Should I quit sugar cold turkey?

After a long day, you kick off your shoes and slump in front of the TV with a plate of leftover Pad Thai in hand. What you probably don’t realise is that this popular Thai dish is laden with sugar — around four teaspoons, in fact.

The problem with many sought-after takeaway meals, and even our favourite pocket-sized snacks, is that we often don’t realise the amount of sugar they contain — which could be the reason we crave something sweet during the day.

“When we consume a diet that contains significant amounts of added sugar, over time it programs the brain to seek out more of this sweet stimulus,” says leading dietitian Susie Burrell.

Don’t cave into your cravings
Essentially, sugar can become an addiction so you don’t want to feed that desire.

“If you feed a sweet craving with sweet food, you will actually want more, which somewhat explains why we can eat an entire packet of biscuits or tub of ice cream,” explains Burrell. “For this reason, never feed a sweet craving with something sweet. Instead, opt for a food that shifts the taste palate to something salty or savoury.”

Try a handful of nuts, some cheese and crackers, or Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit as substitute for sweeter snacks.

For those experiencing sugar withdraws, Burrell suggests keeping yourself busy and distracted. “Understand that it will not last forever. Drink herbal teas and chew sugar free gum to, again, shift the taste palate,” says Burrell.

How much is too much?
According to the World Health Organisation, we should limit our sugar intake to six teaspoons, or 25 grams, a day. Unsurprisingly, over 50 per cent of Australians consume more than double this recommendation.

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Many Australians go vastly above the recommended daily intake of six teaspoons of sugar

However, for many people whose bodies have adapted to a certain amount of sugar in their diet, quitting sugar cold turkey may not be the most practical option. Ideally, gradually reducing your consumption is the best way to eventually tame your sweet tooth.

Burrell says that an acceptable quantity of sugar is 10 per cent, or 10 grams per 100 grams. When looking at the sugar content on food labels, choose options that contain 10 grams of sugars per serve — or less.

Burrell’s top sugary foods to avoid:

  • Fruit yoghurt
  • Lollies
  • Fruit juice
  • Smoothies
  • Dried fruit
  • Granola
  • Acai
  • Rice malt syrup
  • Muffins

It’s important to note, however, that our bodies still need sugar (or glucose) to function, and it is the “added sugars” we should be wary of in many products. When it comes to food and drinks containing added sugar, the Australian Dietary Guidelines advise Australians to limit their intake, especially with confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, cordials, fruit juices, and sports drinks.

“Look for natural sources of sugar rather than added, and look for foods that do not contain added sugar at all,” Burrell suggests.

Will a ‘no sugar diet’ guarantee weight loss?
It’s no surprise that high sugar consumption is the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, as well as increasing one’s risk of heart disease. So, will quitting sugar lead to weight loss?

“It depends,” says Burrell. “Eliminating processed foods and added sugars will help, but if you simply replace one type of sugar with other forms — such as swapping cane sugar for rice malt syrup, honey, or dried fruits — the results will not be what you are looking for.”

Instead, she suggests using sweeteners, which can help reduce sugar intake slowly and therefore help manage weight on a long-term basis.

“Overall, the less added sugars we have in our diet the better. A natural sweetener such as Stevia, used for sweetening baked goods and drinks, is a much better option from a calorie perspective,” says Burrell.

Take our quiz to find out how much sugar is in some of your favourite foods and drinks.

What do you think about the amount of added sugars in supermarket products?

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