As much as I try to live a healthy lifestyle - eating well and exercising as much as I can - sugar is just one of those things I can't quite seem to escape completely. I'm pretty good with taking my supplements every day, but I find it difficult to pass up a piece of chocolate or a slice of birthday cake when it's on offer. It's even more complicated for children who are often over-exposed to sugar in advertisements. To understand why we should limit sugar intake, plus some practical ways to avoid it, I sat down with the author and founder of I Quit Sugar, Sarah Wilson. With the I Quit Sugar team in tow, we asked everything you could ever want to know about how to quit sugar.
What does sugar do to our bodies?
Put simply, sugar is addictive, and it can wreak havoc on our health if consumed recklessly. Sugar (namely fructose) increases our risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Sugar also increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. It also increases our risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and certain types of cancer. Worse still, sugar ages us faster, is terrible for our teeth and, makes us fat.
What are the top three things people notice when they quit sugar for the first time?
The great thing about quitting sugar is that you can feel the benefits within a few days. People describe ditching the sweet stuff like a lifting fog. They don't feel as fuzzy, their skin clears, energy levels increase, and natural hunger cues are easier to understand.
How long does the I Quit Sugar program take, and what happens afterwards?
Throughout the I Quit Sugar 8-Week Program, we teach you everything you need to live a low-sugar life for good. We share the latest sugar science, teach you how to cook, inspire you with delicious sugar-free recipes and ensure that by the end of the Program, you're well-equipped to deal with sugary lapses in your daily life. Because it honestly happens to us all!
How is the program different to quitting sugar on your own?
What sets our 8-Week Program apart is that we are there with you every step of the way! You receive constant email support, and we have community forums set up to chat with other sugar-quitters in the 8-week program. You also have access to our pool of over 50 industry experts, including nutritionists, dietitians, yoga instructors, naturopaths, physios, integrative GPs, to name just a few! We're also unique because we're not a "diet"; there is no restriction. The Program teaches you to just JERF (just eat real food), so you can eat in abundance!
How hard is it to cut out sugar from our daily lives?
Sugar is everywhere – even in the places you least expect it! Think tomato sauce, mayo, dried fruit snacks, crackers, kids' lunchbox snacks. But, once you know what to look for and the many (many!) different aliases sugar has, you can quickly develop the knowledge and confidence to steer clear. We always say: you can't unlearn this stuff! Once you know just how detrimental sugar can be to your health, you simply stay away. And, more importantly, once you quit sugar, you don't crave it anymore either!
Does sugar consumption link to our mental health?
The short answer is yes. More and more research links sugar consumption to our mental health and wellbeing, mainly due to an improved understanding of the gut-brain connection. Essentially, our gut health and microbiome impacts more than just our metabolism, directly influencing our nervous system as well. An imbalance of "bad" bacteria in our gut has been linked to autoimmune issues, depression and behavioural issues like ADHD. For our founder and director, Sarah found that ditching sugar helped to "turn down the volume" on her anxiety too.
Sugar is everywhere - how can kids possibly avoid sugar at school or birthday parties?
When it comes to kids and sugar, our best advice is to lead by example. If you don't keep sugar in your house, being sugar-free will simply become the norm. It's also vital to educate your kids without demonising sugar. Let them know that overeating can make us sick and allow them to judge for themselves how it makes them feel. That way, when it comes to parties, you can let them do their thing in confidence! You'll likely find that either your kids will naturally steer clear because it's normal for them to do so. Or, they'll have a few sips of sugary soda and quickly realise they don't feel so flash and will reach for the water instead.
What are the differences between glucose, fructose and sucrose?
When we talk about quitting sugar, we're referring to fructose specifically. Sucrose, or ordinary white table sugar, is 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose. The critical difference, however, lies in how your body breaks both these components down. Glucose is broken down by every cell in the body and used for energy. Fructose, on the other hand, is broken down exclusively by the liver. When we eat foods high in fructose, our liver can become overloaded and unable to cope, forcing the liver to store any excess fructose that it can't break down as fat. This fat is typically dumped around the liver, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. The other key difference is that fructose has no "off" switch. When we eat fructose products, our satiety hormone, leptin, isn't switched on, and worse still, it also increases ghrelin levels (our hunger hormone), causing us to eat more and more and more!
What are the long-term benefits we would hope to see from quitting sugar?
The health benefits of ditching the sweet stuff are endless! Many of our sugar-quitters report weight loss, improved energy levels, clear skin, better moods, better sleep and even increased fertility and improvements in their autoimmune conditions. One of the most significant benefits, however, is food freedom! No longer will you be a slave to sugar and cravings as you'll be nourishing your body with nutrient-dense whole foods.
If we are going to occasionally treat ourselves to something sweet, say when eating out with friends, what's the least offensive dessert we can opt for?
We are by no means suggesting you need to say farewell to your favourite treats for good! Life is for living, so indulge – but do it mindfully. If you're out for dinner and everyone's eating dessert, order a cheese plate rather than something sugary. But if you do, enjoy the moment and simply get back on track the next day.
If the I Quit Sugar 8-Week Program sounds like something you would be interested in, head to the I Quit Sugar Website and enter the code NL15 to receive a $15 discount on your selected program!