A sugar-free diet is healthy. But why is it so hard to resist sweetened foods? Is it a weakness of character or can’t we help ourselves? The desire for sweets is innate in us. In nature, a sweet taste is a signal that something is not poisonous. This helped our ancestors to find food. It also made sense for them to eat as much of it as possible because high-calorie foods were scarce. This fondness for sweets still characterizes us today. But sugar has long been in abundance. And the consequences of high sugar consumption can be serious – from obesity to diabetes to cancer.
Nutritionists strongly advise consuming less sugar. But how can you forgo the chocolate in the afternoon when you’ve just arrived at the slump of the day? Silke Schwartau, head of the nutrition department at the Hamburg consumer advice center, gives tips on how to reduce the amount of sugar in the diet and what sugar alternatives there are.
Which foods can reduce the most sugar?
Silke Schwartau: With those that contain hidden sugar. These are, for example, muesli bars, snacks, and ready-made products. In the worst case, breakfast cereals for children consist of up to 40 percent sugar. It helps to look at the nutritional information on the back of the label. The sugar content is always listed there. You can save a lot in this area.
But even lemonade and cola drinks can be real sugar bombs with up to seven sugar cubes in a single small glass. Since they do not fill you up and are refreshing, you sometimes drink a lot of them, and thus far too much sugar gets into your stomach.
What exactly do the claims “sugar-free” and “no added sugar” mean?
Schwartau: The terms “sugar-free” and “low-sugar” are legally regulated. The claim “sugar-free” is only allowed if no more than 0.5 grams of sugar per 100 grams or 100 milliliters of a product is contained. Unfortunately, this designation can still be used for advertising up to this limit.
When food is advertised as having “no added sugars”, it must not contain table sugar or added simple or double sugars such as dextrose or fructose or any other food used for its sweetening properties.
Do I have to do without a sweet breakfast?
Schwartau: No, that is not necessary. With muesli, for example, there are different variants, such as those with little or no sugar. But you can also mix your own muesli or add oatmeal to the purchased muesli and enrich it with berries. Just eat a little less of the jam and maybe take some quark. It’s simply a matter of reducing or diluting the high-sugar items in the diet.
What alternatives can I use to sweeten my coffee or tea?
Schwartau: In the long term, it would be better to get used to drinking coffee and tea without sugar. Just always take a little less. A dash of milk can help, because coffee with milk tastes rather sweet. But it’s all a matter of habit. If you already have metabolic problems such as diabetes, you should use sweeteners or something similar.
Are there fewer “bad” sweets?
Schwartau: If you look at the list of ingredients, there are quite a few, such as very dark chocolate or biscuits with a lot of grain and little sugar. Sometimes it is difficult to find out how to assess the sugar in the products. The traffic light check from the consumer advice center can help, for example. If more than 22.5 grams of sugar (per 100 grams) were added, then an imaginary traffic light would flash red, because that’s too much.
What can I eat when I’m getting cravings?
Schwartau: It’s important to have something healthy with you when you fall into such a hunger hole. Chocolate is of course a convenient snack because it is available at the kiosk or is already within easy reach in the drawer.
But you should prepare alternatives for yourself that are not sugary: for example, take a small quark dish to the office, have crispbread with you to nibble on, or take carrot wedges, cucumber slices, or apples in a lunch box with you. Nuts are also a good alternative to sweets, they mainly contain healthy fats, but unfortunately also a lot of calories. But a small handful of trail mix would be possible.
How can I manage to eat less sugar?
Schwartau: Don’t stop from one day to the next. Our brain doesn’t like prohibitions. The psyche wants to be rewarded. If chocolate is the reward, we should try replacing it with something else. Anyone who went three days without sweets could treat themselves to a visit to the sauna as a reward, for example. And you don’t have to be completely abstinent if your health doesn’t require it.