We all know that the refined sugar added to food and drink isn't good for us. The effects of excess sugar on the body are numerous: not only is it an 'empty calorie'(meaning it has zero nutritional value), but a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study found eating a lot of sugar triples the odds of having low levels of good cholesterol, and ups your heart disease risk as a result.
Excess sugar intake, particularly in sugar-sweetened beverages, has also been associated with an increased risk of diabetes. Adults are advised to eat no more than 30g of 'free sugars' (those added by a manufacturer, plus honey, syrup and fruit juices) a day or around the equivalent of seven sugar cubes. Children aged 4-6 should eat no more than 19g (five sugar cubes) and no more than 34g for those aged 7-10 (six sugar cubes).
If you're particularly sweet-toothed or simply want to cut down, leading nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD reveals in Natural Alternatives to Sugar how to reduce your sugar cravings and take control of your intake:
1. Shop around
'Avoid products in the shops that have high levels of sugar or sweeteners (such as spaghetti sauces or mayonnaise). It's a question of getting used to buying different brands. You may find that your local health food shop will stock some alternatives for foods that you regularly buy that are sugar-free (with no artificial sweeteners added) and will taste quite delicious. Buy natural organic yoghurt and drop in your own fruit, fresh or frozen.'
2. Eat little and often
'To keep your blood sugar balanced and to avoid the dips (low blood sugar hypoglycaemia) that will send you off to get a quick fix with a chocolate bar or packet of biscuits, make sure you eat little and often. My recommendation is have a good breakfast, lunch and dinner and a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Don't go longer than three hours without eating (especially vital for women) or your blood sugar levels might drop too low.'
3. Avoid intermittent fasting
'A recent trend has been to follow diets that require you to fast, such as the5:2 diet. I would suggest you avoid these while you are adjusting to not eating sugar. Normally I would recommend women eat around 2,000 calories a day and men 2,500, placing importance on the quality of the calories – i.e. avoiding sugar and refined carbohydrates. You want to avoid having blood sugar highs and lows, which not only control the release of insulin in your body but also that of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.'
4. Say no to the second coffee
'Think about the amount of caffeine you're drinking in coffee, tea, etc. They will cause a similar roller coaster effect to sugar and cause the release of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. They are classed as stimulants. Because they can cause a drop in blood sugar, they can also trigger either sugar cravings or an increase in appetite in general.'
5. Add protein to carbs
'Carbohydrates will be broken down into sugar, but the more unrefined the carbohydrate the slower this happens and the less effect on your blood sugar. You can change an unrefined carbohydrate into an even slower releasing one by adding protein to it. So, if you're having porridge you could add ground nuts and seeds, for example!'
6. Consider your emotions
'You might want to eat something sweet because you are stressed, and want to eat sugary foods, thinking this 'comfort food' will calm you down. But comfort eating can also include eating sweet foods because you are bored, lonely, angry or sad. Ask yourself what emotion you are trying to dampen down by eating sugary foods. As with stress, try to find an activity that actually deals with the emotion, rather than squashing it down.'