recommended amount of sugar daily.
When I first decided to change and start watching my diet more closely, I must confess I didn’t go too deep into research. As a professional athlete I worked closely with a professional nutritionist since the age of 12. Around that time I admit that my nutritionist never strip me from much, he actually advised me to not be too worried. I was swimming at a high intensity around 3-4hours/day and all the food in the world didn’t seem enough so I was super skinny yet still hungry at all times.
As the years went by and I started gaining more muscle, the conversation started to change. We started developing a better strategy as my results as a professional athlete started to ‘’matter’’ more and I now I didn’t have an extreme need to gain more weight/muscle. It was when I was around 15-16 that I started paying close attention to natural foods and low sugar products.
Even though I was burning through 2000-2500 calories/day I couldn’t just go around eating whatever I saw in front of me anymore because I started noticing that quality matters and I needed to make sure my body was recovering at its maximum capacity so I was ready for battle the next day too.
As I mentioned in this article, I started small by quitting to add sugar/sweetener on my coffee. It might seem like a small thing but I promise I was able to change my entire lifestyle based on that.
Here are some tips to make small daily changes on your diet that if consistently followed will help you change your lifestyle too:
1 - Read the labels
Many of us tend to buy food items without looking at exactly what we’re eating. Taking the time to look and truly understand the sugars and fats hiding in the food that we buy can be of great help when switching to a low-sugar diet.
2 - It’s a marathon not a sprint!
Not much secret here. It will be tough at first, especially for someone that is not used at all to any low sugar/natural product. But like I said, push through with small changes for 2-3 weeks and I promise you it will start getting MUCH easier. I can advise you to start small with adding less sugar to your coffee or juice and trying to adapt to that at first. Looking for products that already have less less added sugar can help as well. Building up to a no-sugar diet can help you retrain the palate, meaning that you will become less likely to crave the missing sugar.
3 - Avoid simple carbs, go for the whole grain
Replacing simple carbohydrate products with whole grain products can already bring an enormous change to your diet. Some examples of simple carbs include white flour, white pasta, and white rice. The reason why it’s good to avoid those products is because as the body quickly breaks down the carbohydrates in these foods into sugar. This process causes a spike in blood sugar levels. Some alternatives to these products would be brown rice, home-made low carb breads and whole pasta.
4 - Stay away from artificial sugar
There might be a huge conversation in terms of no calories or low calories sweeteners and artificial sugars. Regardless, eating artificial sugars can be harmful if you’re trying to switch to a low-sugar diet because it tricks the body into thinking that it is actually eating sugar. This intensifies a person's sugar cravings, making it more difficult for them to stick to a low-sugar diet. Like I mentioned earlier, by taking sugar away from coffee I actually trained my body into not craving sweets.
5 - Plan meals
Another great and easy way that I found to stay away from sweets was to NOT BUY THEM. Meal planning and preparation comes in handy and can help you to reduce what I call the anxiety-sugar-snacking. Having only healthy foods/fruits available and ready to consume is a great alternative to buying sugar filled snacks.
As the new year kicks in, I challenge you to slowly start implementing some of the tips I gave you and start noticing the change. But BE CAREFUL: one of the biggest mistakes people make (and I can not emphasise this enough) is to try to drastically change all at once. This might last for a couple of days but you are very likely to go back to disordered eating as a result of a rushed attempt to adapt to a healthier lifestyle. Don’t let ‘lowering sugar intakes’ become an obsession. It’s all about being balanced and adapting to your specific schedule-lifestyle. Eliminating sugar from the diet is not a complete solution for weight loss. It is part of a lifestyle change that should also involve regular exercise and a nutritious diet.
Luckily, there are already healthier options of foods and drinks on the market that can help people get their essential vitamins and minerals without the extra calories. Products like whole grain rice or pasta, oats, fat-free or low-fat dairy, zero-sugar yogurt are already available on any market and can drastically help with the switch to a low-sugar diet.
In case you are like me and like to practice sports or physical activities on a daily basis, there are also electrolyte replacement products available that are low-sugar and low-calories. Hydra-Guard Sports Drink for example is a great way of replenishing your essential electrolytes after a workout but keeping the calorie count low and consuming only 5g of natural sugars per bottle. You could use the code PM10 for a special 10% discount on their website, and I also recommend you to subscribe to their newsletter because they are always releasing special codes for even higher discounts on their products.