Tips to reduce sugar in your diet

Take a small step to reduce your sugar intake by using a teaspoon, instead of a tablespoon of sugar for your drink. - Filepic

It’s time to stop our addiction to this oh-so-desirable and prevalent sweet stuff.

In the first article of this “sweet series” (Just too sweet, Fit for life, Nov 30), we looked at why sugar is so addictive, which gives us a clearer idea of why we love the sweet stuff so much.

Even those who claim to take a low-sugar diet are actually unaware that they are taking more sugar than necessary in the form of fructose (a type of sugar) in processed food.

Many people have specific cravings for sugar, for example, being in the habit of having a cup of coffee and dessert after a meal. – Filepic

It’s important to recognise that sugar cravings are a strong urge akin to smoking or alcohol consumption, and getting rid of sugar in the diet is easier said than done.

Even more so when this sweet stuff tricks our hormones and brains into feeling energetic, confident, happy and fulfilled.

The drug-like effects that sugar has on our hormones is among the main reasons why non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are rising at alarming rates around the world.

Scientists have also found that sugar consumption creates leptin resistance in the liver, causing people to no longer get signals from their brain to tell that they are full.

As a result, they cannot seem to stop eating, which leads to obesity and increased risk of diabetes and other health complications.

So, what can we do to fight this war against sugar?

It can only start when you recognise that you are a slave to the sweet stuff.

Once you’ve taken that first step, you can gradually implement these steps into your, and your family’s, life.

Do it one step at a time

It can be very hard to go cold turkey on sugar – don’t be surprised to find yourself having withdrawal symptoms, which will build up into some serious sugar bingeing soon enough.

So, take it slow in weaning yourself.

Begin with the easy steps, such as replacing tea-time cakes with unsweetened crackers and going from one tablespoon to one teaspoon of sugar in your tea or coffee.

Brew your own coffee and tea because the 3-in-1 drinks are sugar-laden.

When craving for something sweet, reach for fresh or dried fruits instead of cookies, cakes, ice-cream or puffs.

Stay away from carbonated canned drinks, because just one can has enough sugar to last you an entire week.

Start them young

If you think it’s too late to stop your own addiction to sugar, then think of it as shaping your children’s future health.

Help keep your kids off the sugar habit by only having sweet treats on special occasions like birthdays. – Filepic

As parents responsible for groceries, we make the decisions on what to feed the family. Often, the change happens just by stopping the purchase.

Of course, it helps if your children were never taught to love sugar from the time they were babies, although we know it’s virtually impossible if you share childcare with your parents, domestic helpers, daycare professionals and others.

Still, it’s never too late to change their habits.

Keep ice-cream, cakes and cookies for special occasions such as birthdays, holidays or festive celebrations – the way it was all along in the past when people had less money for non-essentials.

To prevent sugar cravings, ensure that they have three main meals a day and don’t ruin their appetite with sugary snacks.

Track your patterns

You may not realise it, but most people have specific patterns for sugar cravings.

Some are cultivated habits, such as having dessert or a sweet drink after a meal, others are a natural reaction to fulfil the body’s cry for fuel, such as taking chocolates when emotionally down, cookies when stressed at work or others.

Keep a little ‘sugar diary’ to track your patterns: are they worse just before your periods, when you are rushing deadlines, before an important presentation or when you travel?

Knowing what triggers your sugar rush will help you better prepare yourself, such as loading yourself up with fruits, making sure you eat well and getting enough rest.

Balance your diet

Forget about eating to live or living to eat, it all comes back to square one if your diet does not comprise all the necessary nutrients for a good healthy life.

The World Health Organisation has classified this as “hidden hunger”, where people in developing countries seem to be eating well, but are found to be deficient in various nutrients and micro-nutrients.

To begin with, inject more variety into your foods, and choose ‘real food’ over processed food. For example, choose a chicken dish over sausages, or salad over fries.

Boost your protein intake, as proteins keep you feeling full and less inclined to snack on unhealthy foods.

To fight sugar cravings, ensure you get sufficient omega-3 in your diet, whether through foods such as salmon, flaxseed oil, basil, anchovies and nuts, or fish oil supplements.

Omega-3 helps to regulate mood and reduce inflammation –

factors that lead to cravings.

Have a ‘sugar day off’ every week

Apart from the small steps to reduce daily sugar intake, consider allocating one day every week where you abstain from sugar.

Choose a less stressful day, such as during the middle of the week, and not on weekends, when you are likely to be meeting friends or relatives.

On your sugar-free day, take note to exclude hidden sugars in practically all processed foods.

Getting through the day may be tough in the beginning, but will get easier as you find more alternative healthy foods, such as nuts and seeds, to munch on.

You can extend this to two or three days a week once you begin to feel the benefits.

Be ‘sweet’ to yourself!

Many people feel hopeless and helpless when told they are to abstain from sugar, often feeling as though the rest of their lives will be devoid of (food) enjoyment.

This is especially true of diabetics who are diagnosed at a young age.

This need not be the case if they have the right knowledge and know-how to balance their diet and lifestyles.

As stated in the previous article, many people are hooked on sugar highs because they seek the fulfilment that comes from the hormonal changes caused by sugar in the body.

One of the best ways to counter that is to do things that keep you happy, as emotional deprivation can be a strong (albeit hidden) factor.

Find non-food ways to reward or console yourself, such as taking a walk, talking with a friend (not over a cuppa!), engaging in hobbies, going for a massage, watching a movie or others.

It all starts by wanting to regain control of your life. Reducing sugar intake is just a natural progression of that desire.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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