Stay off the 'sweet rogue'
“Birthdays aren't celebrated around broccoli casserole. The main event at a wedding isn't cutting the roast beef. Some of the happiest and grandest events in our lives are celebrated with sugar. But we do not necessarily wait for these grand celebrations to consume sugar,” says Purva Narang, fitness and rehab trainer, pointing out that Candy, cake, ice-cream or cola have now become part of our every-day life. Purva recently took up a 100-day challenge of staying off processed sugar and reaped rich benefits. Here's how her 'no sugar' plan unfolded:
Why I took this challenge?
As a fitness and rehab trainer, I have always believed in the concept of 'everything in moderation'. While an occasional piece of cake or an extra helping of apple pie doesn’t hurt, going off processed sugar completely was on my agenda for a while. What started as a training and recovery programme for an upcoming 160km ultra in November, ended up into a complete lifestyle change with a much deeper understanding of my body and nutrition needs.
Rules for a self-challenge
Absolutely no added sugars
Natural sugars, like those found in dairy and fruit, were ok. Artificial sweeteners were off limits and so were packaged/processed foods (ketchups, breads, biscuits etc)
In its natural state, sugar is a relatively harmless carbohydrate that our bodies need to function. It is in fruits, vegetables and dairy as a compound called fructose or lactose. The problem comes when sugar is added to foods during processing for flavour, texture, or colour.
The health benefits of cutting out or even just cutting back on sugar can be life-changing.
1 Weight loss: Did I lose weight? Yes, although it wasn’t my primary goal. Added sugar is synonymous with added calories and added weight. Once I swapped out processed, sugary meals with high-fibre foods, I started noticing a slimmer waistline.
2 Better quality of workouts and recovery: The quality of my workouts improved tremendously (to give you an idea, I work out 6 out of 7 days with 3 added runs during a week). I have also noticed better and faster recovery than ever before.
3 Reduced cravings: Foods with simple carbs and refined sugars, such as doughnuts or even white bread, cause dopamine spikes, resulting in incessant sugar cravings. Weaning myself off the processed sugar helped me curb these cravings.
4 More energy: We often just want to lie down after a high-carb or high-sugar lunch. Contrary to the idea of sugar rush or sugar high, sugar can also make us sluggish. Since quitting sugar, I wake up every-day more refreshed and my energy levels have gone up throughout the day.
5 Improved skin: Excess sugar intake can cause oily skin, so instead of applying products to the skin, may be looking at what’s going on in the inside is the answer to these problems. These past few months, I’ve noticed a less oily forehead and nose and a much healthier looking skin.
While research states many other health benefits of cutting sugar from our diet, I have yet to explore further as I continue my 'no sugar' journey!
How did I cut out sugar
Many healthy processed foods that we are convinced are doing good to us (protein bars, peanut butter, and whole wheat bread, etc) are often loaded with added sugar in the form of syrups, nectars, honey, and other sugary ingredients.
1 Read labels: Sugars hide in many different supermarket foods. Products such as salad dressing and condiments, pasta sauce, breakfast cereals, milk, and granola bars mostly have sugar in their ingredients list. Reading product labels helped me identify types of sugars that I needed to avoid.
2 Swap out the beverages: Soft drinks, specialty coffee, sweetened teas, and fruit juices are among the most significant sources of added sugars in the diet. Replacing these drinks with unsweetened herbal tea, coffee without sugar, sparkling water, or just water, helped me stay hydrated without increasing my sugar intake.
3 Add fruit: I chose to add fresh fruit (bananas, cherries, strawberries, etc) and dried fruit (raisins, cranberries or apricots) instead of adding sugar to my cereal or oatmeal.
4 Focus on whole foods: Whole foods like vegetables, fruits, fish, unprocessed grains, nuts and seeds are not refined and are free of additives and other substances. While, I loaded up on more whole foods, the extra time on hand due to the lockdown helped me cook almost everything (sauces, salad dressing, tomato purees).
5 Replace it completely: Have you ever noticed that some spices and herbs can actually be sweet. Adding spices to foods (cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) enhanced my meals and made it easier to cut down on added sugar.
Life long take away
I believe everyone can benefit from a hard break from processed sugar, when health allows it. It's eye-opening to grasp how much sugar we actually consume in a day and recognise the habits we've formed around sugar, from popping a mint after your cup of coffee to grabbing a croissant on your way to work. While it may be impossible to avoid sugar-encrusted desserts, breads or lattes all the time, there’s no doubt that eating less of the processed sugar will provide long-term changes and overall health benefits.