Shawn recently posted a wonderful No-Sugar Cheat Sheet that serves as a basic guideline for a no-sugar diet. If you haven’t read it yet, do that NOW! It’s a simple and informative read, and it’s even something you can print out and stash in your purse for quick reference on the go. But for those of you wanting more information on the topic, I thought it might be helpful to write a little follow-up that goes into greater detail. That’s what we contributors are here for, right? So here we go with round two of the no-sugar cheat sheet!
What is a no-added-sugar diet? First of all, let’s explain exactly what a no-sugar diet is and isn’t. A no-sugar diet is an eating plan that eliminates all non-naturally occurring sugar. Many foods naturally contain sugar, and this sugar is both healthy and important for a well-rounded diet. Sources of natural carbs (sugar) include fruits, vegetables, grains (like wheat, oatmeal, bulgar, quinoa, rice, couscous, millet, and corn), legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), and milk. A no-added-sugar diet allows all of these foods but eliminates those with additional sweeteners or sugar sources. It is NOT a low-carbohydrate diet. A low-carb diet can be useful if you have specific restrictions or medical needs, but it’s not something you should follow long-term unless there’s a special reason. (Not sure if you need a low-carb diet? Ask your doctor or dietitian about it!) A no-sugar diet, on the other hand, is a safe and healthy way to cut out some of the unnecessary calories and processed foods in our diet.
So, now that you understand the basic concept of the eating plan, let’s review Shawn’s list and talk details!
Sushi: You already got the low-down on restaurant-prepared sushi in Shawn’s original post, but you might be wondering why rice, a natural source of carbohydrate, is ill-advised? Seems strange, but it actually makes perfect sense when you dig a little deeper and discover that sushi rice is usually soaked in sugar water as part of the prep process. Ah, now we get it! (Face palm.) But the good news is that the rice itself does not contain added sugars. Plain rice, especially brown or long grain rice, is a perfectly acceptable source of carbs on the no-sugar diet. Sushi made with non-sugar-soaked rice is also fine.
Fish, Poultry, and Meat: These foods don’t contain any carbs naturally, so in theory they are a good choice on this eating plan. Just keep in mind that some cuts of meat are higher in fat than others, and the prep method matters too! Here are some basic tips:
– Chicken: To keep the fat content low, avoid fried chicken and skip the skin.
– Pork and ham: Choose lean cuts such as pork loin or baked ham (hold the fat just under the skin!), and limit intake of higher-fat cuts like bacon. Oh, and honey-baked ham… a definite no-no! (Honey = sugar.)
– Beef: Cuts that include the words “loin” or “round” are usually the leanest, but you can also check the fat content by looking at the marbling. More white streaks mean more fat, so go for a piece with less marbling to keep the fat and calories down.
– Fish and seafood: avoid them fried.
Vegetables: Don’t hold back! Like Shawn said, the natural sugar content of vegetables is relatively low, and they’re packed full of important vitamins and minerals, so eat up! Just watch it with sauces or spices that might add some unwanted sugar.
Herbs and Spices: If you’re using a packaged herb or spice blend, be sure to check the label and make sure it’s sugar-free.*
Nuts and Seeds: Watch out for the sweeteners often added to peanut butter or other nut butters to make them taste… uh… sweeter.
Milk: You can never go wrong with water as a drink, but low fat milk and unsweetened almond or soy milk are also great if you’re looking for a high-protein, low-fat option. Chocolate milk is a no-no though, so keep your distance.
Fruit: If it’s a whole piece of raw fruit, then there’s no question… eat on with confidence! No added sugars there. Fresh squeezed juice from 100% fruit, unsweetened apple sauce, and plain frozen fruit are also fine. But some fruit products (ex: most juices, fruits canned in syrup, sweetened apple sauce, and some frozen fruits) contain added sugar or sweeteners and should therefore be avoided. Be sure to check package labels if you’re not sure.*
Grains and other Starches: Most pasta is A-okay because it’s not made with any sugar or sweeteners, but it can’t hurt to double-check the label just in case!* Other no-sugar-added sources of carbs include quinoa, rice, couscous, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, and corn. Bread is a trickier topic… many of the breads you buy in stores will contain sugar or sweeteners of some sort, so it might be easier to avoid it altogether. However, if it’s something you really want, you’ll just have to do a little research in your grocery store’s bread aisle to find a suitable brand! Or you could always make your own at home.
*Not sure if a product contains added sugar or sugar substitutes? There’s an easy solution— check the label and find out for yourself! Here are some of the “code” words often used for added sugar or sweeteners: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup, table sugar, sugar alcohols, saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K, sucralose, neotame, and stevia. (Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ADA Evidence Analysis Library)