Useful advice from a dieter, not a doctor!
Diets can be quite a nightmare and of course, one of the usual suspects we have to give up is sugar. But if you thought that might just mean saying goodbye to doughnuts and chocolate bars, sadly it’s not quite so simple.
Sugar itself is a delicious, but nasty substance. It leads to weight gain, contributes to tooth decay, can bring about heart conditions and type 2 diabetes – not to mention that it’s highly addictive! But even if you substitute it for so-called healthier alternatives, how sweet things affect our bodies doesn’t just come down to simple calorie intake.
There has been some speculation that artificial sweeteners wind up causing the same insulin response as sugar because our bodies actually respond to the sweet taste of substances, before we even start talking about carb break-down. However, the majority of further studies has shown that, despite an initial slight cephalic insulin release – ie when we see/smell/taste sweetness or start to chew – artificial sweeteners don’t actually cause the same insulin response as sugar. Hooray, you say? Sadly not.
More recent investigations have shown that common sweeteners like aspartame can, in the long term, wind up causing the same problems as overconsumption of sugar – i.e. weight gain, heart problems, diabetes – just by very different mechanisms. Constant intake of artificial sweeteners messes with your gut bacteria, interferes with your body’s natural “learned” mechanisms of releasing energy and can lead to severe metabolic derangements – ultimately inhibiting weight loss, which goes against what you were trying to do in the first place!
On top of that, certain chronic hormonal problems, such as PCOS or Thyroid issues means that some people also just have a natural intolerance for sweeteners, as well as sugar. Alas, to top it all off – instead of reaching for that donut, the average doctor will say “eat a piece of fruit instead”. Well, fruit = sucrose = sugar.
So, for many unfortunate people, the best diet for them to follow is one that doesn’t just exclude sugar, but excludes fruit and sweeteners. In other words, you can’t eat or drink anything sweet at all!
Honestly, this is a truly miserable way to live. Cheat days are a necessity, because your mental health is just as important as your physical one, and losing weight just isn’t worth it if every single meal gives you depression, with no end in sight. So have that occasional donut, but on a day to day, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain of this diet a bit.
- Citrus and berries are your friends. While super sugary fruits like bananas or mangos might be a no-no, if you just need a little hit of juicy sweetness, berries have much smaller fructose intake (plus lots of beneficial nutrients) so if you’re really going crazy, have some raspberries or strawberries. Similarly, citrus fruits contain far less sugar, so if a portion of blueberries won’t do the trick – have an orange.
- Embrace dark chocolate. While your usual favourites might be temporarily forbidden, we all need a bit of chocolate in our lives. So it’s dark chocolate to the rescue. Obviously, the higher the cocoa percentage the better, but anything over 70% is really entering bitter town. Or is it? Certain brands are much better than others – have a little fun and arrange a dark chocolate tasting session and see which brands have a good high cocoa/smooth taste ratio. Incidentally, vegan chocolate tends to pull this off better than regular. Plus dark chocolate is said to have some beneficial nutrients too – probably not many, but better than a snickers.
- Go for straight drinks. Sadly, if you’re a wine or cocktail lover, a sugar restrictive diet is quite a ‘mare, because all the ingredients that make cocktails fun are high in sugar. But, liquors in and of themselves are actually quite calorie-kind. So embrace your inner cowboy or emotionally repressed stockbroker and enjoy whisky neat, vodka on the rocks or go out with the girls and skip straight to the shots. If you MUST have a cocktail, then gin or vodka tonic is the best way to go. Yes, tonic water contains aspartame, but it’s still better than guzzling vermouth or sugar syrup. Also, try and investigate cocktails that have fewer sweet ingredients, such as a margarita, bloody mary or dirty martini. You’ll look hella dapper while you’re at it too!
- Make your own desserts. This last one really is a big cheat, but at least it’s better than going to the supermarket and splurging. Make your own crumble, tiramisu or cookies – yes they’ll be sweet, but at least at home, you can control how much sugar you add – so you can keep it on the lighter side. Plus, you can also watch the fat content and there won’t be any additional nasties added. Incidentally, Manuka honey, while expensive, is a great alternative to regular honeys and syrups, so if you want to sweeten up a dessert, opt for that instead.
One last piece of advice is to rejoice in the savoury. If sugar and sweeteners truly are your enemy, then give them the metaphorical finger by having fun with the opposite end of the flavour spectrum!