When journalist Sarah Wilson began writing a blog about how she was avoiding sugar, she had no idea where it might lead to. In fact it led to a whole new career. Sarah, a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and the host of Masterchef in Australia, suffered from hashimoto’s disease (a type of autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid) but although she was following what she thought was a healthy diet, she herself was totalling 25 teaspoons of sugar. It was then at the start of 2011 she found that cutting sugar out, she found herself less affected by mood swings, re-energised and able to control her disease.
Here she tells CAMILLA DAVIES how she did it… and devised two bestselling cookbooks in the process…and why cutting out sugar doesn’t mean cutting out all treats…
“Sugar is sugar, it doesn’t matter whether it comes from sugar cane or from a date, it amounts to the same thing when we consume it,” says Sarah, “It can be daunting when you add up the sugar in your diet. Most of the problematic sugar is the hidden sugar that we have very little control over and that most people don’t even realise they’re eating.”
From an evolutionary perspective, we are designed to crave sugar. But while we need glucose in our diets, sugar used to be hard to come by. Once it was a berry here or there – but in today’s food market our liberal approach to the foodstuff is causing health problems.
“Part of the reason culling sugar is daunting is because we are highly addicted to it – it’s very understandable as there is very good biological and evolutionary reasons as to why we are addicted. People see it as a matter of their willpower, but it’s about biology – we’ve got to shift our bodies to rid ourselves of the sugar habit.”
Sarah’s foodie principles are at odds with eating patterns those wanting to slim down may have developed. Instead of opting for ‘low fat’ options in order to shrink the waistline, Sarah advises replacing sugar with healthy fats instead, as low fat alternatives tend to be laden with sweet substitutes.
“In many ways all sweeteners are problematic” She begins. “The most problematic part of sugar is the fructose, what causes metabolic issues, a sugar that doesn’t have an appetite control mechanism in the brain so we’ve got no tolerance for it. It’s processed in the liver, so it transfers directly to the worst kind of fat and is hard on our metabolism.”
But whilst fructose is a culprit, that’s not to say it’s the only issue. “Other sugars consumed in excess are also problematic, artificial sweeteners can continue the blood sugar rollercoaster and addiction so I’ve always been mindful to use less and less sweetener and to try to switch to a more savoury way of living in general.”
“Stevia, and rice malt syrups are what I advocate, and what my research has found to be the most effective. I’ve got some lovely desserts in my cookbooks that use some sweeteners and they should be treated as a treat – even though they don’t contain fructose.”
Thankfully, one treat you won’t be giving up is alcohol. “The good news is that in red wine the sugar is fermented to become alcohol so there’s very little sugar left – in fact recent studies have found that other properties in red wine are great for balancing out blood sugar. The important thing is to consume the wine with food, like the French do. I have one glass of wine every night with dinner, six nights a week and it really does help my digestion.”
One thing out of the question is ready meals, guilty of cramming in the sugars. But despite our qualms that eating out with friends would become a nightmare, Sarah insists it’s “super easy.”
“I’m all about sustainable meat eating, and London has great, accessible restaurants; they aren’t relying on sugar-laden sauces, they’re doing beautiful meat, cooked well with a side of vegetables. On any menu there’s probably one or two things I can’t eat and then for dessert I’ll have cheese but generally I don’t even need it. I eat a lot each meal, I don’t skimp and allow plenty of protein, and I don’t need something after.”
And she doesn’t ‘go for restriction.’ While she encourages cutting out fruit on her eight -week programme designed to stop the initial sugar craving, she admits she eats one to two pieces of whole fruit a day – mostly low-fuctose berries and kiwi fruit. “As well as fruit I’ll have a few squares of 70 per cent cocoa chocolate from time to time, even some honey. I guess it comes to about 5-8 teaspoons a day, sometimes more. But I’m conscious of what I’m eating and maintain a balance.”
When the results of a sugar free journey appear so promising, perhaps we’ll have what she’s having?
Sarah Wilson’s second sugar-free cookbook, I Quit Sugar For Life, is available from most good bookstores and Amazon.co.uk at £14.99, paperback. Meanwhile for more tips visit iquitsugar.com.