Nicky Park: Quitting sugar makes life sweeter

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Sugar is addictive.
Photo / Thinkstock
Sugar is addictive. Photo / Thinkstock

The last few months I've been a quitter. First to go was coffee, then sugar and alcohol. Without too much thought I began embarking on a mid-year health buzz, giving my body a rest and getting back to a healthy equilibrium.

Now I'm not saying that I was grossly unhealthy before, or that everyone needs to quit everything to be well. I'm saying that in order to give myself a fresh look at what makes my body happy and energised and my head clear and motivated I wanted a clean slate.

Back in March I chatted with sugar-free fan, David Gillespie. It was a topic many seemed to engage with - we were inundated with comments and hundreds of people shared the story on social media. Gillespie, who used to be morbidly obese, said one of the best things he ever did for his health was put a stop to "sweet poison".

The easiest way to do this, he said, was to avoid processed food and shop around the edge of the supermarket. So I began packing my trolley with as many vegetables, seeds, lentils, nuts, spices and grains as I could carry home. Most people assume that going sugar free is a tall order, but if you're prepared then it's not as hard as it sounds.

Fellow Australian writer, Sarah Wilson was also inspired by a chat to Gillespie. The former Cosmopolitan editor shares her healthy living insights on her blog. She gave the sugar-free thing a go for a fortnight and hasn't found a reason to revert to her old ways.

I've adopted a 'do what feels right' sugar-free philosophy. I've cut most of it out. However I mix half-a-teaspoon of manuka honey in my lemon, ginger and warm water morning drink. I stir another half-teaspoon into my rolled oats for breakie and throw on a handful of blueberries. These sweet hits are filled with so much other goodness I feel it justifies the sugar that I'm putting in my body.

New Zealand nutrition expert, Kath Fouhy, says sugar is addictive, but like fats, some sugars are better than others.

"Trying to avoid all sugar can be quite difficult because it's in a lot of foods and when you do that it's difficult to make your diet complete," Fouhy explains. She says a teaspoon of manuka honey a day and a couple of pieces of fruit are fine. It's the added sugar that's "what poison".

Sweet foods aren't filling so it's easy to go over-board.

"The fullness centre in your brain doesn't detect it so you just keep eating," she says.

"There are lots of different ways to write sugar on food labels so it's really easy for consumers to get confused.

"A general rule of thumb is under 10g of sugar per 100g."

Wilson's says her sugar-free philosophy is: "I don't eat sugar, it's just that every now and again I'll stick my fork in somebody's dessert."

Through her website and e-books she encourages other people to give sugar-free a whirl: "Try it, do it delicately and gently and treat it as an experiment."

"If you happen to have a moment where you want to eat a Tim Tam or you end up eating chocolate cake at a friend's birthday, so be it. Use it as an interesting experiment in what sugar does to you if you've been off it for ages.

"I'm doing this because it makes sense and my body actually tells me, it's not right [to eat sugar]."

When we talk about sugar, it's fructose that's the trouble maker. Normal table sugar is usually about half fructose, half glucose. Juices and sauces are some of the worst fructose-filled culprits. And when it come to booze, all the fructose in wine and dry spirits ferments and turns in to alcohol. It's the mixers like tonic water and OJ that you've got to watch out for.

(Plus, alcohol puts a toll on your liver. So, if you've been eating a lot of sugar and you're keen to cut back, Wilson suggests backing off the booze to give you liver a chance to clear out.)

"We're so addicted that we don't really know what it feels like to not have sugar," Wilson says.

"We also don't know what it's doing to our bodies because it's so intrinsic."

Dr Robert Lustig, an American endocrinologist, told Australia's 60 Minutes programme that sugar is killing us, slowly. He says it's replaced fat as the new dietary evil.

"Sugar is a way bigger problem than fat ever was," Dr Lustig said.

However Professor Jennie Brand Miller from Sydney University says focusing on sugar alone is dangerous, ineffective and unfair.

She says using words like "toxic" and "poison" to describe sugar is a headline grabbing exercise and we should be cutting back on all bad foods.

I've found quitting sugar has meant a diet free from all the foods that aren't good for me. Like Wilson says, it's eating the way that your grandparents used to eat. I sleep well, am more alert, have far more energy and feel lighter. My body is smiling, my head is clear and life is much sweeter without sugar.

Wilson has been sharing her sugar-free recipes with readers and recently pulled them together in the I Quit Sugar e-book, with contributions from a host of health nuts, including famous foodie, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Here's one of her favourite recipes, Coco-nutty Granola. Check out her site for more info on how you can get your hands on more sugar-free recipes.

Follow Life & Style Editor Nicky Park on Twitter.

Have you quit sugar? How are you feeling? Would you like to try and quit?

Nicky Park

Editor of Life & Style.

Nicky lives to wine, dine and thrive. As Life & Style Editor at the New Zealand Herald online, she feels lucky she can call this work. Nicky crafted her writing skills as a cadet for an Australian news wire. Amongst the coverage of sport, news, finance and courts she found a favourite in features. A stint as a foreign correspondent sent this chipper Aussie across the Tasman, covering the big issues of the Pacific Islands. Every single day Nicky relishes the opportunities she has to mix and mingle with interesting people, feast on delicious food, visit new places and write all about it. Nicky wants everyone to make the most of their minutes, learn lots and live their best life.

Read more by Nicky Park

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