Nutritional therapist and author of Cook, Nourish, Glow Amelia Freer explains why sugar truly is the enemy when it comes to shaping up

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Hopefully you've read my guide on 10 ways to clean up your diet  and are ready to take it up a gear. If you haven’t already eliminated sugar completely then now's the time to focus on cutting it out.

Sugar has many disguises but whatever form it’s in, it’s toxic and it’s not doing your health, let alone your fitness goals any good.

What’s more it’s also a highly addictive substance – which is why we crave it and it can be so hard to cut out. We get a dopamine response when we first eat it and this pleasure state becomes addictive and we need to consume more and more each time to get the same effect.

This is just the start. When sugar is consumed, we produce insulin, a highly inflammatory hormone which has the job of transporting excess sugar out of our blood – our body is only comfortable with 1½ - 2tsp of sugar in the blood at any one time. Unless you are a professional athlete, most likely insulin will frog march this sugar straight to your hips and tum, creating what we know well as the muffin top or spare tyre.  

Ideally, we want to reduce the amount of insulin that gets produced each day before our cells get lazy and stop acknowledging its presence, a term known as insulin resistance. So, looking at the types of sugars we eat is key.

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While most of us know that eating too much sugar isn’t good, many of us are unaware of just how much we are actually still eating. The obvious places to find it are in fizzy flavoured drinks (roughly 10 teaspoons), cakes and biscuits, sweets, jams and pastries. But it’s also added to low-fat products, fruit flavoured yoghurts, breakfast cereals, cooked meats, most ready meals, sushi, salad dressings, ketchup and many “health” foods – the more you read labels, the more you’ll find it in the most unsuspecting foods.

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It’s also important to understand that even the natural sugars found in fruits (fructose) need to be monitored. Yes, that does include wine! It also includes fruit juice. Always check the label as the majority of fruit juices contain syrups and artificial flavours in addition to concentrated fruit juice, and even freshly squeezed fruit juice can contain about eight full teaspoons of fructose per 8oz glass! Some fruits are less problematic than others as fructose and antioxidants vary from fruit to fruit. Apple and pear juices are very high in fructose and relatively low in antioxidants, so avoid them if possible.

Aside from the obvious sweet stuff, sugars are also made from the carbohydrates we eat, in particular the white, processed carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, white pasta and even the humble potato. What we are really looking at is the the Glycemic Load, which is how quickly the sugars from these foods are converted and enter the bloodstream. The more processed a food is, the less nutrients it contains and so eating processed carbohydrates is literally empty calories.

Sugar also competes with nutrients to get to your cells AND it can age the appearance of your skin. Through a process called glycation, sugar attaches itself to cells and forms a hard crust, making cells less plump and soft. Instead the effectiveness of collagen and elastin is reduced and skin becomes thinner and more wrinkly. Definitely not the way to glow.

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If you find it hard to give up sugar - it is an addiction after all - you can take chromium which is a mineral that helps keep blood sugar levels stable, but it gets used up by a high-carb diet. There are also many blood sugar balancing formulas available to take which can also help to reduce sugar cravings, just check with your healthcare provider about supplements before taking them.

Cashew yoghurt pot recipe

As breakfasts seem to be the most sugar laden meal of the day, I thought this week I’d give you a recipe for a delicious alternative to sweet yoghurt. It is made with cashew nuts so has protein to slow down the release of fructose from the berries, and they give a creamy, yoghurt-like texture. Click through to find the berry pot recipe here. 

Here are a few “Dos and don’ts” to keep you on the straight and narrow:

  • DO use stevia or coconut sugar as a sweetener.
  • DO drink water – sugar and calorie free, instead of flavoured drinks and juices...
  • DO view sugar as the poison that it is: second to smoking and drug taking, cutting out sugar is the biggest favour you can do for your overall health.
  • DON'T use honey, agave or maple syrup as a substitute – they are better for you than refined sugar but still full of fructose and won’t help you reach your weight loss goals.
  • DON'T resort to artificial sweeteners - they are not at all good for you.
  • DO make your own dressings that are sugar free.

Ultimately it takes roughly five days to retrain your tastebuds so my advice is to grin and bear it and you’ll feel much better on the other side.

Check out the recipe for  breakfast pots  here and let us know what you think.

Amelia Freer is a nutritional therapist and author. Check out her  Winter ebook in our marketplace  and find her latest  Cook. Nourish. Glow book here .