A step-by-step guide to decode a sugar-free diet for your health goals

by Rajesh Kaur

Most people have a weakness for their favorite dessert, whether it’s a scoop of ice cream or a piece of kaju katli. However, with the negative attention surrounding refined sugar, experts are now exploring sugar-free sweets as an alternative. Bariatric surgeon Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker and registered dietitian Mariam Lakdawala have even written a book called “Sugar Free Sweets,” in which they promote sugar-free recipes and discuss the impact of sugar on our health.

When asked about the harmful effects of sugar, Dr. Aparna explains that sugar is a processed food that contains simple carbohydrates but lacks fiber, protein, and fat. As a result, it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Excess sugar is converted into fat, leading to increased insulin resistance, weight gain, and health conditions like PCOD and type 2 diabetes. High sugar consumption also contributes to high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, inflammation, and obesity, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

Dr. Aparna emphasizes that sugar has addictive potential, making it difficult for people to cut back on sugary foods and beverages. It becomes a vicious cycle, leading to further cravings and consumption of sugar.

A sugar-free diet is one that excludes refined simple sugars found in foods like sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, jaggery, refined bakery products, and polished rice. Mariam explains that it is a misconception that honey and jaggery are healthier options. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread or refined flour should also be avoided.

As for how much sugar-free is too much, Dr. Aparna refers to the World Health Organization’s recommendation that added sugars should make up less than 10% of total daily calories. Ideally, limiting added sugars to below 5% of total daily calories has additional health benefits. Different sugar substitutes have different safe upper limits of consumption, but it is advisable to avoid refined sugars and not become too dependent on sugar substitutes.

Cutting out natural sugars from fruits and dry fruits can lead to various health issues, as these foods also provide fiber, antioxidants, and micronutrients. Removing them completely from the diet can result in nutrient deficiencies, constipation, digestive issues, fatigue, and low energy levels. It is essential to have a balanced diet and listen to your body’s needs.

Sugar-free foods are advisable for individuals who are watching their weight, have diabetes, dyslipidemia, heart diseases, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or PCOD. However, athletes, children, teenagers, and adults with an ideal body mass index can indulge in sweets in moderation. It is better to opt for foods containing natural sugars rather than refined sugars.

Some easily found sugar-free alternatives include stevia, a natural sweetener with zero calories, fresh or frozen fruits, fruit purees made from seasonal fruits or dried fruits, and peanut butter (in moderation and homemade).

In conclusion, sugar-free sweets can be a suitable alternative to traditional desserts for those looking to avoid refined sugar. However, it is important to consume sugar-free options in moderation and maintain a balanced diet overall.

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