The World Health Organisation (WHO) is recommending people reduce their daily sugar intake.
The WHO sugars intake guideline, released this week, “strongly” recommends people consume less than 10 per cent of their daily calories from free sugars to reduce the risk of obesity and tooth decay. A further reduction to below 5 per cent (or roughly six teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.
The move follows a trend towards no-sugar diets. Australian filmmaker and actor Damon Gameau’s That Sugar Film, opening in Australia this week and touring with Q&A screenings, documents the effects a high-sugar diet has on the body. Similarly the American documentary Fed Up looks at the government’s role in the obesity epidemic, with a particular focus on health boards being funded by sugar-based food conglomerates.
The Newsroom reporter Lily Mayers took the no sugar challenge for a month and has decided life is much sweeter without it. She tells us why:
“Having quit sugar for five weeks and replaced it with healthy fats and vegetables, I have lost 2 kilos, my skin is clearer, my hair is healthier and my energy levels are the highest they have been in a year.
With my boyfriend’s recommendation, I began Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar program, with particular interest in the reported improvements for those suffering from autoimmune diseases.
Omitting sugar from my diet has not only directly countered all the negative symptoms of my autoimmune disease but also delivered many other positive side effects. I may only be in my fifth week but it has become clear to me that this is a change that I will adapt to for life.
After endeavouring to diet in the past and horrifically failing within a week, I didn’t have much confidence in my ability to cut out sugar − my absolute favourite thing. But it wasn’t actually as hard as the initial prospect may seem.
It’s cutting out fruit that was the hardest part − people react very badly when I tell them I’m not eating fruit (or rather I’m not eating the same amount of high fructose fruit I used to) − and so I have taken to keeping the fruit section of the program to myself. (The WHO guideline does not relate to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.)
WHO has confirmed the new guidelines will apply to ‘all monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) that are added to food by the manufacturer, the cook or the consumer, as well as sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates’.
Understanding which sugars are bad for you is the key to following the program. Cutting out junk food, soft drinks and chocolate is the easy part. It’s the fructose hidden in sauces, muesli, biscuits and seemingly healthy foods, as well as fruit, that your body finds the hardest to resist.
The I Quit Sugar program is aimed at cutting out the fructose in an average diet. The guideline states that eating foods with high sugar quantities over unprocessed foods with less sugar are ‘leading to an unhealthy diet, weight gain and increased risk of noncommunicable diseases’. Scary stuff.
As for withdrawals, I have realised pain in my knee joints that was never an issue before. It isn’t agony but more of an annoyance when walking. After the first month, however, it comea sporadically and feels fine most days. I’ve had one day of a painful headache, that I can also attribute to not eating sugar. I have read this is a common withdrawal symptom and goes away after a day or so, much like the joint pain.
My advice to anyone who begins the no-sugar life change is to write in your diary ‘three weeks in without sugar!’ and other such encouragements. Also I put the acronym IQS for ‘I Quit Sugar’ as my phone’s wallpaper to remind myself. It’s weird how signifiers like this really help your subconscious not to give up.
You cannot do this if someone tells you to. Like most changes in life, you are destined to sabotage yourself if it is not your own decision. I started this for the long-term health benefits, not because anyone made me or because it was a new fad.
The last thing worth mentioning is that after cutting out sugar for a couple of weeks you don’t feel like you are depriving yourself of anything. On the contrary, you actually feel grateful for not eating junk and high fructose foods because of the almost immediate benefits of not eating them. The reason most diets fail is the feeling you get that you’re missing out on what others are enjoying, but because sugar is so easily replaced by healthy fats and vegetables you lose that annoying feeling.
Good luck to anyone embarking on a sugar purge, I’m sure you’ll be recommending the lifestyle change to others in no time. And to the skeptics, do some light research before judging too harshly and I’m sure you’ll become more understanding.” – Lily Mayers
Top photo by Mohammad Rassawala.