Chocolate, pastries, cookies and other sweet treats are just as many little pleasures that you can’t resist? And they are the reason why you are in perpetual arm wrestling with your balance? Nothing surprising in that: according to several scientific researchers, this small molecule of glucose would have a strong addictive potential. In other words, it would make us totally addicted! So how do you gradually wean yourself off sugar? Charlotte Debeugny, dietician and author of “Comment j’ai décroché du sucre”, gives us her advice!
Sugar is ubiquitous in our diet, and mainly in industrial and processed foods. According to several studies, it would be able to generate a real addiction, comparable to the addiction to certain drugs. Indeed, the consumption of sugary foods and drinks would activate the reward system of the brain, involved in addiction problems. This is how many people are no longer able to control their sugar consumption, however aware they are of its deleterious effects on health. So where is the sugar in our diet? Hidden, Added, Natural: Are All Sugars Bad? Are there healthy alternatives to table sugar? What about sweeteners? How to adopt a diet to gradually detox from sugar? Answers from a dietitian.
Definition: what is sugar?
Before banishing sugar from your diet, be aware that in the large family of carbohydrates, there are several food groups with very different nutritional values, which can be grouped into two main categories:
- Starches and bread: primarily composed of starch, namely long molecules of glucose connected to each other;
- Sweet foods: rich in simple sugars, namely small molecules of one to two sugar units (glucose, fructose, galactose…).
“Be careful not to put everything in the same basket: our body needs glucose because it is the main fuel for our muscles and our brain. In the form of complex carbohydrates, they should not be eliminated because they are slow to digest and provide us with gradual energy. They are essential for a balanced diet. insists Charlotte Debeugny.
Nor is it a question of removing from your lunch fresh and healthy foods, sources of simple sugars, such as fruits, sweeter vegetables or low-sweetened dairy products, which provide essential micronutrients for health.
When you decide to give up sugar, it is only sweet products, namely industrial foods that contain a lot of simple sugars that you should consume less of (of course, there is no question of banning fruits from your diet, your body needs it)! We are therefore talking about table sugar, honey, jam, confectionery, cookies, cakes, chocolate, ice cream and all the other little sweet treats.
Weight and health: Why stop consuming sugar?
Foods that are very high in sugars are mostly foods that are very calorie dense and very low nutrient density, which means they are high in calories but low in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). “They say they’re empty calories.” summarizes the author. But beyond the fact that these foods have no nutritional value, they are bad for your health when consumed in excess, and their addictive potential means that this is easily the case.
“Sugar is very quickly digested, it causes a spike in blood sugar levels, itself the cause of a strong secretion of insulin. However, this hypoglycemic hormone facilitates the storage of sugar in the body in the form of fatty tissue. explains the dietitian.
Excess sugar thus promotes overweight and obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and excess fat in the liver. It would also be a cause of oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Just as many excellent reasons to slow down and gradually detoxify from sugary products.
The concept of glycemic index
In addition to the chemical and nutritive composition of carbohydrates, the concept of glycemic index is also an essential element to take into consideration when one wishes to wean oneself. “The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. explains Charlotte Debeugny.
“The higher this GI, the more the food quickly and strongly raises blood sugar levels, and the greater the secretion of insulin will be: with the risk of reactive hypoglycemia and therefore of a new craving for sugar. continues the expert. The advantage is therefore to favor foods with a low GI, which make it possible to maintain a stable blood sugar level and therefore to limit all the harmful effects of sugar for weight and health.
Coconut flower, agave syrup: what sugars to eat to replace white sugar?
In the “dietary” section of supermarkets, there are many alternatives to powdered white sugar (sucrose), which are supposed to be healthier. Agave syrup and coconut blossom sugar are the most often acclaimed because they are natural and have a low GI. Are they a good alternative to traditional powdered sugar?
“The solution does not lie in replacing sugar with this type of product, because if they do have a lower GI than table sugar, they also contain more fructose which, consumed in excess, is bad for the liver. indicates Charlotte Debeugny. Fructose indeed promotes the deposition of ectopic fats, that is to say outside the adipocytes, especially in the liver, with the risk of hepatic steatosis, also known as “fatty liver”.
There is therefore not really an alternative to sugar that is better than the others, and the most important thing is to succeed in significantly reducing your sugar consumption, whatever it is.
What about intense sweeteners?
Aspartame, acesulfame K, sucralose, stevia… intense sweeteners are food additives used to impart a sweet flavor to foods. These very varied chemical substances have the common point of having a very high sweetening power and containing very few calories.
These “fake” sugars therefore do not raise blood sugar and do not directly contribute to overweight. However, they are not necessarily to be recommended when you want to wean yourself off sugar or get rid of addiction. “These sweeteners maintain the taste of sugar and therefore interfere in the weaning process“regrets the dietician. Moreover, according to the conclusions of ANSES1the available studies do not prove that the consumption of products containing intense sweeteners has any benefit in controlling weight or blood sugar levels in diabetic subjects or in the incidence of type 2 diabetes. don’t fall back on these sweeteners when trying to detox from sugar!
Tips to gradually stop consuming sugar
Getting rid of the sweet taste does not happen overnight, and above all should not be done suddenly. “I really recommend gently reducing the amount of sugar consumed, so as not to generate frustrations, the first causes of weaning failure.“Insists the dietician. It is therefore necessary to succeed in eating gradually less sugar, by proceeding in stages.
“The first thing to cut out are sugary drinks, including unsweetened fruit juices, which raise blood sugar very quickly and do not contribute to satiation at all.” recommends Charlotte Debeugny. Water should remain the reference drink. To make it more pleasant to drink, it can be garnished with fresh mint, lemon juice or a few slices of cucumber.
It is then essential to remove the sugar from your breakfast, to avoid triggering the need for sugar in the morning. By drinking fruit juice on an empty stomach, or by swallowing a bowl of sugary cereals: blood sugar levels skyrocket and cause a peak in insulin secretion, with reactive hypoglycemia as a result. It is then a vicious circle that follows with cravings for sugar, compulsions and hypoglycaemia throughout the day. “Eating sugar in the morning makes you want to eat more sugar all day” summarizes the specialist.
Then, all sweet snacks such as chocolate bars, sweets, confectionery must be gradually reduced, replaced by healthier alternatives: nuts and dried fruits, fresh fruits, unsweetened yogurt…
Fans of cakes, industrial biscuits and pastries will be able to put themselves in the oven and adapt their favorite recipes by reducing the quantities of sugar, and compensating with tasty but unsweetened ingredients, such as flavorings or spices: cinnamon, vanilla, flower orange blossom, tonka bean, unsweetened cocoa, nutmeg… An excellent way to prepare homemade, low-sugar cakes that will satisfy our taste buds without excessively raising blood sugar levels.
“The most important thing is to reduce industrial sugary foods as much as possible, which are particularly unsatisfying and devoid of nutritional qualities.” insists the dietitian.
Finally, we can reduce the table sugar, added in coffees or dairy products, by gradually going from a piece of sugar, to 1/2 piece, then to 1/4 before trying to do without it completely if it’s doable.
“We often hear that it takes 30 days to get rid of the sweet taste, but in practice there are no rules and some people will need…