Sugar-free diets encourage people to avoid table sugar (sucrose), sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, refined flours, condiments, soft drinks, sweets and some fruits such as bananas. Some also recommend eliminating or restricting dairy products.
But you don’t need to quit sugar to lift your game on healthy eating. Quitting sugar is unlikely to improve your health any more than cutting down on ultra-processed foods, eating more vegetables, cooking food from scratch and limiting how much extra sugar you eat and drink.
At best, the sugar-free diet is confusing and imposes an arbitrary set of rules that aren’t based on scientific evidence. At worst, such a restrictive diet can create food fear or an unhealthy relationship with food.
The sugar-free diet is restrictive, with lists of “allowed” foods (such as whole grains, blueberries and grapefruits) and “not allowed” foods (such as white bread, bananas and raisins). This inadvertently promotes a diet mentality and causes followers to worry about accidentally eating something that’s not allowed.
Orthorexia is the overwhelming preoccupation with eating healthily. People with orthorexia spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about food and eliminating foods that are deemed impure or unhealthy. Some experts suggest this behaviour is a precursor to, or a form of, an eating disorder.
Cutting out the good stuff
Some sugar-free diets advise people to cut out or restrict healthy foods and food groups such as fruit and dairy, without evidence to support their exclusion. This perpetuates the food fear/dietary restriction cycle and may contribute to nutrient deficiencies.
Many sugar-free followers also avoid plain dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, due to the assumption these contain sugars.
Strangely, many of the sugar-free recipes use expensive sugar alternatives — such as rice malt syrup (due to its low fructose content), maple syrup (which is sometimes allowed and sometimes not) and dates — to replace sugar.
However, these are still sugars and contain the same number of calories per gram as any other sugar. These alternatives offer no additional nutritional benefits other than rice malt syrup, which is a useful option only for those with a fructose malabsorption issue, and dates, which contain fibre.
What to do instead
Eat plenty of plants, enjoy whole grains, beans and legumes. Fruit is your friend — not your enemy.
Most people could probably eat a little less sugar, a little less often, but you don’t have to quit it for good to be healthy.
Savour every mouthful of that chocolate cake or “sometimes food”. Turn off technology and eat the cake mindfully, so that your brain can register that you have eaten it. That way you can get pleasure and satisfaction from it, and you won’t be craving it again an hour later.
No matter how we choose to eat, remember that health is not simply about the number on the scale, the size of our waist, or the foods we avoid. It’s also about our psychological health and our relationship with food, which is just as important as our physical health.
Tara Leong is a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
News credit : Cnn