For decades, losing weight has been all about cutting fat. ‘Official’ health guidelines directed us to ditch the full-fat milk in favour of semi- or better still, skimmed milk. Butter was demonised and we were told it was better for us to smear synthetic spreads across our bread. Low fat products filled the supermarket shelves and most of us were unaware that once the fat was excluded, in order to endow them with any taste, they had been packed full of… sugar. How is any of that better for us?
You’ll probably be aware that the official guidelines have recently undergone a seismic shift. Fats – especially good fats are IN, and sugar – despite the protestations of the food industry – is now OUT. Sugar has been rebranded the biggest dietary evil of our time.
Let me pin my colours to the mast here. I believe this to be absolutely true.
I’m not presenting myself as an expert on the matter. But I’ve been persuaded of the arguments and benefits by reading and learning from sources such as:
- Pure, White and Deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it; by John Yudkin
- Sugar – The Bitter Truth; a lecture available here on YouTube, given by Robert Lustig
- Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease; by Robert Lustig
- Action On Sugar (website here) and Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra (website here)
The arguments are, believe me, compelling. Sugar rewards you emotionally, but does nothing for your body, and it was undoubtedly a major factor in my weight gain – and that’s not even taking into account the whole diabetes issue and a host of other damaging outcomes. The information is all out there – Google it.
Some time ago I had already significantly reduced my intake of chocolate, mainly because I realised I was addicted and was consuming far too much on a far too regular basis. I know. I know. People think I’m mad, but for the last three years, I’ve eaten chocolate at only two times of the year, for a couple of weeks at Christmas and Easter. Four months ago, along with a host of other dietary changes, I resolved to cut it out altogether. I took the decision not to re-introduce it for Christmas 2015. I’d enjoyed having those two indulgent periods of the year to look forward to, but they had rarely lived up to expectations and I’d become aware that for me, chocolate no longer filled the emotional hole it was supposed to fill.
Cutting it out resulted in a substantial reduction in my sugar intake, but it wasn’t enough. I don’t like sweet pastries and I don’t crave cakes particularly, but I have a weakness for biscuits/cookies, sweet cereals and a variety of confectionary. I had the killer Sweet Tooth.
Ah… biscuits/cookies… If I had them in the house, I would easily eat 4 or 5 with every cup of coffee. When I stopped buying them, there were days when I would prowl the kitchen looking for something – anything – sweet to plug the gap. But that passes fairly quickly, although I do recall squeezing spoons of toffee sauce one evening! But the truth is, the less of the sweet stuff you have around you, the easier it is not to consume it. And once the cravings diminish, you’ll be amazed, and you’ll wonder how sugar ever had such a hold over you.
There were two sweet things that hung about for a little longer… (1) I struggled with a nice, healthy bowl of porridge – I couldn’t enjoy it without a big squeeze of Golden Syrup and (2) I was still consuming sweetened yoghurts. Neither of these seemed particularly bad to me (it’s amazing how you can delude yourself, isn’t it?) – after all, I was eating porridge, and yoghurt, wasn’t I? But they had to go. Now I can enjoy porridge with a sprinkle of salt (yes, really!) and some blueberries or banana, and I’ve replaced sweetened yoghurts with my favourite creamy indulgence – Fage Greek Style (ahem, full fat) yoghurt, packed with friendly bacteria, which is utterly sublime.
What surprised me most was how both my compulsion and my taste for sweet things has gone. I don’t miss anything – and that amazes me. Cravings disappeared quickly and on the one or two occasions when I’ve had a small taste of sweet, out of politeness or because I didn’t want to be too pedantic about it, I’ve found the taste… not pleasant. Sweet is now… too sweet. That, my friends, is massive – the fact that once you’re no longer slamming your taste-buds with a tsunami of sugar, they don’t cry out for it, and when they get it, they don’t much like it any more. Massive.
It’s become so obvious to me that we are trained from childhood and endlessly influenced by advertising and the media, to crave sugar and regard sweet things as treats. Now there are savouries which I regard as treats – although my goal is to ‘treat’ myself with other things, not edibles. But, as they say, it’s a journey.
I would encourage anybody to take a run at this. Like any addiction, it’s tough at first, but eliminating sugar has so many positive effects on the body, that it’s worth persisting.
I’m not, as I mentioned, totally pedantic about it. My focus was on eliminating the main sweetened food groups – cakes, biscuits, breads, cereals, confectionary, deserts, sweetened drinks and fruit juices (but NOT whole fruit) – and avoiding added sugar in processed or ready meals, mainly by avoiding processed or ready meals. Doh. If there is sugar here and there, as there is, say, in salad dressings and other condiments, I’m content to overlook this. But at a guess, I believe I must have eliminated 95% or more of added sugar from my life, and I’m happy with this.
The anti-sugar lobby began to find its voice last year. Now it must demand that food manufacturers lower the quantity of sugar in their products – and it can’t do that without support from the general public. It’s bound to take some time. I would urge you not to wait for the food industry to catch up. By far the easiest way to reduce your own sugar intake immediately is to turn you back on those highly sweetened products.
Oh, and one small piece of advice. If you decide to begin this process, don’t just put or throw away the sweet stuff in your cupboards… douse it with washing-up liquid first!