8 Tips to Go Sugar-Free (Without Going Crazy)
Cutting sugar out of your diet is one strategy to lose weight and feel healthier, but it can be a tough transition. Here are eight tips to go sugar-free without going crazy, plus ideas on what to eat on a low-sugar diet.
Sugar is highly addictive and can control you. Some studies have shown sugar to be more addictive than cocaine and nicotine. Prolonged intake of sugar has been linked to mood disorders, obesity, diabetes, and other serious metabolic disorders.
It may seem like a struggle to go sugar-free at first (and it can be!), but it will get easier. Experiment with the tips included in this article and you’re much more likely to beat the sugar blues without going crazy.
Who Should Go Sugar Free?
Ideally, most people would be on a low-sugar or sugar-free diet. But, a sugar-free diet or one low in added sugars can be especially helpful for those having difficulties with blood sugar levels or systemic inflammation. This can include those with pre-diabetes, diabetes, heart disease, PCOS or other hormonal imbalances, or an autoimmune disease.
A no-sugar diet is more restrictive and can refer to a diet where you avoid even natural foods that have higher amounts of sugar. People who have diabetes or pre-diabetes should probably be on a sugar-free diet, choosing real foods that have a low glycemic index. Learn how to do a sugar detox.
Keep in mind that even vegetables can contain sugar in small amounts, so a no-sugar diet may be unnecessarily restrictive for the majority of people. If you don’t have diabetes or pre-diabetes but still want to manage your blood sugar and inflammation, try cutting back on added sugars and see if you get an improvement in symptoms.
What is a Low-Sugar Diet?
A low-sugar diet is a diet plan that focuses on maintaining low overall sugar intake. There isn’t one strict definition of this diet, but it usually means choosing real food and avoiding packaged or prepared foods that have added sugars.
Processed foods such as common snack items, fast food, and most restaurant meals contain added sugar for both flavor and appetite stimulation. Added sugars are not only limited to obvious items like cookies or candy. Even processed foods like store-bought marinara, cured meats, or frozen meals often contain high amounts of sugar.
A low-sugar diet plan eliminates processed foods as much as possible or suggests processed foods without added sugars. One person may choose to eliminate processed foods on a low-sugar diet but continue to include real food sources of sugar. Another person may choose to eliminate processed foods and high-glycemic foods such as natural and artificial sweeteners, fruit, and high-carbohydrate foods.
There are many ways to tailor this diet to your needs but generally speaking, a low-sugar or sugar-free diet is any diet that limits sugar with the intention of avoiding blood sugar instability and overall inflammation.
Tips to Go Sugar Free
If you’re ready to cut out sugar completely from your diet, these eight tips should help make the transition easier. As always, please consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet, exercise, or supplement routine.
1. Increase Healthy Fat Intake to Improve Satiation
One gram of fat contains 9 calories while one gram of sugar contains 4 calories. Fat is more satiating, making you feel more full for a longer period of time. If you eat more fat, you’ll generally crave less sweet stuff and have fewer symptoms of sugar withdrawal.
Opt for healthy fats like:
- nuts and seeds,
- coconut oil,
- extra virgin olive oil,
- fattier fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.
Adding more healthy fat sources to your meals should decrease after-meal or snack time cravings for sugary treats.
2. Get More Sleep to Balance Hunger Hormones
Studies have shown that shorter sleep duration is associated with an elevated body mass index. The reason for this is because your appetite regulating hormones (leptin and ghrelin) are negatively impacted by sleep debt, causing you to crave easy sources of energy that often come from sweets.
If you make sleep a priority and aim to get at least 7-9 hours per night your hunger hormones balance out and your cravings for the sweet stuff are reduced. Getting consistent solid sleep is one of my biggest challenges, but it’s gotten so much better using my healthy sleep hacks.
3. Practice Stress Management Techniques to Control Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is common among those who are stressed out, but there are ways to control it. Adopt a meditation practice, go for a walk outside, sip some calming tea, meet up with a friend for yoga, or try some breathing exercises. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise has been known to work well in times of stress.
Finding something to take your mind off your cravings is necessary when you’ve been involved in a stressful event and are prone to emotional eating.
If you think you have a true sugar addiction, then you might need professional help. See this post about how to beat sugar addiction.
4. Use Fruit to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
Low glycemic fruits such as berries, green apples, and fruits from the citrus family are good natural options to help you satisfy a sweet craving. These fruits provide a hint of sweetness while also providing you with a fair amount of fiber and beneficial phytonutrients.
The fiber fills you up and the phytonutrients provide your body with vitamins and minerals that help you meet nutrient requirements so you don’t try to seek them out somewhere else. So, unless your doctor has advised you to avoid fruit due to blood sugar issues, then you can use fruit to help satisfy your sweet cravings.
Whole fruit is nature’s dessert and can be enjoyed in moderation by most people.
5. Drink More Water
Often times you may think you’re hungry when in fact your body is in need of some hydration. Drinking one to two glasses of water when you get a sugar craving can help quell that craving. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day also helps keep cravings at bay and help with any symptoms of sugar withdrawal.
If you aren’t a fan of plain water, try adding slices of fruits, cucumbers or mint to your water to make it more pleasing to your palate. Here’s a super easy recipe for Cucumber Lemon Infused Water. You can also try sparkling mineral water or naturally flavored carbonated waters to add some interest.
6. Boost Your Feel Good Hormones
Serotonin is also known as the happiness hormone. Serotonin levels can be raised through exercise, a nutritious diet and plenty of restorative sleep. People with higher serotonin levels are less likely to experience sugar cravings.
7. Consider Sugar-Free Alternatives
There are plenty of sugar substitutes available on the market, but not all of them are considered healthy. And, you may need to be cautious about using sugar-free alternatives when you’re trying to cut back on sugar. The jury is still out as to whether or not it’s a good idea to use sugar alternatives as opposed to simply cutting back on sugar or going 100% sugar-free.
Aspartame is the sugar substitute generally found in diet drinks. It also goes by the name of NutraSweet and is made in a lab from aspartic acid and phenylalanine dipeptides. There have been concerns about aspartame as a potential carcinogen. Though its carcinogenic effects have not yet been proven, it’s still recommended that you avoid it.
Another sugar-free alternative to stay away from is sucralose, also known as Splenda. A 2017 study found that zero-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose were actually found to increase, not decrease, weight.
Stevia and monk fruit extract may be better sugar alternative choices. Neither stevia nor monk fruit have been shown to be unsafe or have negative side effects, so right now they’re probably the safest options. See my list of acceptable sugar substitutes.
8. Know Your Limits
Some people report that even just a tiny hint of something sweet provokes intense cravings. For these people, it is recommended that they quit all sweet stuff temporarily. This includes fruit and safe zero-calorie sugar alternatives.
If you fall into this category, as many people with insulin resistance often do, you can add back in sweet alternatives once your taste buds have been reset. This can be anywhere from two weeks to a full year. You’ll just have to know what works for you through intuition and trial and error.
How do I know if sugar is in my food?
This can be tricky! Ideally, you are eating mostly real food which wouldn’t have a label. Foods that come in a package often have hidden added sugars. So, some of the ingredients on the package might not sound like sugar, but they are. Here’s an infographic about hidden sugars.
Do I have to avoid fruit when going sugar-free?
You don’t have to give up fruit unless you have some health reason for avoiding it. As mentioned above, fruit is nature’s candy and contains health-promoting micronutrients and fiber.
What if I cheat?
It’s not a contest and please don’t feel guilty if you have sugar when you don’t intend to. In this case, it might be good to review your reasons for going sugar-free and think about what other choices you could make in the future, especially in a similar situation.
What can you eat on a sugar free diet?
Just eat real foods! Seriously, you can eat so many foods on a sugar free diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, animal protein, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, avocados.
What foods are naturally low in sugar?
There’s a lot of low sugar foods! In general, low sugar foods are those high in protein, fat, or fiber and low in natural or added sugars.
Animal proteins including beef, poultry, and seafood are high in protein and contain no carbohydrates or sugar. Foods like spinach, arugula, squashes, cruciferous veggies, and other non-starchy vegetables are low in carbohydrates and sugar and high in fiber.
Fruits like berries and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and plantains are higher in sugar and carbohydrates, but are still welcome on a low sugar diet in moderation. Higher-glycemic fruits such as apples, grapes, bananas, and melons can also be included on a low-sugar diet in moderation.
What are added sugars?
Added sugars are any sugars that are not naturally occurring in the food you’re consuming. Added sugars are a possibility with processed foods or baked goods and can include sugars such as white/brown sugar, corn syrup, and dextrose or natural sugars like coconut sugar, maple syrup, and honey.
Added sugars are most commonly found in sweet snacks, sodas, and candy, but can also be found in sauces, granola bars, non-dairy milk products, yogurt, frozen meals, and countless other processed foods.
Can I eat carbs?
A low sugar diet is not necessarily a low-carb diet. You can still eat a sufficient amount of carbohydrates by consuming vegetables, low glycemic fruits, and whole grains.
However, if you’re following a low sugar diet to manage blood sugar and disorders like diabetes, you may want to consider the glycemic index of the carbohydrate sources you choose.
How do you cut sugar out of your diet?
It’s up to you whether to cut it out 100% or to take baby steps. Either way, you’ll likely see health benefits from cutting back on sugary foods.
How can I live sugar free?
Unless you have a health condition that means you really need to restrict even sugar from whole foods, then there are lots of ways to live sugar-free and still not feel deprived.
From eating fruit to just adding more whole foods to your diet, it’s actually not that hard to live sugar-free. However, if you’re feeling panicked about cutting sugar out of your diet, you might need to consult a therapist who can help you separate emotionally from sugar.
What can you eat on a sugar detox?
If you’re detoxing from sugar, then it’s probably best to avoid fruit just to help your tastebuds reset. So, focus on staying hydrated and eating lots of real, nourishing foods while your body adjusts.
Read more about doing a sugar detox.
Going sugar-free wasn’t an option for me most of my life. I used candy and other sweets as my comfort and way of staying sane, so cutting it out would have just added more stress to my life.
In fact, it wasn’t until I got serious about managing my stress and learning how to get in touch with my feelings that I was able to stop using sugar as my coping mechanism. Once this happened, I felt so much more freedom. I can’t even tell you how freeing it is to eat dessert but because I want to, not because I have to.
I know not everyone eats sweets for emotional reasons, some people eat a lot of sugar simply because it tastes so good. Our brains and bodies have evolved for us to seek out pleasurable foods.
But, the truth remains that many of us go overboard with sugars, especially refined sugars. That’s what it’s not a bad idea to think about going sugar-free or simply cutting back on sugars from your diet.
Most people would benefit from cutting back on sugar in their diets. Most nutrition experts agree that the best diet for most people is one that is balanced in macronutrients, and may include natural sweeteners on occasion. For more support on going sugar-free, you are invited to join my free Sugar Free Challenge.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.