I’m no health food nut, but back in COVID-year 2020 I got a sudden urge to cut back hard on my sugar intake. It was partly that, based on a few things I’d read, it occurred to me that maybe all the sugar I was eating was giving my liver a hard time. But also I was noticing that my belts and pants were shrinking – or at least they weren’t fitting properly anymore and my gut was becoming bigger than I was used to.
It seemed like I was taking in too many calories – a lot of them in the form of sugar – and not using enough of them up.
Spare energy goes to waist
When I thought about where all the sugar was coming from the first surprise I got was just how much extra sugar is packed into the food we buy. Prepared supermarket food has tons of the stuff, even where you wouldn’t expect to find it, because food scientists working for food companies know that sugar sells. I guess in the stone age sugar was actually hard to get, and it was a handy little burst of energy on those rare occasions when you got some, so we evolved to crave that sweet flavour. But these days, with sugar easy to get, it’s hard to say no and all that spare energy just goes to waist. And to butt. And to belly.
The next thing I realised was the sheer volume of sugar I was consuming in hot drinks. I’d have two-and-a-half teaspoons in coffee, and I’d have three or four coffees a day. I’d have a teaspoon in tea, and drink one or two teas a day. So there’s about 40 or 50 grams of sugar a day just in hot drinks. Then a juice with breakfast – which was probably a sweet toast with honey or marmalade – maybe a sweet after lunch, a chocolate or a biscuit somewhere in the day and then maybe a sweet after dinner. Oh, and I used to drink cordial, juice or soft-drink with lunch and dinner. Then consider all the added sugar that’s in foods where you wouldn’t expect to find it, and I was looking at a small mountain of sugar every day.
My shrinking pants
In the past I had never thought I could ever stop having sugar in my coffee and tea. Whenever I had tried I had found the taste revolting, so I didn’t persevere. Nor had I been able to forego cordial with meals, regarding plain water as too boring to drink. And as for fruit juice with breakfast, well, I thought I was being healthy drinking that. But my shrinking pants and my liver concerns made me decide to have a serious go at getting a fair chunk of sugar out of my diet.
Coffee and tea was to be sugar-free. Cordial was a no-go. (Instead of cordial, we now squeeze a bit of lemon or lime into the water, to keep my taste buds interested.) Juice was out. For breakfast I found a low-sugar granola in the supermarket that I really like, with some berries and banana on top.
To start with, I mourned the flavour of my coffee most. I wondered if I would end up quitting coffee because the flavour was so bad without sugar. Tea wasn’t quite so bad, but still not really pleasant to my palate. Except, strange to say, in about a week or so coffee and tea started tasting good again. Actually, nowadays if I put sugar in my drink by mistake it tastes so awful I can hardly believe I used to drink it that way all the time. I didn’t miss cordial or juice at all, and I still had the odd sweet, chocolate and biscuit when I felt like it.
The result? I lost nine kilograms in a fortnight, and it has stayed off, even over Christmas when sugar flew into my stomach from every direction for several days in a row. My pants and belts started growing again, and stabilised at an acceptable, if not perfect, point.
Now for the cow . . .
I also tried to do more on the other side of the ledger – walking the dog more often, further and for longer, to burn some of the excess calories from my regular diet – but I’ve found that harder to persevere with, what with my busy life blah blah.
So, if you have toyed with the idea of cutting back on sugar but haven’t been able to quite bring yourself to the point of decision, maybe my experience will encourage you. If not, maybe you might want to follow the example of my friend Phil, who buys left-handed sugar.
Meanwhile, my son has introduced me to oat milk, and I like it. So it looks like another habit of a lifetime – cow’s milk in my drinks and on my breakfast cereal – is about to disappear. I wonder what difference, if any, that is going to make?