Are you looking for ways to lose weight or adopt healthier habits? A no-sugar diet might be the answer you're looking for.
But what does a no-sugar diet mean, exactly? What can you eat and not eat? And will it really impact your health?
Let's explore what a no-sugar diet entails, why it's beneficial, and how to start it for yourself.
A no-sugar diet is a dietary pattern that eliminates or limits foods and drinks with added sugars. This means processed snacks, desserts, and sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks are off the menu.
However, foods high in natural sugars, such as fruit, are typically allowed for those on this diet. The goal of a no-sugar diet is to improve your health by reducing the amount of added sugar you consume daily.
There are different variations of a no-sugar diet, and each allows different types of sugars.
Natural sugars, as the name describes, show up in foods naturally. Foods high in natural sugars include fruit and sweet veggies. Refined sugars, on the other hand, are created when natural sugars are extracted from plants such as corn or sugar cane.
Some no-sugar diets cut out all sweeteners, including natural sugars, while others only cut out refined sugars.
There are several reasons someone may want to try a no-sugar diet.
One reason is that too much sugar can cause health issues, according to Harvard. For example, it can increase your chances of developing heart disease.
A no-sugar diet can also help lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. Or, if you already have diabetes, this diet can also help you manage it more easily. A no-sugar diet can also help mitigate your risk of developing cancer and depression.
If you struggle to stay focused and energized throughout the day, that’s another good reason you might want to try a no-sugar diet. Getting your energy from sources other than simple sugars can help you stabilize your energy levels.
Let’s explore some additional benefits of trying a no-sugar diet.
Eliminating sugars from your diet won’t always result in weight loss — but it can make weight loss and weight maintenance easier.
Sugary drinks like soda often can have 150 calories in a single 355 mL can. So eliminating or reducing the excess calories from added sugars like those found in these beverages means you may be able to lose weight more easily than if you consume added sugars regularly.
No-sugar diets are especially helpful for weight loss in individuals who eat an abundance of sweet foods, such as desserts, sugary snacks, or sweet breakfast options like pancakes and syrup. You can replace these snacks with lower-calorie, sugar-free options to simultaneously reduce your calorie intake and increase your consumption of nutritious foods.
For example, imagine how satiated you’d feel after eating 200 calories of nuts versus a single 200-calorie cookie. Despite having the same calorie count, there’s a good chance you’ll be hungry shortly after eating a cookie due to its lack of fiber and protein. That means you’ll be more likely to eat again soon, thus increasing your calorie intake.
On the other hand, low-sugar snacks packed with protein and fiber — such as the nuts described in the scenario above — can help you feel satiated longer.
Eating too much sugar has been linked to an increased risk of developing chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.
That doesn’t mean everyone who consumes sugar will develop these illnesses. But overindulging in sugar throughout your life does have an associated risk.
Reducing your sugar intake with a no-sugar diet could lower your chances of developing these and other conditions in the future. Even a no-sugar diet that cuts out refined sugars but allows natural sweeteners will help you reduce your overall sugar intake.
Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient found in your food. They include simple sugars like fructose, sucrose, glucose, and lactose. But they also include complex carbs, such as fiber and starch.
Refined carbohydrates include refined sugars and processed grains that no longer contain their bran and fiber. They’re digested much faster than complex carbohydrates and can cause digestive issues like bloating or constipation. Thus, consuming fewer of them can help improve digestion.
Low-sugar food options that contain complex carbs include most vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. These are also chock-full of fiber, which can improve digestion. And, in the case of nuts and beans, they also contain good amounts of protein and/or fat, which help you feel full for longer.
If you’ve ever eaten a sugary breakfast, how’d you feel just a few hours later?
There’s a good chance your energy levels took a nosedive once those simple sugars passed through your system. That’s because the simple carbs found in sweetened foods provide quick bursts of energy but often leave us feeling sluggish later due to their lack of nutrients.
Our bodies turn the carbs we eat into usable energy in the form of glucose — a type of simple sugar. The easier it is for the body to go through that process, the faster those carbs get metabolized — and the faster you’ll crash.
On the other hand, complex carbs take longer for the body to break down into glucose. While the end result is the same — glucose that your body will use for energy — the process is different. That’s why whole foods containing complex carbohydrates can provide you with sustained energy throughout the day — without making you crash later.
Ultimately, all carbohydrates are broken down into more simple sugars that are used for energy. Stricter no-sugar diets may limit your intake of all carbs, even complex ones. But it’s relatively easy to swop out carb-filled food choices for low or no-sugar options. For example, you can replace your breakfast of strawberry jelly on white bread with scrambled eggs and a side of mushrooms. You’ll get way more nutrients and none of the sugar.
A no-sugar diet focuses on whole, unprocessed foods, such as vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and, sometimes, naturally sweet foods like fruit.
Fruits are an important part of any balanced diet since they’re a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. However, you should consume them in moderation when following a no-sugar diet plan.
You should also avoid fruit juices on a no-sugar diet. Juice contains all the fructose found in fruit, but it has fewer vitamins and no fiber.
Vegetables are key components in a no-sugar diet — although they should really be a part of any healthy diet. That’s because they provide essential vitamins and minerals while being low in calories and simple carbs.
Leafy greens are an important sub-category of vegetables to include in a no-sugar diet. They’re especially low in carbs and high in nutrients.
You can also eat lean protein sources, such as:
A no-sugar diet should also include healthy fats from avocados, fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and other similar foods.
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If you want to implement a no-sugar diet into your lifestyle, here’s a step-by-step process you can follow to ease into it:
Before you start removing foods from your diet, you should add foods.
While this might seem counterintuitive, adding certain foods will help ensure you’re getting adequate nutrients in your diet before you start removing sugars.
Two of the foods you should add are sources of lean protein and healthy fats. You need to make sure you’re getting enough protein and healthy fats to help stabilize your blood sugar levels.
Try adding lean proteins, like chicken or fish, to your meals. If you’re already eating some of these foods, you can start slowly increasing your intake of lean protein while removing fattier protein sources, such as beef or pork.
For example, if you like eating burgers, try swapping ground beef with ground chicken or turkey. You can also choose chicken breasts over thighs or wings whenever you’re making a chicken-based dish.
What about healthy fats? Healthy foods rich in good fats, like avocados, fish, nuts, and seeds, are all good sources of nutrition that’ll keep you full for longer periods.
Try adding some of these healthy alternatives to your snacks. For example, eat some nuts and seeds with what you’d usually eat as a snack.
Only once you’ve included these vital nutrients should you start removing sugary foods from your diet. Though you can think of this as making swaps and additions instead of just removing foods. Opt for unsweetened coffee and nut butters. Stick to your new, healthy snacks and remove the sugary ones, like cookies and ice cream.
Fiber-rich foods are also important when starting a no-sugar diet. They help fill you up while keeping your cravings under control.
Fill up on veggies, leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. All of these options are high in fiber and low in simple sugars.
If you’re on a low-sugar diet plan, you may be able to eat limited amounts of complex carbs. Swapping your white flour grain products for whole grains will increase the fiber. But you can also add some more variety to your choice of grains.
For example, swap your pasta and rice with whole grains, such as quinoa, whole oats, or millet. When prepared well, these grains can be just as delicious as your old favorites — if not more so.
In addition to eating nutritious meals throughout the day, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Aim for at least eight glasses of water per day. Each glass should be about one to two cups’ worth.
If you struggle to remember to drink water, consider getting a large water bottle. For example, a 1.5 L or 2 L water bottle can keep you hydrated for an entire day — and you only have to remember to fill it up in the morning.
Read food labels carefully to ensure that there are no added sugars in the ingredients list. Processed foods, such as store-bought sauces and ready-made meals, often contain added sugars, even if it’s not obvious from the type of item.
Watch out for ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. As its name indicates, this ingredient is high in fructose, which is a type of simple sugar.
Also, keep in mind that the total carbohydrates found on food labels aren’t indicative of added sugars. Total carbohydrates include all carbs, both complex and simple.
Even total sugars aren’t necessarily bad — total sugars can include naturally occurring sugars, such as fructose and lactose. Instead, look for the amount of added sugars. Those are the ones you want to avoid on a no-sugar diet.
The benefits of going on a no-sugar diet are numerous — improved energy levels, better digestion, increased focus and concentration, and weight loss assistance. But it can be difficult to transition from a high-sugar diet to one that contains no added sugars.
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