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Is low-sugar right for you? Learn about the benefits of a low-sugar diet and how to incorporate it into your daily routine.
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 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 sweeteners, fruit, and high-carbohydrate foods. See which are the best sweeteners when you’re watching sugar.
There are many ways to tailor this diet to your needs but generally speaking, a low sugar diet is any diet that limits sugar with the intention of avoiding blood sugar instability and overall inflammation.
Who is a low-sugar diet right for?
Ideally, most people would be on a low-sugar diet. But, it can be especially helpful for those having difficulties with blood sugar stabilization or systemic inflammation. This can include those with pre-diabetes, diabetes, PCOS or other hormonal imbalances, or an autoimmune disease.
Who should be on a no-sugar diet?
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 no-sugar 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. Learn more about how to go sugar-free. If you don’t have diabetes or pre-diabetes but still want to manage your blood sugar and inflammation, a low-sugar diet should suffice.
What is the glycemic index?
The glycemic index is a scale that measures how quickly a food will raise your blood sugar levels on a scale of 1 to 100. Foods with less sugar or carbohydrates, such as vegetables, nuts, and berries, rank lower on the glycemic index. These foods also may contain fat, protein, or fiber that slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. This means that these foods won’t immediately spike your blood sugar and cause your body to stress out as it attempts to stabilize it. Foods with more sugar or carbohydrates, such as sweeteners or bread, will rank higher on the glycemic index and may be helpful to avoid if you’re looking to stabilize your blood sugar.
The glycemic index is not a perfect system as it cannot take into account meals, serving sizes, or nutritional value. The glycemic index is only an indication of how likely a single food is to quickly raise your blood sugar. For example, a cup of jasmine rice has a high glycemic load. However, if you were to consume this cup of rice alongside a cut of meat and a salad dressed in olive oil, your blood sugar would not raise as quickly as it would if you consumed the jasmine rice on its own.
As another example, if you consumed ten servings of a low-glycemic food like strawberries, your blood sugar would spike. It’s important to consider serving sizes, accompanying foods, and nutritional value when determining if a food should be included in your diet based on its glycemic load.
What can you eat on a low-sugar diet?
Luckily, there is plenty you can eat on a low-sugar diet! Fill your diet with healthy protein, fat, vegetables, and starchy carbohydrates. Learn more about how to fill your plate and also whether or not a paleo diet is right for you. We’ll use a moderate approach to a low sugar diet for this example. A low-sugar diet could look like:
Eggs and sausage with a side of berries and coconut milk for breakfast.
The protein and fat from the eggs, sausage, and coconut milk will provide you with fuel upon waking, while a low-glycemic fruit like berries provides you with phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber with a minimal blood sugar spike.
A portion of lean protein for lunch, alongside brown rice and sautéed vegetables cooked in coconut oil.
The protein from the meat, the fat from the coconut oil, and the fiber from the brown rice and vegetables slow any sugar absorption from the higher-glycemic rice.
Salmon, a large salad dressed with olive oil, and a baked sweet potato for dinner.
The protein from the salmon, the fat from the salmon and olive oil, and the fiber from the salad greens and sweet potato slow any sugar absorption from the starchy sweet potato. If you’d like dessert, follow up with a few squares of super dark chocolate–72% or higher won’t spike your blood sugar, but satisfies a sweet tooth and provides antioxidants and minerals.
Even following a low-sugar diet, you can still indulge in fruit and desserts. Enjoy these in moderation and consider making your own baked goods to avoid added or processed sugars. Pair your apples and bananas with nut butter for added fat and protein, and limit servings of high-glycemic fruits to about one a day.
When it comes to baked goods, use moderate amounts of natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey, or consider using non-caloric sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit. Maple syrup and honey rank highly on the glycemic index but provide you with vitamins and minerals that processed sugar does not. Limit baked goods to special occasions. If you feel like you can’t stay away from sugar, here are some tips to beat sugar addiction.
What are some naturally low-sugar foods?
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. A paleo diet is naturally a low sugar diet, but with some additional restrictions. Here are some examples of low sugar foods:
Pork, Beef, Chicken, Turkey, Lamb, or Seafood
These are all high in protein and contain no carbohydrates or sugar. While gluconeogenesis (the process of glucose generation from non-carbohydrate sources) can occur with protein consumption, this is usually limited to those consuming an excess of protein and/or insufficient carbohydrates or fat for primary fuel.
Nuts/Seeds and Nut/Seed Butters, Cacao Products, Coconut Products, Avocados, Olive/Avocado Oil
These are all high in fat and lower in carbohydrates and sugar. Nuts/seeds, coconut, and avocados also contain fiber.
Leafy Greens, Vegetables, and Berries
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 a common culprit in sweet snacks and candy, but can also be found in sauces, granola bars, non-dairy milk products, yogurt, frozen meals, and countless other processed foods.
It’s best to eliminate processed foods as much as possible to ensure you’re also eliminating sources of added sugar. If you do choose to purchase processed foods, be sure to read labels and familiarize yourself with the names that sugar hides under.
Added sugars can also refer to sugar added into baked goods. For example, banana bread made with just bananas as the sweetener does not contain any added sugars. Banana bread made with bananas and maple syrup does contain added sugars.
Can I eat carbs on a low sugar diet?
Yes! A low sugar diet is not necessarily a low carbohydrate 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.
Carbohydrates are a quick source of fuel for your cells. When you consume carbohydrates, they are converted to glucose during digestion and sent to your bloodstream–this is how your blood sugar rises. The presence of glucose in your blood signals the release of insulin, which is a hormone that ushers the glucose into your cells for use. After your cells receive the glucose, your blood sugar levels decrease again.
This is why the source of carbohydrates in your diet is important. Foods with simple carbohydrates like white bread or sugary snacks will be digested more quickly, sent to your bloodstream, ushered into cells, and used as fuel. This process is overly efficient and results in a quick blood sugar spike and subsequent drop, sending your body into a state of stress and search for more glucose. Ever feel hungry an hour after consuming a meal heavy in simple carbs? This is why!
Foods with complex carbohydrates–carbohydrates accompanied by fiber and nutrients–will be digested more slowly, which means they aren’t dumped into your bloodstream for quick metabolization. You’ll experience a slow rise in blood sugar, which will keep it steady until you’re able to eat your next meal.
Conclusion About Low-Sugar Diets
Most people would benefit from cutting back on sugar in their diets. The best diet for most women 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 Sugar Free Challenge group on Facebook.
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