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The No-Sugar Diet: What Is It and Is It Safe?

Updated
July 23, 2024
Published
March 8, 2024
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Think about the last time that you walked into a store to get food–– was your approach a swift grab-and-go or did you find yourself considering the nutritional value before buying?

More often than not, we tend to find ourselves buying food items without thinking too much about what is really in them. Items like Low-fat yogurt, fruit juice, and breakfast cereals, commonly very sweet foods perceived as ‘healthy’, have surprisingly high sugar content [7]. Just imagine how much sugar we are actually consuming.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American adults consume an average of 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day which is 2-3 times more than the recommended amount per day. This totals 60 pounds of added sugar consumed annually. In the long term, an excessive added sugar intake consumption can predispose you to various health risks such as obesity.

In the pursuit of reducing sugar consumption, diets like the No-Sugar Diet have emerged, where an individual is guided through a diet plan to completely eliminate sugar and meet specific health goals.

But what is the No-Sugar Diet and is it really safe? Let us dive deeper into this topic.

What is the No-Sugar Diet?

The No-Sugar Diet is a diet approach that aims at reducing sugar intake to promote better health and reduce the risk of health conditions such as heart disease that is commonly associated with excessive sugar intake.

The diet consists of restricting added sugars and sweeteners completely or by a significant amount and instead adopting a diet that focuses on consuming whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

It is also worth noting that the no-sugar diet can come in many versions like a no-sugar, no-flour diet. Individuals should tailor their diet according to personal health goals.

Added Sugars vs Natural Sugars

Sugar is found in all foods that contain carbohydrates. Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and dairy products, all contain sugar.

You might be wondering, ‘If all of these contain sugar then does this not defeat the purpose of the no-sugar diet?’ No, it doesn’t, and here’s why. The difference lies in the type of sugar it is.

Whole and unprocessed foods contain natural sugar which is okay for consumption [5]. Our body still requires sugar for energy. Natural sugars are digested and processed much slower than added sugars, helping to keep your metabolism stable over time [3].

Added sugars or sugar substitutes are sugars or syrups that are put into foods during preparation, processing, or at the dinner table. It can be found in everyday foods such as pasta sauce, ketchup, and salad dressing. Other examples of foods that contain added sugar substitutes or sugars are sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, desserts, and snacks [1].

No-Sugar Diet: Health Benefits

Following a no-sugar diet or a low-sugar diet can bring about positive effects on your health and reduce the risk of developing health conditions. Here are some benefits of doing so.

  • Weight management: Past studies have shown that not only does added sugar cause weight gain, but diets that are high in added sugar increase the risk of developing obesity. Besides using weight loss tools to count calories, cutting out or reducing your sugar intake could potentially help you to lose weight more effectively.
  • Manages and prevent Type 2 Diabetes: Limiting added sugar can be effective for individuals with type 2 diabetes in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Lowers your risk of heart diseases: A 2023 UK study has found that excessive sugar consumption is linked to higher concentrations of triglycerides, which can increase the risk of coronary artery disease. Choosing less sugar or sugar-free options can reduce the susceptibility of heart-related diseases.
  • Reduces risk of tooth decay: Added sugars feed the bacteria in the mouth that causes tooth decay. Tooth decay can increase the risk of getting cavities or in extreme cases, gum diseases. Limiting sugary foods and drinks can help to prevent tooth decay.
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What to Eat on a No-Sugar Diet

fruits and vegetables
whole unprocessed foods

While on a no-sugar diet, it is important to avoid eating foods that have added sugar and focus on whole, unprocessed foods. Not only are whole, unprocessed foods free from added sugar, but they are also free of any preservatives and additives as well.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of foods to include:

  • Whole grains (e.g. oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa)
  • Fruits
  • Starchy and non-starchy vegetables
  • Healthy fats (e.g. avocado)
  • Lean proteins (e.g. chicken, egg, legumes, tofu)
  • Plain yogurt
  • Cheese (e.g. cottage cheese, feta cheese)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy oils (e.g. olive oil, avocado oil)

What to Avoid Eating on a No-Sugar Diet

candies and gummies that contain added sugar

When you are on this diet, it is best to avoid foods that are the opposite of whole, unprocessed foods. Not only do these foods have the potential to spike your blood sugar levels, but they may also contain hidden added sugars.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of foods to avoid:

  • Sweetened beverages (e.g. fruit juices, energy drinks, soft drinks, sweetened tea, or coffee)
  • Sugary snack (e.g. candies, cakes, cookies, pastries, ice-cream)
  • Processed foods (e.g. processed meats, fast food, frozen meals)
  • Refined grains (e.g. white bread, white rice)
  • Breakfast cereals

Tips on How To Get Started on This Diet

Given how it can feel highly addictive, curbing sugar intake could prove to be a challenging process. However, mastering sugar cravings through a few key strategies and adopting mindful practices can significantly ease the transition into a sugar-free lifestyle. Here are some valuable tips to help you get started on this journey:

1. Start slow

It is very common for many individuals who decide to embark on a new diet to dive into it too aggressively and rapidly. Making drastic changes to your diet such as going cold turkey without giving your body proper time to adjust, could prove itself ineffective and unsustainable.

Instead, it may be helpful to eliminate the most obvious source of sugar first such as sweet stuff or sugary beverages. Start off with a low-sugar diet before gradually easing into a sugar-free diet. Giving your body time to adjust to new changes will encourage better food habits.

2. Pay attention to food labels

Typically, products found on supermarket shelves tend to contain hidden sugars. To avoid unknowingly consuming these sugars and make healthier food choices, start paying attention to food labels. Nutritional information and ingredient lists on food labels are a good indicator of whether a product can be consumed while on the diet.

Take note of the various aliases that sugar can disguise itself as. Here are some common names for sugar:

  • Agave
  • syrups (e.g. high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup)
  • Maltodextrin
  • Molasses
  • ingredients that end with ‘-ose’. (e.g. sucrose, glucose, maltrose, dextrose, fructose, lactose)

3. Create a meal plan and focus on meal prep

It may be harder for some to stick to a diet when there is no plan on how to go about it. Creating a meal plan and following it could be the key to success in navigating and maintaining a sugar-free diet.

Additionally, prepping your meal in advance will not only save you time but it will also prevent you from reaching for the nearest sugar-laden snack available.

4. Avoid simple carbohydrates

While on the diet, it is recommended that you avoid consuming simple carbohydrates. The reason being that simple carbohydrates break down easily and cause the person to feel hungry faster. The breakdown process also causes a spike in blood sugar levels.

Opt for complex carbohydrates instead as they take a longer time to break down and help to keep a person full for much longer.

3-Day No-Sugar Diet Meal Plan

The idea of starting a no-sugar diet can feel absolutely daunting and uncertain, fret not. Here is a simple, easy-to-follow 3-day Meal Plan to help you step foot into the world of a no-sugar diet with confidence. Whether you are somewhat familiar with this diet or you are just starting out as a beginner, this meal plan is designed for you!

3-Day No-Sugar Meal Plan
Justfit

This meal plan only serves as a guide to kickstart your diet journey. Feel free to substitute with other sugar-free recipes according to your personal preferences.

No-Sugar Diet: Potential Health Risks

Though the no-sugar diet offers a multitude of health benefits, if taken too extreme, it can result in potential health risks.

Some may find that the diet is too ‘overly restrictive’ with the different food rules on what to eat and what to not eat, wounding up with unhealthy eating habits. Such habits can increase “withdrawal” symptoms and intensify sugar cravings.

The key is to not go overboard on creating food rules but rather focus on consuming sugar in moderation and choosing options without added sugars.

Summary

Embarking on a no-sugar diet is generally safe when done properly with a well-balanced diet. That being said, it is still crucial to approach this diet mindfully like any other diet out there. Everyone has different nutritional needs and has their own unique health situations.

Do consider your individual health goals and any medical considerations before starting a new diet. If necessary, consult a dietitian or nutritionist for proper guidance.

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FAQs
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References  

American Heart Association (2021) Added Sugars [online]. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars

Bryne, C. (2023) What Happens When You Stop Eating Sugar? [online]. Available at: https://www.health.com/nutrition/what-happens-when-you-stop-eating-sugar

Center for Healthy Eating and Activity Research (2021) Understanding Natural Versus Added Sugars [online]. Available at: https://chear.ucsd.edu/blog/understanding-natural-versus-added-sugars

Faruque, S., Tong, J. Lacmanovic, V., Agbonghae, C., Minaya, D. M., and Czaja, K. (2019) The Dose Makes the Poison: Sugar and Obesity in the United States – a Review. Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences, 69(3), pp.219-233. https://doi.org/10.31883/pjfns/110735

Harvard Health Publishing (2022) The sweet danger of sugar [online]. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar#:~:text=Sugar%20occurs%20naturally%20in%20all,foods%20contain%20protein%20and%20calcium

Kelly, R. K., Tong Y. N. T, Watling, C. Z., Reynolds, A., Piernas, C., Schmidt, J. A., Papier, K., Carter, J. L., Key, T. J. and Perez-Cornago, A. (2023). Associations between types and sources of dietary carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease risk: a prospective cohort study of UK Biobank participants. BMC Med 21(34) https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-022-02712-7

West, H. (2023) 17 Foods and Drinks That Are Surprisingly High in Sugar [online]. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/18-surprising-foods-high-in-sugar

About authors
Siti Amirah
Written by
Amirah is a dedicated content writer with a deep passion for mental health and wellness. Recently, she has expanded her focus to include fitness and overall health, motivated by her commitment to cultivating a healthier lifestyle. She hopes to provide valuable insights and tips for others to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.
Dr Wei Cui
Reviewed by
Dr. Cui is a board-certified internal medicine physician and applied psychologist with more than 30 years of experience in both fields. She hopes to continue to help others optimize their health with her medical knowledge. Dr. Cui pursued her medical education at Peking University Health Science Center and she used to practice medicine over 10 years in Beijing, China.
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