How to Cut Out Sugar

  • How to Cut Out Sugar

    BY Catherine Sissons | ON Wednesday, 11 November 2015
  • Eating healthy is often perceived as needing to be perfect at all your meals throughout the day.  If you deviate even slightly by including one food that is high in sugar, high in fat or happen to give in to that one refined, processed or baked food you feel like you have failed eating well that day or week.

    There is a certain level of responsibility required to achieve long term results but it doesn't require restricting or overthinking the foods you are eating. 

    Are you setting yourself up for failure trying to apply a way of eating that is unrealistic and unsustainable, to find that as soon as life gets busy, stressful or changes routine, that you give up or think about starting again at a later date?

    Over 80% of people that come to me for nutrition advice are very hard on themselves.  Too often people will give up when they eat foods that might not fit the perceived 'healthy food' category or when they eat a food that contains less nutrients.

    In reality, it is virtually impossible to eat 'clean' foods 100% of the time these days.  Life is busy and we are often eating foods from cafes, food courts, and restaurants and on the run.  You are not able to control the sugar, fat and salt content of these foods and no online calculator is going to be able to balance these foods for you.  The good news is - it is possible to find a balance in your personal way of eating without it impacting your long term desired results.

    When you employ an accountant to control your financial position, you do this because they get the result you want, that you can't get yourself.  You have no desire to know how they cut your tax, you are simply just after the best result possible.

    So why spend so much time analyzing your food with calorie counters, food calculators and listening to unqualified nutrition advice when it doesn't teach you how to nourish your body for wellness, energy and sustained weight loss?  

    Anyone that has tried a diet or healthy eating programme knows how hard it is to sustain new habits long term. In fact, the weight loss industry makes more than $55 billion a year based on relying that you will fail and not be able to 'stick' to the programme and diet. 

    Let's use cutting sugar out of your diet as an example.

    This statement itself is not only misleading but it is scientifically incorrect.  The fact is all your food is digested and breaks down into smaller building blocks known as glucose.  Glucose is the main type of sugar in your blood and major source of energy for your body cells. The kidney, red blood cells and brain cannot function correctly when your blood glucose is compromised.  Glucose not only comes from the foods we eat but we can also make it from other food groups in the body.

    So there you have it.  You can see it is impossible to be 'sugar free' because when your body is in glucose deficit, it will make it from the other foods you eat.  This process is called gluconeogenesis - the process of making glucose (sugars) from other foods groups besides carbohydrate.

    In layman terms, essentially what you are doing is using your muscle tissue to make glucose (sugar) for your brain because it can't use any other fuel due to a special protective barrier it has.  It is a very stressful process to fuel the body without glucose and mimics starving your body.  This can have implications on your energy levels, your immune system and affect how you store body fat long term.

    In small doses, carbohydrate/sugar restriction can feel beneficial to start with hence you feel great when you first cut out sugar/carbohydrates but it is unsustainable for your body to run on this energy system long term.  As a result over time you start to feel tired, lethargic and crave sugars after trying to stick to the regime. It is also not safe for people with busy lifestyles to restrict the primary fuel source that your body requires to strengthen the immune system, metabolise substances like alcohol and caffeine and build lean mass such as muscle.


    This does not mean I encourage eating a diet high in sugar or only carbohydrate but it is important that you are informed about all the facts so you can nourish your body and eat balanced.  Foods that are processed and refined are digested and absorbed more easily than foods that are more complex in nature.  The rate at which carbohydrates are processed and absorbed are measured by their glycaemic index.  The higher the index the quicker the food is absorbed. This impacts your metabolism by increasing your blood glucose (sugars) and causes your pancreas to release insulin so it can normalize your blood sugar levels.  When this process happens frequently it can exhaust the capacity of your pancreas to keep up with balancing your blood sugars.  As a result sugars can linger longer in your blood.  When this happens frequently, it can cause your blood glucose to become elevated permanently and it can then impact your health long term.


    When I start advising a new client, their eating is generally very healthy but they are frustrated because they still lack energy, can't change their body shape or improve their health even though they eat healthy foods.  There is enough information on the web and through the media now to get a general grasp on what is healthy food and what is not.  The information most people are lacking when they start with NOVA is understanding what state their body is in and how to fuel it.

    Your lifestyle impacts how you metabolise and burn the food you are eating.  You could be eating very healthy food however if your body is stressed, tired or on the run it will metabolise food differently and have different requirements. This is why it is so important to understand how your body changes under different conditions - just like a machine it will have different fuel requirements when put in different environments.

    It can up to a year to completely understand every scenario, situation and routine of how to fuel your body.  However twelve weeks is a good starting point.  Situations that cause variation in requirements include stress levels, alcohol consumption, drinking caffeine, eating at restaurants and cafes, travel, work changes, financial pressure and seasonal variation in the food you are eating. It is a necessity to learn all your given scenarios to ultimately sustain your results long term.  That might seem like a long time but one year out of approximately 78 years of life is very small amount of time. 

    CAUSES OF CRAVINGS          

    The body is made up of over 60% water content when it is hydrated optimally.  This is housed in the blood and is constantly circulating the body.  The body is hydrated more successfully through food because it draws the water out over time.  Drinking water is helpful but not absorbed as efficiently as it is from food.    

    The higher the water content in your food, the more water your body will absorb from it.  However, some foods such as potatoes, pumpkin and watermelon that contain high water content are also moderate to high on the glycaemic index.  This is how eating healthy can get confusing.  Low GI foods are promoted as healthier for you because they sustain your energy and appetite for longer and put less pressure on your pancreas. Howbeit, some foods with a moderate to high GI also contain lots of healthy nutrients and water content.


    The Glycaemic Index of an individual food alone is not a good measure of how healthy it is.  We don't eat foods in isolation nor is any one food only carbohydrate or only one food group.  All foods contain bits and pieces of different food groups - this is why we have food standards authority that regulate the food labels on our food in New Zealand and Australia.  A more effective measure of how our foods affect our blood sugar concentration is understanding Glycaemic loading and the glycaemic impact of your meal.

    Glycaemic loading is in reference to how the volume of carbohydrate within a typical serving of food impacts your blood sugar levels.  

    Glycamic impact is the volume of food that induces a glycemic response.  To simplify what I mean - when you have a food that is over 80% water content, it can only contain up to or less than 20% of everything else.  When 20% of the food is made up of carbohydrate, it is still a low carbohydrate food.

    When your portions are too large for what you require, you can induce a spike in your blood sugars when the food is eaten on its own.  When you eat these foods in combination with other foods, you can lower the glycemic impact and hence put less pressure on your pancreas to balance your blood sugars.

    Some ways you can lower the glycemic impact of your meal so you feel sustained and energized for longer is to include a carbohydrate that is more than 70% water content with a good protein source and a mixture of fruit and vegetables.  NOVA personal eating guides work this all out for you so you know how much of each food group and what to put with it so you can nourish your body efficiently without requiring calorie counters and still be satisfied for longer. 


    When your blood sugars are low, you will crave higher GI foods and they are usually more refined (made from flours) or high in sugar. This is because the body finds it easier to digest and absorb these foods faster to bring your blood sugars up. An example of these foods is sweets, chocolate, bread, slices and cakes. 

    This is not ideal for a healthy system to do this all the time as it can exhaust your pancreas and make you insulin resistant (produce less insulin to balance blood sugars).  

    When you start the day with just a carbohydrate such as toast, you start the cascade of blood sugar spikes throughout the day.  This results in needing another 'hit' of refined, processed or high sugar food to sustain the first spike you got. At the end of the day, you feel exhausted and have compromised your fluid intake by eating dry carbohydrates all day. This is usually when we feel like a coffee in the afternoon or having a wine or beer after work to pick up our energy levels.

    When you balance your eating throughout the day and you still feel like sweet food in the afternoon or after dinner, then this could be associated with a behavioural eating habit or can link to emotional eating.   


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