We have been eating a low sugar diet for eight months now!
And when I use the word “diet” I mean in it as a way of describing the kinds of food we regularly eat, not in the “I’m on a diet” restrictive eating kind of definition. I don’t go on diets. I work to eat healthier as a part of my lifestyle.
Anyway! I want to dive deeper into what this looks like for us:
- Why we eat this way and the results we’ve seen because of it
- The “rules” we follow
- When we break our rules
- The foods we avoid
- What foods we eat regularly. You can also check out our food ideas for a zero-sugar diet.
- What a normal meal plan looks like for the week
Why We Eat a Low Sugar Diet
I had been making an effort to lower my sugar intake for about a year before we got serious about it. I had cut back on drinking soda and rarely ate baked goods.
What really caused us to go more extreme was my health. At 20, I had back surgery for a bulging disc. At 30, I was experiencing the same pain all over again. After meeting with a specialist and getting an MRI, we found that I had another bulging disc and I was likely a candidate for surgery (possibly a much more extreme surgery than last time).
When you’re in significant pain and facing down a possible surgery, you look for anything you can do to make it better. In all of my googling for solutions, I kept reading that sugar is a major cause of inflammation in the body and I knew that if I could lower my inflammation, it could lower my pain.
While I had an interest in eating less sugar before, daily pain was some solid motivation to actually do something about it!
Our Results with Eating a Low Sugar Diet
This is the craziest thing to me. I have had very little pain from my bulging disc since we started eating this way BUT if I eat a ton of sugary foods, I will experience pain within the next 24 hours. No joke. It’s that immediate.
I was not trying to lose weight, but Austin and I have both lost a few pounds and have easily kept it off by continuing to eat this way. I honestly feel like by eating very little sugar, my body has figured out the weight that it is meant to be at. I don’t restrict how much I eat or count calories. I just try to stop eating when I’m full, which is an ongoing process.
When my mom was here last summer, she started eating much less sugar as well and she also experienced weight loss!
Sugar can be a cause of bloating and when I don’t eat sugar, my belly is quite flat! When I do eat sugar, it bloats out huge! I suppose this was just the constant state of things while I was eating the way most people eat. Now that I eat far less sugar, I notice when my belly gets bloated after I’ve eaten either something sugary or with refined grains.
The Rules We Follow
I had a hard time figuring out what eating “less sugar” would truly mean in real life. Some people go extreme and don’t even eat fruit and I knew that wasn’t my style. How could I define “less” in a concrete way, though?
The book Zero Sugar Diet was extremely helpful for me in this! I highly recommend that you read it.
The main rule in the book is that if something has added sugar, it must have an equal amount or more of fiber. So whole wheat bread might have 2 grams of sugar per serving, but it also has 3 grams of fiber, so that’s ok.
Here are the basic rules we follow:
- If something has added sugar, it must have an equal amount or more of fiber.
- We only pay attention to added sugar. The naturally occurring sugar in fruit or milk is ok.
- No juice. Once you juice your fruit, you lose all of the filling fiber of the fruit and are basically just drinking the sugar.
- No sweeteners, even natural ones. The Zero Sugar Diet book explains how your body responds to these, so read it if you’re curious. But we avoid all sweeteners and sugar substitutes: honey, Stevia, syrup, etc.
Breaking the Rules
We follow our low sugar diet rules 95% of the time, but we have no issue with breaking them on occasion. When we do break the rules, it’s usually for one meal or one treat, not the entire week.
This is just how we prefer to eat. I don’t view it as a restrictive diet, so there’s no “I’ll go back on my diet next Monday” kind of thinking. We’re still eating how we want to eat, we just decide when to break the rules and then go back to following them right after, if that makes sense.
Built-in rule breaking:
- Socializing. I am not one to make a fuss about what we’re eating when we’re with friends or family. I’ll try to follow our rules as best as I can, but I’m also not going to not eat someone’s homemade cheesecake y’all. By now I know that I just feel crapy if I eat a ton of sugar, so I do my best not to gorge myself on desserts.
- Celebrating. We’ve each had birthdays since we started eating low sugar and we are totally fine with celebrating how we want to. I actually made Austin a low sugar apple crisp for his birthday “cake” and it was delicious! I had a legit birthday cake on my birthday because I wanted to!
- Pizza. Pizza has sugar in the sauce and the crust, plus the crust is not whole wheat. It may not be super high sugar, but it certainly doesn’t follow the rules. But we love pizza and generally get takeout on Fridays. I’m not giving up my pizza 🙂
- The Donut Rule. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen me have a “donut rule day”. My own personal life rule is that if I have any kind of a medical appointment, I get a donut. Honestly, I have a lot of appointments, so I probably eat a few donuts per month. It helps me get through appointments that I usually dread.
Foods We Avoid
In case you think that you don’t eat much sugar because you don’t like candy and baked goods, think again! A huge point of the Zero Sugar Diet book is that we consume far more sugar than is healthy every single day before we ever have dessert.
We’ve learned to avoid these high-sugar foods in general:
- Yogurt (unless you buy plain yogurt, it’s sweetened)
- Barbecue Sauce (sooo much sugar!)
- Many Salad Dressings
- Cereal (even the healthy ones)
- Spaghetti Sauce
- Sports Drinks
- Iced Tea (unless it’s unsweetened)
- Protein Bars and Granola Bars
- Canned Fruit
- Coffee Creamer
I could go on and on, but I’m thinking a few of those might surprise you. Start looking at the added sugar on your nutrition labels and you’ll start to realize that sugar gets added to practically everything we eat!
What Do We Eat?!
Given all of the things I’ve mentioned so far that we don’t eat, you may be starting to wonder what we do eat! So here’s a big list of our regular foods.
Essentially, we try to stick with lean meats, lots fruits and veggies, high quality breads and wraps, and minimally processed foods. However, we do have chicken nuggets and oven fries since they don’t have sugar, but they are definitely quite processed. You can also check out our food ideas for a zero-sugar diet.
- Coffee (I put whole milk in my coffee instead of coffee creamer)
- Whole Wheat Bagels
- Baked Oatmeal (I love this recipe from Budget Bytes, but I put way less sugar in it)
- Turkey Burgers
- Scrambled Eggs with Veggies and Whole Wheat Bagels
- Leftover Grilled Chicken
- Raw Cucumbers, Celery, and Carrots
- Banana Muffins
- Sparkling Water (with no sweeteners at all, like La Croix)
- Apples, Bananas, or Pears
- Unsalted Nuts
- Grilled Chicken
- Salmon Filets
- Salmon Burgers
- Chicken Brats
- Chicken Wraps
- Beef Barley Stew
- Spaghetti (made with Spaghetti Squash for noodles)
- Roasted Chicken
- Chicken Tenders or Nuggets
- Organic Uncured Hot Dogs
- Raw Fruits and Veggies
- Steamed Broccoli
- Garlic Bread (we use ciabatta bread, which does not have sugar)
- Chips (you have to look at the sugar content on each variety)
- Applesauce (unsweetened)
- Unsalted Nuts
- Banana Muffins
- Dark Chocolate! If you look at extremely dark chocolate (85% dark or more) there is very little sugar added and a good amount of fiber, so this can actually follow the rules! It does take some getting used to, but I love it!
A Basic Weekly Meal Plan
I share my weekly meal plans on Instagram each week along with a picture of the groceries we bought and how much we spent.
We budget $70 for groceries each week and I did not have to raise our budget when we started eating a low sugar diet, which just shows me that you do not have to spend a ton to eat healthy!
Below are some photos of our recent weekly meal plans so that you can see what a normal week looks like. We eat the same foods for breakfasts and lunches throughout the week, so I don’t have a ton written down in those sections. I plan five or six dinners for the week and we might repeat some of those multiple times, plus we generally get takeout on Friday night.
You can get the meal plan printable I use each week by entering your info below!
What happens when you eat too much sugar
Resisting a good cheesecake takes nerves of steel but we all know excess of everything is bad. The same is the case with sugar.
According to a recent study, Americans are consuming more than 300% of the recommended amount of added sugar daily. 300%. Daily. It is wildly insane but not a surprise since almost everything processed these days has added sugar in it. Ketchup, sauces, frozen yogurt, almond milk, everyone’s beloved white bread (and the list goes on). All laced with added sugar.
Let’s look at some of the potential disadvantages of consuming all that added sugar.
You’re likely to gain more weight
Sugar and obesity have been linked in a lot of online health resources. Studies have also proven that eating more sugar results in gaining more weight. But how does that happen? According to Healthline, consuming sugar increases your hunger and you end up eating much more than your body actually needed. Ring any bells? Certainly does for me. Consuming more sugar also causes more fat accumulation.
Sugar is bad for your teeth
Not to sound like your mom when you were 8 but science proves that sugar does have a direct link to tooth decay. You make the bacteria in your mouth quite happy when you eat something sweet. These cavities causing bacteria first invite plaque on your teeth. And when plaque dissolves (the thin outer covering of teeth), cavities happen.
Your mood may take a bad turn
We have all heard how sugar releases dopamine in the brain giving you that quick burst of energy. But what happens after? The 3 pm slump, that’s what. After the sugar has been absorbed in your cells, your energy levels get low and you may start feeling anxious. Not so ideal, is it?
Your skin may get unhappy
Sugar also causes inflammation leading to acne. It may also cause your skin to age quicker than it naturally would by damaging collagen and elastin in your skin.
Your joints hurt
Especially if you already have joint pain like me. This is again due to the inflammation that sugar causes. I still cannot believe how my pain has reduced ever since I cut down on sugar.
Some strategies to get you started on a low-sugar diet
Don’t go cold turkey
Start slow. Pick a few items to cut down on and stick with it. For instance, removing baked sugary foods and candy is a good place to start. And slowly you can build up to a low-sugar or even no-sugar diet.
Eliminate the obvious sources
Completely stop taking the foods that are obviously loaded with sugar. This includes cakes, muffins, ice cream, cookies, pastries…you get the gist.
Read product labels
Make it a habit to read food labels. You may have successfully banished the obvious sugar-packed items from your diet but it doesn’t mean you’ve banished all sugar. SO many products that we use daily have added sugar in them. It’s best to read labels to identify what to avoid.
Learn code names for sugar
Don’t be fooled by a product that doesn’t have ‘sugar’ written on its label. Sugar has many guises and code names. It’s best that you know what these hidden names are.
- Cane juice
- Syrup (maple, rice, corn, malt, golden, buttered syrups)
- Ethyl maltol
- Fruit Concentrate
- Dextrin or Maltodextrin
- Agave Nectar
Cut down on all sugary drinks
You think fruit juice doesn’t harm? Think again. Cut down on all sugar drinks such as soda, flavored milk, flavored coffee, and hot chocolate.
Don’t use artificial sweeteners
If you’re actively trying to lose weight, you may be tempted to use artificial sweeteners since they have few or no calories. But they are much sweeter than natural sugar. Despite how they’re marketed, they’re not great sugar substitutes.
Best foods for a low-sugar diet
When you’re cutting down on added sugar, you’ll need to consume foods that are naturally sweet to balance everything out. This will help with your sugar cravings and stabilize your sugar levels. These are the best items to pick up on your next grocery run.
High-fiber Vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, green peas, kale, spinach, sweet potato, zucchini, asparagus, fennel.
High-fiber Fruits: Coconut, apples, pears, oranges, avocados, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, pomegranates. kiwis, grapefruit.
Whole Grains: Brown rice, barley, buckwheat, oats, millet.
High-Protein Foods: Chicken breasts, beans, legumes, salmon, shrimp, tuna, tofu.
This year, I have been in awe of the effects that sugar has on my body. Eating a low-sugar diet has made it easy for me to maintain a healthy weight without having to worry much about calories or serving sizes. It’s been shocking to see how quickly I feel back pain after eating sugar because of the inflammation that it causes.
After eight months of eating like this, I continue to see myself wanting sugar less and less. Soda hasn’t tasted good to me in a long time and I used to drink it daily. Even with my beloved donuts, I’ve been wanting ones with less frosting lately.
I am so glad that we have adopted this healthier way of eating! I hope this post was helpful in explaining the details in case you are interested in eating less sugar!
By the way, I have to mention the Zero Sugar Diet book again. If you want to eat less sugar, read it. It explains how sugar affects your body in very simple terms and has all kinds of motivating information in it, including lists of what to buy at the grocery store and what low-sugar meals you can get from various restaurants. The book really helped me get started!
Don’t Miss These Related Posts:
- 24 Healthy Foods Under $1 Per Serving
- 6 Ways to Use Meal Planning to Eat Healthy
- What We’re Eating on the Zero Sugar Diet
Sunday 12th of December 2021
Thanks! I'm addicted to sugar and since i've turned 40 3 years ago, I started to gain weight even if I'M very active ans I eat well. The problem is my raffined sugar intake so please I would like to receive your weekly plan Thanks
Friday 16th of July 2021
Thanks for this! I've been looking at ways to make changes in our daily life, but all the plans I've found are so restrictive and the meal plans are ridiculous- sorry I don't have the time or budget for most of their recipes. Your lifestyle seems simple, real life, and guilt free.
Thursday 20th of December 2018
Thank you for your excellent blog and for this article, in particular. I need to eat less sugar, too, and had never heard of the Zero Sugar Diet until reading your piece. Thanks for the suggestion! I just read a sample of the book and agree--it's well researched, interesting and do-able. (Did you know the author is coming out with a Zero Sugar Cookbook in the new year, as well?) I hope you'll write more about your experience with this and keep sharing low-sugar recipes and ideas. You are a talented writer and have wonderful ideas. I don't read a lot of blogs (I'm actually a work-from-home writer/illustrator, myself!), but yours is going on my list. Keep up the good work!
Thursday 20th of December 2018
Thank you so much Kelly! I really appreciate it. I'll have to search for that cookbook!
Tuesday 4th of December 2018
I just picked up this book at the library on your recommendation and look forward to reading it!
Tuesday 4th of December 2018
Awesome! I hope you find it as helpful as I did!
Tuesday 27th of November 2018
Hi! I love your tips for living (mostly) simple. Like you, I've changed my diet, I'm not 'ON' a diet, and my diet contains very low sugar. I can't believe the added sugar in BBQ sauce and SO many (but not all) spaghetti sauce. And yes, I have discovered the glory that IS spaghetti squash. I have just one comment to add to your suggestions, and I'm not a doctor or nutritionist, so this is only a suggestion. The amount sugar from the carbs in a single bagel is off the charts. I have voluntarily chosen to limit my 'starchy carb' intake, and a single bagel contains almost twice the carbs I generally consume in an entire day. I have no medical restrictions to my diet. I choose to eat the way I do, and like you, I try to hit it 90-95% of the time. Thank you again !
Tuesday 27th of November 2018
The BBQ sauce thing is truly insane! Thanks for your info! I haven't gotten to the point of worrying about carbs yet, though I may at some point because I know they process like sugar (or something like that...). We get mini whole wheat bagels, so they're super small and at least are made with whole grains. I'll have to start looking into our carbs more next. Thank you for your comment!!