Thinking of following a low-sugar diet?

Here, Patrick Holford, co-author of Delicious, Healthy, Sugar-Free, explains why a low-sugar diet is a good idea.

low-sugar diet


Many of us are familiar with the feeling of having low blood sugar, though we may not be aware of the cause. When your blood sugar is low, you will feel tired and hungry, although the symptoms of low blood sugar can also include poor concentration, irritability, nervousness, depression, sweating, headaches and digestive problems. If you refuel with fast-releasing, high-GL carbohydrates (don’t worry, I’ll explain this in a moment), your blood sugar rises rapidly. Your body doesn’t need that amount of sugar all at once, so it dumps the excess into storage as fat. Then your blood sugar goes down again. This vicious cycle of yo-yoing blood sugar can lead to permanent tiredness, weight gain and carbohydrate cravings.


An estimated three in every ten people have an impaired ability to keep their blood sugar level stable. The result, over the years, is that they are likely to become increasingly over weight and lethargic. However, if you can control your blood sugar levels, the result is even weight and constant energy.



The secret of stable blood sugar

Some carbohydrates are like rocket fuel, releasing their glucose in a sudden rush. They give a quick burst of energy followed by a rapid burn-out. So if you want to balance your blood sugar, you need to eat fewer fast-releasing foods – sweets and anything made with white flour, including cakes and biscuits – and more slow-releasing foods such as wholegrain carbohydrates, fresh fruit and vegetables.



Fast or slow: the GL guide

The best way to achieve a stable blood sugar balance is to control the glycemic load (GL) of your diet. You may have heard of the glycemic index (GI) or know about the connection between restricting carbohydrates and weight loss. Well, GL develops these concepts to the next stage, to create a scientifically superior way of controlling blood sugar.


The reason I focus on the carbohydrate content of foods is because the other two main food types – fat and protein – don’t have a significant effect on blood sugar. In fact, I recommend that you eat some fat and protein with your carbohydrate, because this will further lessen the effect the carbohydrate has on your blood sugar, thereby lowering the GL of your meal.



Understanding GL

GL combines the GI with the concept of measuring carbohydrate intake to provide a scientifically superior way of controlling blood sugar. Put simply, the GI of a food tells you whether the carbohydrate in the food is fast-or slow-releasing. It’s a ‘quality’ measure. It doesn’t tell you, however, how much of that food is carbohydrate. Carbohydrate points, on the other hand, tell you how much of a food is carbohydrate, but don’t tell you what that particular carbohydrate does to your blood sugar. They are a ‘quantity’ measure. The GL of a food is the quantity times the quality, so it combines these two measures to give an accurate indicator of the impact a serving of a particular carbohydrate has on your blood sugar.


Here are some examples of high- and low-GL carbohydrates, so you can put this in context and compare various foods.


Food Serving looks like GL
Grains, breads and cereals
Grapefruit 1 small 5
Apricot 4 apricots 5
Grapes 10 grapes 5
Pineapple 1 thin slice 5
Banana 1 small 10
Raisins 20 10
Dates 2 10
Starchy vegetables
Pumpkin/squash large serving 7
Carrot 1 large 7
Beetroot 2 small 5
Boiled potato 3 small (60g) 5
Sweet potato 1 (120g) 10
Baked potato 1 (120g) 10
French fries 10 10
Grains, breads and cereals
Quinoa 65g (2/3 cup cooked) 5
Pearl barley 75g (cooked) 5
Brown basmati rice small serving (70g) 5
White rice ½ serving (66g) 10
Couscous ½ serving (66g) 10
Rough oatcakes 2-3 5
Rye pumpernickel-style bread 1 thin slice 5
Wholemeal bread 1 thin slice 5
Bagel ¼ bagel 5
Puffed rice cakes 1 rice cake 5
White pasta small serving (78g) 10
Beans and lentils
Soya beans 3 ½ cans 5
Pinto beans 1 can 5
Lentils large serving 7
Kidney beans large serving (150g) 7
Chickpeas large serving (150g) 7
Baked beans large serving (150g) 7

So you can see that by choosing well, you can good portion sizes of certain carbs. And who wouldn’t rather have a punnet of blueberries rather than two dates?


Breaking the sugar habit

The taste for concentrated sweetness is often acquired in childhood. If sweet things are used as a reward or to cheer someone up, they become emotional comforters. The best way to break the habit is to avoid concentrated sweetness in the form of sugar, sweets, sweet desserts, dried fruit and neat fruit juice. Sweeten breakfast cereals with fresh fruit, and have fruit instead of sweet snacks. If you gradually reduce the sweetness in your food, you will get used to the taste.

However, beware of switching to natural sugars such as honey or maple syrup as these still cause a rapid increase in blood sugar. Artificial sweeteners are not so great, either, as some have been shown to have harmful effects on health and all perpetuate a sweet tooth. One of the best sugar alternatives is xylitol, the vegetable sugar that has a very low GL. It tastes much the same as regular sugar, but doesn’t raise blood sugar significantly. Nine teaspoons of xylitol, for example, have the same effect as just one teaspoon of regular sugar or honey. Another low-GL sweetener is agave syrup.



To balance your blood sugar, which will help you achieve stable energy levels and regulate your weight:

  • Choose low-GL foods
  • Eat protein alongside carbs
  • Graze rather than gorge
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugary foods


Learn more about a low-sugar  diet and low GL lifestyle and discover many more tasty, sugar-free recipes with Patrick Holford and Fiona McDonald Joyce’s Delicious, Healthy, Sugar-Free.


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