Australian journalist and food writer, Sarah Wilson, is on a mission to get us to cut down our sugar intake - one teaspoon at a time...
The latest UK guidelines say that we should halve the amount of added sugar we eat. Adults are advised not to eat more than 30g of 'free' sugars a day, which is roughly seven sugar cubes. Children should have less than this. To put this into context, just one can of a regular fizzy drink represents an adult's daily allowance of added sugar, as most contain 6-8 teaspoons.
Official health advice is now to give children water, not juice or squash at meals, and fruit juice may lose its 1-a-day status in future, with people being encouraged to eat a piece of fruit instead.
Sarah Wilson cut back on sugar for two weeks and just kept on going because she felt so much better. We asked her how she did it, what she eats now and how we can do the same...
Q. Why do you believe we need to cut back on sugar?
Sarah: We simply don’t need it. We need glucose for energy, but our bodies can get that from eating wholegrains, vegetables and fruit. The fats in our diet are also a source of energy. We don’t need fructose, the form in which most of us eat sugar, which includes fruit and honey. I cut back on sugar as an experiment after being ill with various problems, including a thyroid complaint.
Q. Do you eat any sugar at all?
Sarah: Sure I do, but far less than most people. I stick to between five and nine teaspoons a day, which is the equivalent of two small pieces of fruit.
Q. So is too much fruit a problem? In the UK, we’re being advised to eat 7-a-day, rather than 5, how should we do it?
Sarah: I eat seven to eight portions a day, mostly veg with only a couple of portions of fruit. I believe in ‘dense nutrition’, meaning I try to eat the most nutritionally-packed foods all the time, so that I always benefit from what I eat. The fruit thing is a bit of a fixation for people, who say ‘but I really like it’, and I say that the reason you like it is that you’re addicted to sugar. I’d advise people to continue eating whole fruit, but avoid large fruit salads, and grapes which are packed with sugar.
Q. What's the trickiest meal of the day if you're trying to cut back on sugar?
Sarah: Unfortunately it’s breakfast, the time of day when you don’t have much resistance, or the inclination to try something new. We’ve become used to very sweet breakfasts, but now I’m a lot happier having an egg with vegetables.
Q. Can you explain more about your ‘mindful’ approach to eating?
Sarah: Yes, this is really important. A lot of people simply eat out of habit or addiction. Wouldn’t it be better to feel you have a choice of what you eat, and that the food you choose does you good? For me, being mindful means being aware of what we eat, where we buy it from, and how we actually eat it. One thing I do differently now is make a conscious effort to chew food properly, and my digestion is so much better. So although my topline message is quitting sugar, the underlying message is about how to lose that negative attitude, where you keep eating out of addiction, and then feel guilty. I see a lot of women who feel guilty after eating a chocolate mousse for dessert, and beat themselves up after eating it. I simply don’t feel like that any more. I’ll happily eat lots of cheese after a meal and enjoy every mouthful!
Q. How do you help people wean themselves off sugar and stay off it?
Sarah: I’ve organised a realistic eight-week plan in my book, but one of my main messages is that to cut out sugar for life, you must eat more good fats. I’ve talked to many groups of young women who say that they’ve tried my programme and they find it tough, and they’re still hungry. So I ask them if they’ve added fat to their diet, and most of them are horrified. But that is my number one secret – lose the sugar, eat more fat. Good ways to do this are by drizzling butter, nut or olive oil over steamed vegetables, and adding avocado, nuts or cheese to salads.
Q. Where does alchohol sit with a sugar-free regime?
Sarah: One of the things I get asked a lot! Opt for red wine, but not too much.
Q. Sugar substitutes - which do you prefer?
Sarah: This is tricky. Even 'natural' sugar substitutes like honey, coconut sugars and agave are still sugar. I'm interested in the plant-based substitute, stevia.
Wondering how much sugar you should have in a day? Looking for a sweet alternative or want to know your fructose from your sucrose? Find out more in our sugar hub.
This article was last reviewed on 21 April 2015 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.
For more information on Sarah, her eight-week programme to give up sugar, and her sugar-free recipes, visitsarahwilson.com. You can buy her best-selling book, I Quit Sugar for Life (£14.99, Macmillan), for just £13.49. Simply call 01326 569444, P&P is free. Or buy online at sparkledirect.com.