Sweet Retreat: Cutting Back On Sugar The Healthy Way

Emma-Charlotte Bangay

Beauty and Lifestyle Expert

There has been some major noise in recent years about the health and beauty benefits of cutting back on sugar intake. But how can it be safely, realistically and for the long haul? Emma-Charlotte Bangay gets to the sweet centre of sugar-lite living.

sugar-postimage credit: pinterest

No one is contesting that a low-sugar diet is a healthy diet. What is hotly debated however, is whether sugar should be cut out – or simply cut back on.

Here are some points to help you make up your own mind:

Sugar Is Addictive

Much research supports this. But a recent US study showed that in lab rats, the sugar in Oreos proved as addictive as cocaine, stimulating the release of opiates in the body, which then set off a ‘high’ feeling. This sends the message to the brain that we want more. And we want it now.

Sugar Has Serious Health Ramifications

Sugar has been shown to contribute to nutrient deficiencies – particularly magnesium, B group vitamins and zinc – which some research has linked to depression and anxiety. Further serious health deficits include heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer and obesity. It was the threat of the latter that spurred an overweight father of four, David Gillespie, to research ways to overcome his the excess weight, ongoing lethargy and sleep deprivation. What he discovered was not that sugar was making him fat, but that it was also poisoning him and his family. Today, David – now a father of six – is credited with the shift in how we perceive sugar, and thanks to his many books – most notably, Sweet Poison – consumers are armed with more accessible information on how to lead a sugar free life.

Similarly, it was ill-health that led founder of I Quit Sugar, Sarah Wilson, to ‘experiment’ with cutting back on the white stuff herself in 2011. Nearly four years later, her expert navigation and blazing spotlight on the sugar that sneaks into our everyday, has sparked a health revolution, several books and an increasingly popular online supported ‘I Quit Sugar’ program (with 260,000 people completing it to date.) And Sarah? “Today I’m still off the sugar, I’ve lost the weight, no longer have 3pm slumps and manage my disease much better,” she says on her blog.

Sugar = Sad Skin

When you ingest sugar, it enters your bloodstream and triggers a process in the body called glycation, which stretches the protein fibres in the skin, leading them to snap. The result is sagging, aged skin explains author, Health Coach and Whole Foods Chef, Lee Holmes. “But wait, there’s more!” she adds. “The glycation process continues and as the proteins fire up and begin to mutate, harmful new molecules called Advanced Glycation End (AGES) are created and the accumulation of these can cause inflammation and activate your immune system to start misbehaving like a naughty school boy.” This means increased signs of ageing, dehydration, wrinkles and sallowness. Which begs the question. Were those several Wagon Wheels worth it?

Sugar Has A Healthier Sister

“Stevia is my favourite natural sweetener because it’s actually a herb but 300 times sweeter than regular sugar so you need only use a minute amount,” says Dietitian and Nutritionist, Jaime Rose Chambers. “I like the liquid concentrate and it’s lovely with a tiny drop added to yoghurt or porridge for a little sweetness.”

Sugar Can Be Replaced, Not Repelled

When asked what being sugar free means in her expert opinion, Holmes notes that it’s more about replacing it, than repelling it completely. “In my view it is to cut down on sugar and replace white and processed sugar with more natural alternatives such as Stevia or Rice Malt Syrup,” she says. “I don’t believe in cutting it out altogether. Personally follow the 80/20 rule and have a gelato when I feel like it, otherwise you are stepping into eating disorder territory,” she says.

Sugar Can Prove Sneaky And Stealthy

If a product claims to be sugar free, be skeptical. Be very, very skeptical – and read the fine print on the list of ingredients, urges Holmes. “More often than not these are neurotoxic and basically better used for cleaning the pool or using as brake fluid for the car,” she cautions.

Sugar Reduction is Best Served Slow

Just do it gradually and don’t be too heavy and restrictive about it, suggests Holmes.  Even if you are just cutting down on the amount of processed foods that you are eating, you’ll be cutting out a lot of unhealthy processed sugar in the process, she warns.

Sugar Can Be Reduced In Every. Single. Meal.


Replace muesli (which can often contain added sugar even if it claims to be sugar free) with “porridge made from traditional oats (no honey or sugar added) or grainy toast with eggs, avocado or cheese,” suggests Jaime.


Choose wholegrain bread over white and fill it with sugar-free goodness like salad, ditching the butter, mayonnaise and fried schnitzel!


Pasta (preferably wholegrain) is fine; it’s the pre-packaged tomato-based pasta sauces that can prove problematic, notes Jaime. “A good way to get around that is to make your own sauce from scratch with some tinned crushed tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, onion and basil,” she suggests.


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