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My sugar-free fortnight

January is the perfect time to rethink your relationship with the sweet stuff. Here, health writer Natalie Ticehurst looks at the benefits

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My sugar-free fortnight

Deep down, we all know that we should probably consume less sugar! After all, eating more than 30g daily of the ‘free’ sugars added to food or drinks, or found in such products as honey, syrup or fruit juice, can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease*. Even artificial sweeteners, such as those found in ‘diet’ drinks, can have damaging effects.

‘By the end of week two, I’m no longer a slave to my cravings’

Here's what the experts say...

Dr Louise Wiseman, a medical writer and former GP.​

‘Unlike sugar, these sweeteners aren’t digested, but they may affect the balance of gut bacteria and lead to glucose intolerance and obesity**’

‘Sugar also releases the feel-good hormone dopamine, so as sugar levels drop, we slump and need more to regain the feeling ‡ . However, once you start to eliminate sugar, cravings should reduce ‡‡ as brain receptors regulate and your taste buds adapt § .’

Dija Ayodele, skincare expert

‘Sugar has links with inflammation† so, if you’re prone to flare-ups, it may worsen them. Glycation also occurs: sugar attaches itself to collagen in your skin, making it brittle and possibly weakening the skin’s barrier function. Breakage can show up as wrinkles, fine lines or a loss of elasticity.’

putting it to the test

Quitting sugar may seem like a no-brainer – but it can be a tricky habit to break. Here’s what happened when Natalie put her theory to the test…

Initial thoughts...

‘This will be a doddle, I thought – I don’t really have a sweet tooth. However, as wellness expert Simone Thomas inspects my food diaries, eyebrows are raised at my lattes (my oat milk of choice is sweetened), pasta sauces and salad dressings: all laden with sugar!’

Day 1-3

‘On day one, I gaze longingly at some biscuits, but settle on a few Medjoul dates as a compromise. Biscuits they’re definitely not, but I get an energy hit.’

Day 3-7 

‘By day three, the urge to stick my head in a bag of pick-and-mix has passed, as have the headaches that are a common withdrawal symptom. Then, work stress leaves me feeling flat, and I reach for a diet fizzy drink… Sadly off-limits! I put the can back in the fridge and sulk.’

Day 7-14

‘By the end of week two, I’m no longer a slave to cravings, my energy levels are consistent, my jeans are looser, and I sleep better. Plus, my face is blemish-free.’

The verdict?

‘I’m aiming to stick to my new sugar-free ways. And what of that frothy latte? I’ve switched to no-added-sugar nut milk. It’s a small price to pay!’

Feeling inspired? Check out a nutritionist's guide to lower sugar intake here. Or if you're just looking to cut down, why not try one of our fave low sugar dessert recipes?

 

*Source: nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-does-sugar-in-our-diet-affect-our-health/. **Source: The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity, 2017. †Source: Effect of Dietary Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies, 2018. ††Source: Dieting and food craving. A descriptive, quasi-prospective study, 2012. ‡Source: Sugar Addiction: From Evolution to Revolution, 2018. ‡‡Source: Frequency of Consuming Foods Predicts Changes in Cravings for those Foods During Weight Loss: The POUNDS Lost Study, 2017. §Source: Reduced Dietary Intake of Simple Sugars Alters Perceived Sweet Taste Intensity but not Perceived Pleasantness, 2015.