Decoding a Sugar-Free Diet: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieve Your Health Goals

Experts are exploring sugar-free sweets as a potential alternative to traditional desserts in moderation, due to the negative effects of refined sugar on health. Bariatric surgeon Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker and registered dietitian Mariam Lakdawala have written a book called Sugar Free Sweets, which includes sugar-free recipes and information about the impact of sugar on our health. In an interview with indianexpress.com, they answer common questions about sugar and its alternatives.

The Harmful Effects of Sugar

Sugar is a processed food that contains simple carbohydrates and lacks fiber, protein, and fat. This means it is quickly absorbed by the body, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Excess sugar is converted into fat by the liver, leading to increased insulin resistance, weight gain, and conditions like PCOD and type 2 diabetes. High sugar consumption can also result in high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, inflammation, and obesity, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Dr Aparna notes that diabetes and obesity are becoming increasingly prevalent in India at younger ages.

Understanding a Sugar-Free Diet

A sugar-free diet excludes refined simple sugars, such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, processed jaggery, refined bakery products, and polished rice. It is important to avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread or refined flour as well. Contrary to popular belief, honey and jaggery are not healthier alternatives. Dr Aparna and Mariam emphasize the need for a balanced diet and avoiding an overly restrictive pattern that eliminates entire food groups.

Recommended Limits for Sugar-Free Options

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that added sugars should make up less than 10% of total daily calories. Ideally, limiting added sugars to below 5% of total daily calories has additional health benefits. Different sugar substitutes have different safe upper limits of consumption, but it is advisable to avoid refined sugars and not become too dependent on sugar substitutes.

Impact of Cutting Out Natural Sugars

Foods like fruits and dry fruits contain natural sugars along with fiber, antioxidants, and micronutrients. Completely cutting them out can lead to nutrient deficiencies, constipation, digestive issues, fatigue, and low energy levels. Dr Aparna advises listening to your body and adjusting your response accordingly, as an overly restrictive diet is not sustainable in the long term.

Who Should Opt for Sugar-Free Foods?

Sugar-free foods are advisable for weight-watchers, people with diabetes, dyslipidemia, heart diseases, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and PCOD. However, athletes, children, teenagers, and adults with an ideal body mass index can indulge in sweets in moderation. It is always better to choose foods with natural sugars rather than refined sugars.

Easily Found Sugar-Free Alternatives

Some easily found sugar-free alternatives include stevia, a natural sweetener with zero calories; fresh or frozen fruits like berries, apples, bananas, pears, and citrus fruits; fruit purees made from locally available seasonal fruits or dried fruits; and peanut butter in moderation and homemade. It is important to consume sugar-free options in moderation.

As people become more health-conscious, sugar-free sweets are gaining popularity as a potential alternative to traditional desserts. By making informed choices and finding a balance that works for individual health, it is possible to enjoy sweet treats without the negative effects of refined sugar.

Original Story at indianexpress.com – 2023-10-05 07:00:56

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