Woman_fruit or cake choice

It is so easy to eat and drink a lot of sugar each day – often we don’t realise just how much we consume!  This guide suggests ways that you can reduce your sugar intake, focusing on some of the more obvious sources such as chocolate, cakes and biscuits (as per the March 2024 Alible Nutrition Challenge Day).

If you are reading this guide to help you form new long-term habits, start off by removing obvious sugars, and then build on the progress you make by starting to look at ingredient lists on all packaged items.  It may be that you need to start off with one meal or snack at a time (I recommend starting with breakfast) and then once that habit is formed, expand your mission to other meals or snack times.

Following these suggestions for a few weeks, you may find that you have more balanced energy levels, and that your cravings for sweetened food reduce.  Eating a diet higher in protein, fibre and fat can help you feel full for longer, and can give you longer-lasting and steadier energy levels.  You may also find that overtime your tastes will change so that very sweet foods as no longer as appealing, they may actually start to taste too sweet!

Start The Day Well – Reduce Your Refined Sugar at Breakfast

Do you eat sugary cereals, add sugar to your cereal, or even chocolate to your porridge?  Try these suggestions instead:

  • Add fresh, frozen or dried fruit to your breakfast instead of sugar and chocolate. I like frozen berries on porridge (add to the porridge before it’s cooked so they warm through) while my son likes raisins.
  • Try making an overnight oats mix by adding grated apple and cinnamon to your oats and preferred milk before chilling them over night in the fridge. For extra flavour add vanilla extract, or paste.
  • Replace your cereal with fish, boiled eggs or omelette for a protein-packed breakfast that could help to keep you feeling full for longer (especially if you add some veggies to your omelette or fish, or have a portion of fruit with your boiled eggs).

Replace jam (or chocolate spread!) on your toast with avocado, Marmite, nut butter (not high-sugar peanut butter), houmous, or if you have time, try scrambled eggs or cheese on toast.

Swap Those Sweets – Pudding Ideas

Family meals in my house tend not to include dessert at all.  I aim to fill our plates with enough protein (including vegetarian-friendly sources) and vegetables to reduce the need for a pudding.  However, if you like something sweet after eating your meal, here’s a couple of ideas:

  • Novelty and fruit-flavoured yoghurts tend to be high in sugar.  Replace them with plain, natural yoghurts and add fruit.  Sprinkling with seeds will further boost your nutritional intake.
  • Try stewing or baking rhubarb, apples, pears or other fruit that you enjoy.  You could mix them together and/or add spices to increase the flavours.  Try cinnamon in your apple, or ginger in your rhubarb.  Add cream not ice-cream!

At any time of day: When using tinned fruit to replace a sugary dessert, make sure that it is fruit in juice and not syrup.

Snacks Not Treats?

I recently read that a treat is something we eat because we enjoy the taste, a snack is a food that fills you up.  Personally, I like my snacks to be something I enjoy eating too!

Instead of sugary snacks try:

  • Homemade cereal bars, many recipes use dates to bind and sweeten the bars
  • Veg sticks with, or without, a dip
  • A handful of nuts or seeds
  • A hard boiled egg (eat it like a peeled apple if you are on the go)
  • Fruit – try not to use fruit as a substitute for all sugar though as we should aim to limit fruit intake to two portions per day.

If you really can’t face removing chocolate why not try eating a darker type of chocolate?  Good quality dark chocolate provides some beneficial nutrients, including magnesium which supports our energy levels, and has many other functions in the body.  Look for chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa solids.  You should find that you want much less of the bitter dark chocolate than you would normally consume with other types.  A standard portion of good quality dark chocolate is usually 2 squares.

Don’t Forget About Your Drinks

Ditch the fizzy drinks and squash.  If drinking plain water isn’t for you, add cucumber, citrus fruits or frozen berries to your water.   There are even some reuseable water bottles that have ‘pods’ on the top – they trick your sense of taste by making your plain water smell of flavoured drinks!

If you enjoy fruit juice and smoothies, have no more than 150ml per day.  This amount counts as a single portion and no matter how many different types or glasses you have.  Try to choose smoothies over juices to get the most benefit.

If you want a milkshake, why not make your own by blending banana with your preferred milk?  Add cocoa powder for a chocolatey taste.  You could add other fruit or veg too, but that is getting into smoothie territory!

Do you add sugar to your hot drinks?  Try removing it by cutting down to support your overall health, don’t replace it with artificial sweeteners.  You could try alternative hot drinks such as herbal or fruit tea – you can buy them ready to simply add hot water to, or your can make your own infusions.

If you regularly have coffee out, check the sugar content of ‘flavoured’ coffees and avoid those made with syrups.  This article by Which? highlights the shocking amounts of sugar found in many high street brands.

Alcohol is a sugar but some alcoholic drinks contain more than others.  Many spirits are low in sugar, but the mixers tend not to be so you would need to consider them when managing your sugar intake.  Wine, beer and cider tend to be high in sugar.  For more information about alcoholic drinks and sugar intake, go to drinkaware.co.uk

Sleep Well to Reduce Your Sugar Cravings

Studies have shown that poor quality or insufficient sleep can increase your cravings for quick energy foods, i.e. sugar.  Help reduce this by getting 6-8 hours’ good quality sleep per night (the exact amount of sleep a person needs will vary depending on the individual, including their stress and activity levels).