The World Health Organisation has called on us to cut our sugar consumption to 10 teaspoons of sugar a day at most — five teaspoons would be ideal — but Australians are currently averaging a whopping 30 teaspoons a day. When we think of sugar, it is often in terms of things like jelly beans and soft drinks. But febfast, which encourages people to quit either alcohol or sugar for February to raise money for disadvantaged youth, also recommends cutting out commercial condiments, processed cereals and fruit juice. It might take some getting used to, but dietitian Rebecca Gawthorne, who is the febfast Quit Sugar ambassador, says your body will quickly start thanking you. Here's how.
After one hour
Skip your usual 3pm Snickers bar and have some nuts and a banana instead, and your body will reap immediate rewards. "When you eat refined sugars it spikes your blood glucose levels quickly then they drop quickly again," Gawthorne explains. "If you remove the foods high in refined sugars and replace them with natural, whole, healthy sources of sugars you will get a steady flow of energy – the blood glucose levels take a couple of hours to slowly rise then slowly drop."
After one day
The first day is always going to be the hardest, especially if you're used to having a lot of sugar throughout the day. Niggly little voices will tell you to "just have one" and it may take a lot of willpower to see out the day sans sugar, but you can be comforted knowing that even if your tastebuds are feeling ripped off, your body is on it's way to being more ripped.
"People will notice improvements with their energy, feelings of fullness and better control over appetite," Gawthorne explains. "You will also get better mental performance and improvements in concentration because the brain is receiving a steady flow of energy." If you're feeling cravings, Gawthorne suggests reaching for a pre-prepared healthy snack or distracting yourself. "Have some chopped up fruit and yoghurt ready to reach for," she suggests. "You can also try changing the environment you're in. So if you crave sugar as soon as you get home from work, maybe go for a walk and get some fresh air to take your mind off the sugar."
After one week
By now, you'll be in the swing of things and any headaches or dizziness you may have experienced on your first few days without sugar should have subsided. "After a week you will continue to see improvements in your energy levels and mood," Gawthorne says. "If you have replaced high-sugar foods with higher fibre healthier options, such as fruit and vegetables, you will also notice improvements with digestion and bowel function." On top of that, you'll probably have started to lose a little bit of weight.
After one month
You'll probably notice your clothes are fitting more loosely and your skin might be clearer, but there's a lot going on that you can't see. "After a month, you start to see physiological changes," Gawthorne says. "The blood glucose and insulin levels start to drop, people can get improvements with cholesterol and lipids, which are the fats that travel around in the bloodstream, and blood pressure can start to drop." Within two to four weeks, Gawthorne says your tastebuds will change and you'll start to find fruits and other healthy sugars sweeter. "Everything that contains natural sugars will start to taste really sweet because when you have a high sugar intake, you may not have noticed the sweetness," she explains. "You will also probably start to notice improvements in anxiety and stress levels as the brain starts to get used to the stable flow of sugars. We need to train our bodies to not revert to high-sugar foods and find other ways to help reduce stress and emotions. Often it's not that your body needs the sugar, it's more a learned habit."
After one year
By now, you will have potentially adjusted your wardrobe to account for your new, slimmer frame and your body will be working wonderfully. "You'll have long-term weight loss and that leads to a reduction in obesity-associated conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease," Gawthorne says. "You also get improvements with dental health, skin health and your heart health." While quitting sugar for a month can be a great way of drawing your attention to the sugars sneaking into your diet, Gawthorne says that balance is important in the long term. "A small amount of sugar is absolutely fine – your body does use and metabolise sugar in a healthy way," she explains. "It becomes a problem when you're having large amounts. So if it's a teaspoon of honey on your cereal in the morning and two squares of dark chocolate at night, that's absolutely fine. It would be more of an issue if you were having highly refined breakfast cereal, then cake at morning tea and a can of softdrink."
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05 Apr 2016