Chai without sugar? The horrors!…
Going on a sugar free diet was not something I could ever imagine doing completely. I knew that refined sugars were really unhealthy but I have always had a major sweet tooth which I know I have inherited from my father! I knew desserts were fattening but I thought that was because of the butter and the cream, I never realized that it was also because of the refined sugar.
I had learnt that all the white stuff was bad like white bread, white rice, white pasta and white sugar. I thought I was making a healthier option by switching to brown options instead- which is the case with brown bread, rice and pasta but not so much the same with brown sugar or demerara sugar. Everyone told me that honey was a good substitute for sugar as it also has antibacterial properties. I used to use demerara sugar and honey thinking that I was actually making a healthier choice.
I think the biggest reason why I turned a blind eye on understanding the negative impact of sugars was because of my great love for chai/ tea. I drink it three times a day and love it! I know that tea is also not the healthiest of options since it dehydrates the body but my Indian brains refuses to even tolerate the idea of abandoning my chai! More importantly my chai had to be sweet, the thought of anything else was impossible! I sometimes had it with jaggery and sometimes with honey but demerara sugar mainly kept me happy (I thought it was a better sugar as it was less processed).
Health benefits of a Sugar Free diet
While researching on sugars for my healthy snack business, I came across the negative impact of sugars to your body. Firstly since most processed foods contain a huge content of sugars- which means calories, our body ends up taking a lot of nutrients from our body to process it, which means our immunity and health gets affected. It also gives an immediate high or sugar rush. We are all familiar with this feeling, especially when you are feeling low or tired and you bite into that bar of chocolate or candy or ice cream to get an immediate mood lift. This actually worsens the problem because this ‘high’ last for a short time after which you feel the same feeling of irritation or hunger and probably grab for your second helping of sugary processed food. This leads to a vicious cycle where not only are you destroying your health, energy and mood levels you are also getting really fat!
Another big problem of sugar is that it makes you gain unnecessary weight and is a major cause for obesity. The fructose in sugars goes directly to your liver and gets converted to fat. This fat keeps getting deposited around your liver leading to one of the number one problems most Indians face – Diabetes as well as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease! Most processed foods have a high amount of sugars. Sugar also increases your cholesterol levels and cause heart diseases. Bottom line is that refined sugars are bad for you. They do not provide any nutrition, reduce your immunity, negative effect on your mood, causes a host of health disorders and diseases and make you fat. You can read more about it in greater detail here and here.
Effects of a Sugar Free diet
Sugars are however very addictive, it causes the feel good hormone dopamine to be released in the brain for many people. This is why you end up with sugar craving. So the next question is how to go on a sugar free diet? It seems next to impossible! This is exactly how I felt. I have been trying to lose weight since I was a teenager and one of my biggest problems is desserts and sweet chai which I just cannot resist. After I started making healthy choices while eating and exercising regularly I did start to lose weight but there was some stubborn weight which refused to leave me. I then saw this amazing documentary by BBC titled ‘The Truth about Sugars’. You can watch the video if you click this link here.
I was firstly shocked to realise that fructose wise honey, agave and maple syrup was equivalent to refined sugars! This means that the fructose in honey, agave and maple syrup goes directly to your liver and can make you fat! In fact if you have more than the UK directive of 6 teaspoons of sugar a day (including honey and syrups) you can gain 4 kgs every year! So can you eat honey on a sugar free diet? The answer is a firm No. What about all the minerals and nutrients in honey? My research told me that in order to gain any health benefits from the nutrients in honey, you need to eat a huge amount but the negative of that is all the fructose you end up consuming which in effect goes straight to your liver and gets converted to fat. You rather have your nutrients from a different source such a healthy raw salad!
Can you Lose Weight on a Sugar Free Diet?
After getting over the shock, the first thing I did was to banish empty calorie sugars from my daily diet. This meant giving up sugar in my chai. This was so very difficult. Some people advise removing sugars completely from your diet but I found it easier to reduce it first and switch to alternative teas like fruit flavoured, chamomile and green teas and then slowly to going sugar/jaggery/honey free in my tea. So you might be wondering about the results. Can you lose weight on a sugar free diet? The answer I can say is a resounding Yes! Within a month of going sugar free I dropped a stubborn few kilos and inches and still continuing!
Going sugar free though is not all about losing weight. The advantages of sugar free diet are that you feel fresher, less irritable and you grow more healthy every day. Hidden sugars exist in many products even in savoury food like tomato ketchup! Always check the nutrition label and if it says it has more than 22.5 grams of sugar in 100 grams of the product then it means it is high in sugar and should be avoided. More about hidden sugars in another post!
What about the joys of desserts and having a sweet tooth you may ask? Going sugar free does not mean avoiding everything sweet. It also does not mean adopting artificial sugars like aspartame which can have greater ill effects on your health. You can still enjoy your fruits and dried fruit and I find dates and xylitol a good alternative. Though fruits and dried fruits have fructose they also have a a lot of fibre and nutrients and hence get digested more slowly in the body, releasing the required energy. After all natural sugars play a great role in your healthy diet. I will explain more about alternative sugars and natural sugars in another post, for now why don’t you take a look at my recipe for a healthy sugar free ice cream or take a try at my beautiful and healthy blood orange curd bars!