Over the last year, I’ve been making big efforts to consume less sugar.
My efforts got a bit more drastic in March when I read The Zero Sugar Diet by David Zinczenko. It’s an awesome book. Seriously, go read it.
I don’t ever go on diets. Despite the title, The Zero Sugar Diet is actually more about a healthy eating plan that you can follow for life. We’ve been following the rules (with occasional exceptions) for a few weeks now without any plans of stopping.
The Zero Sugar Diet
What Are The Rules?
There are two basic rules for the zero sugar diet:
- Eat minimally processed foods that don’t have added sugar.
- If a food does have added sugar, it must have at least as much fiber as well.
It’s all about added sugar, so fruit and milk are fine because those contain natural sugar.
No artificial sweeteners are allowed. The book does a lot of explaining on why you should stay away from these.
I highly recommend you read the whole book to understand all of the details (buy it here). There are a ton of helpful food lists and ideas of what to order at restaurants. Plus, Zinczenko explains tons of research results in an easy to understand way.
I love how simple the rules are. The tricky part is that there is added sugar in sooo many foods that you would not expect!
We’ve found added sugar in:
- Almost all condiments: ketchup, BBQ sauce, salad dressing…
- Spaghetti sauce
- “Healthy” cereals
- Restaurant Salads
Basically, we eat a ton of sugar without realizing it even if we’re not eating donuts and cake. It’s really eye-opening when you start looking at nutrition labels on absolutely everything.
In the US, it is required that by July 2018, nutrition labels have an extra line under sugar content that shows how much added sugar is in the food. A lot of foods are ahead of the game and already show this, which makes it much easier to see if a food follows the rules. I can see if something has had sugar added to it or if the sugar content is naturally occurring. (more info on that here)
As someone with a major sweet tooth, I thought this would be really hard. It wasn’t!
I’m not tracking calories or worrying about how much I eat with this plan. I’m at a healthy weight, but I did still lose a pound and my belly is a lot flatter. I haven’t had crazy cravings, I think because all of the fiber keeps me full.
When I do eat something sugary, I notice that I don’t feel very good afterwards. I get tired and my belly gets painfully bloated, which I guess used to just be normal.
The most important change for me is that I’ve had decreased inflammation in my body. I have a bulging disc that we were about to have to meet with a surgeon about. I was in a ton of pain in December and January. I have had very little pain since cutting out most sugar and I am not meeting with specialists anymore!!!
The difference is pretty crazy. If I eat some super sugar-y foods (which I still do about once a week), I can feel my disc pain flaring up — it’s that instantaneous and noticeable!
Austin has been feeling great with this eating plan. He usually gets shaky if he doesn’t eat consistently and has crazy blood sugar fluctuations. This is almost completely gone for him! It’s an exciting improvement.
What Are We Eating With a Zero Sugar Diet?
I know, most diets tell you what you can’t eat and then you wonder what you can eat!
Oddly enough, we haven’t changed what we eat drastically. We’ve made adjustments. If you check the nutrition labels, you can find cereal, yogurt, condiments, and bread that comply with the rules.
It took us a little longer to grocery shop the first week we tried to stick to the plan because we had to look at the nutrition labels on everything. We’re getting the hang of what works and what doesn’t now though.
What’s really helpful is that the back of the book has a huge section where it tells you what brands and specific foods you can get at the grocery store that have no added sugar, or at least equal fiber. There is also a guide that helps you choose what you eat at certain restaurants so that you know what to get when you’re out to eat. (I’m glad I bought this book instead of rented it, because I keep referring back to it for these helpful sections.)
So what are we eating? Austin and I both don’t mind eating the same thing over and over again, so there’s not a ton of variety.
- Scrambled Eggs
- Whole Grain Mini Bagel (or bread or english muffin) with Butter or Cream Cheese
Breakfast was the biggest change for me. I had to give up my favorite cereal and the cream in my coffee! Now I add whole milk to my coffee and sometimes a few drops of vanilla extract. I love eggs and toast, so that wasn’t too hard.
You have to do some searching to find cream cheese without added sugar by the way. Some varieties add it, some don’t.
- Turkey Burgers
Each week, I make a batch of Greek Turkey Burgers that last me most of the week. Austin doesn’t like them so they’re the perfect lunch for me! I leave out the sun dried tomatoes and used whatever shredded cheese I have instead of feta. I put them on half of a ciabatta bun (no sugar in these!) with the sauce. So good!
- Chopped Raw Veggies
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Leftover Chicken
- Multigrain Tortilla Chips with Guacamole
- Sparkling Water (Aldi’s version of La Croix)
- A Banana or Orange
Austin takes a few of the options listed above for lunch at work each day — whatever we have on hand.
- Salmon Filets or Salmon Burgers
- Grilled Chicken
- Baked Chicken Tenders (from the freezer section – a total convenience meal)
- Chicken Wraps
- Homemade Pizza (I will never stop eating pizza!)
- Steamed Veggies (lots of them!)
- Raw Veggies
- Raw Fruit
- Baked Fries
- Garlic Bread
I try to make sure we eat a lot veggies at dinner. I’m a big fan of microwaving frozen veggies because it’s so easy. We also eat them raw or I’ll steam raw broccoli.
The baked fries technically don’t have sugar, though they’re quite processed so we don’t have them super often and I watch the serving size.
For garlic bread, I’ve found ciabatta and sourdough breads that don’t have added sugar.
- Mustard: Yellow or Dijon
- Homemade Ranch Dressing
- Olive Oil
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Real Mayonaise
As I mentioned before, most condiments and salad dressing have a lot of added sugar. I’ve been making my own ranch dressing with a bit of seasoning, mayo, sour cream, and balsamic vinegar. Plus, we’ve been dipping fries and chicken in mustard. It’s just a small change and we got used to it quickly.
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Banana Muffins (I leave out the honey in this recipe)
- String Cheese
- Popcorn (made on the stove and topped with a little butter and salt)
If you buy really dark chocolate, it actually has equal or more fiber than sugar! We’re talking the 85% dark chocolate. It tasted a bit bitter to me at first because I was used to regular dark chocolate, but now I love it! I eat a little chocolate after lunch and after dinner everyday.
Avoid these sneaky foods high in sugar
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the average American takes about 17 teaspoons or 71.14 grams of added sugar each day. This amounts to 57 pounds of added sugar a year. 57 POUNDS. That’s some insanely unhealthy amount.
Even the foods that we think are light or low fat have added sugar in them. I have now made it a rule to avoid these sneaky foods high in sugar:
- BBQ Sauce
- Salad dressing
- Pasta Sauce
- Raisin Bran Cereal
- Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal
- Granola or Protein Bars
- Almond Milk
- Tomato Soup
- White Bread
- Canned Tea
- Canned Fruits
- Spaghetti Sauce
- Flavored Coffee
Code names for sugar
Just because a food product is labeled ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’, does not mean it won’t have added sugars. Manufacturers sometimes also try to be extra sneaky and use different words for sugar on ingredient labels. Although FDA does require labels to display sugar content, I like to be 100% sure.
Here are some common alternative words used for sugar:
- Ethyl maltol
- Agave Nectar
- Syrup (maple, rice, corn, malt, golden, buttered syrups)
- Cane Juice
- Fruit Concentrate
- Panela sugar
- Dextrin or Maltodextrin
Tips to get started with Zero Sugar Diet
A zero sugar diet is basically a well-balanced diet containing limited or no added sugars, proteins, healthy fats and a whole lot of fiber. If starting the zero sugar diet feels overwhelming or confusing to you, here are a few handy tips.
- Start gradually. First few weeks of limited sugar instead of no sugar
- Limit sugary foods in breakfast
- Cut back on desserts and sugary snacks (pastries, cookies, cake)
- Start reading food labels (and lookout for codenames of sugar)
- Avoided sauces (did you know 1TBS of ketchup has 1TSP of sugar, 29% sugar)
- Eat full-fat foods
- Eat whole foods
- Eat more protein
- Go for the unsweetened version
- Avoid artificial sweeteners
Foods with zero (or low) sugar
- Lean meat (turkey, chicken, lean beef, roast pork)
- Green beans
- Kelp noodles
- Bell pepper
- Zucchini noodles
I love how simple The Zero Sugar Diet plan is. More than that, I love how I feel when I’m not eating added sugars! We plan to continue to eat this way for a long time to come because of it.
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