We all know sugar is bad for you. But in a country as South Africa for many people sugar is the best; It is cheap, it is (obviously) sweet, you can add as much as you like to lots of different food and it will give you energy (for a period of time). But of course we all know it isn’t healthy. And we all know sugar is the hidden ingredient in more products that you think. That makes it difficult to keep an eye on your daily sugar intake. Even for people without a sweet tooth. I am not the kind of person who thinks you should avoid sugar completely. First of all that is almost impossible, but also I find it not necessary. What I do find necessary is see if you can limit your sugar intake as much as possible. But how? Do you have to do a special diet? Go on strict regime? Do you have to buy all your groceries from now on in the health shops with funny (disgusting) powders, expensive supplements and nothing in the shop that actually looks tasty? No, you definitely don’t have to do that. With these simple ‘rules’, you can decrease your sugar level hugely without too much effort.
1. Coffee and tea
Don’t use sugar in your coffee or tea. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Maybe the first few times without sugar in your hot drinks you will miss it. But believe me: soon you won’t miss it anymore, and if you taste (by accident) then a coffee with sugar I promise you, you will find it absolute distasteful. Now we are speaking about adding sugar, also don’t add sugar to your yoghurt, porridge, or on top of fruit, toast or bread. It’s not worth it and often much better without.
2. ‘Freshly squeezed’ fruit juices
Stay away from fruit juices with an expiration date over 4 days after you buy it. They are often not as ‘freshly squeezed’ as they pretend to be, and then they will contain additional sugars. Only daily fresh juices and smoothies in the fresh department, are fine. These will expire in a few days time, which is normal. And then still: take a good look on the packaging label to see if there are no added sugars in it. If you can squeeze your own fruit juice yourself, it’s always best to do. For example this green detox juice.
3. ‘Ready-to-cook’ sauces
Yes, I know it’s easy. And I know it’s fast. But don’t let their packaging fool you – ready to cook sauces are better off left on the shelves. Thai Green Curry in a bag, Bolognese pasta sauces, Asian stir-fry in a bag and lots of other pre-cooked sauces you see in the supermarkets. They are so full of sugar. Did you ever wonder why you can keep these sauces-in-a-bag for months and months, outside the fridge? It’s the sugar. The rules regarding expiration dates and conserving are strict and as a result of that the producers add more and more sugar to it. Probably some of the sauces will taste pretty awesome, but often it’s just the (not natural) flavouring, E-numbers and sugars. Of course we all have a bottle (Heinz!) tomato sauce in our fridge, or that nice spicy sweet & sour sauce (Sriracha!) you eat with a spring roll. But then you add a little bit to your food. I find that different than buying a 500 ml bag of pasta sauce, which you’ll completely use for one supper. The solution: make sauces yourself. It’s not difficult to make a basic tomato sauce (recipe) or a curry paste (recipe), and it is much healthier and nicer. It only takes more time. (Tip: make a lot, divide in portions and freeze) By the way: in some of my sauces (for example the basic tomato sauce), I also add a pinch of sugar, just to make the tomatoes taste slightly sweeter. But a pinch is a pinch, and not a wheelbarrow full.
4. Think before you snack
Try not to ‘just shove everything in mouth’. Chocolate, cookies, sweets from the children, cake, a scone with jam, another biscuit and I can go on and on. This is often a problem when one tries to lose weight or just tries to “live healthier”. Lots of people don’t even know and remember how much they snack on a day. And so often they don’t even enjoy it. Such a waste of extra sugar, extra calories… Try to be responsible for your own body. Think before you snack: ‘Am I hungry or am I just bored?’ You will notice soon enough that you don’t need all these extra sugars at all. Just pick the best ones and enjoy them.
5. Soft drinks & alcohol
Try to limit your daily soft drinks intake. I don’t even like coke any more. The only exception regarding soft drinks I make sometimes is tonic for a gin & tonic. And yes, that is so wrong. Soft drink + alcohol = an extremely high sugar level. But then I enjoy it to the max. And don’t drink that every day. Besides soft drinks, try to limit your alcohol intake also. Drink 2 glasses of real nice wine, instead of a bottle of wine you don’t even like so much. Keep in mind alcohol contains a lot of sugar.
Cereals for breakfast a good and healthy start of the day? Think again! Cereals are healthy, but (most of) the ones you buy in the supermarket are so full of sugar that you almost can’t believe it. Especially muesli or granolas can be full of additional sugars, your body really don’t want it! Solution: Make your granola yourself, and use a little (natural) agave syrup for the sweetness. It’s much better than the ‘normal’ refined sugars you find in the supermarket muesli. We make our own granola already for years and you can find the recipe on the blog. It’s so delicious.
7. When baking
If you like baking like I do, you can’t always avoid sugar. Having said that, in so many recipes you can (at least) half the amount of sugar, or use honey, agave syrup or other natural sweetness instead. I know in the end your body will recognise these as sugar too, but then at least you stay away from the real bad refined sugar. In some recipes you can also skip sugar completely and add a ripe mashed banana or grated apple instead. I have this wonderful recipe from healthy style granary cookies with banana and apple (instead of sugar), almond flour (instead of ‘gluten’ flower), coconut oil (instead of butter), and lots of seeds, nuts, rolled oats, coconut flakes and cranberries for extra filling. (see photo below) You can even add 85% raw dark chocolate chips to it, if you like! Not unhealthy at all. I know these cookies are an extreme example. Some desserts just need a good amount of sugar, otherwise it won’t work. For example meringue, or a beautiful soufflé. And there is nothing wrong with that.. If you don’t eat it every day!
8. Enjoy your sweet moments to the fullest
I don’t believe in permanent diets or in avoiding sugar like it’s rat poison. Where I do believe in, is a 80/20 principle. 80 percent of the time you keep an eye on your sugar intake, and 20 percent of the time you don’t. Or: 80 percent of what you eat is healthy (and sugar free) and 20 percent is not. I also believe in cheat days because afterwards you are motivated (and actually looking forward) to start to eat healthy again. Just make sure you choose the very best of the best, whether it’s carrot cake, chocolate or a glass of ginger beer. Enjoy while having it and realize it’s a special treat and not a habit.