10 Tips to Control your “Sugar” Intake

In a previous post, we looked at various types of sweeteners. In this post, I’d like to share what I think is a sustainable strategy for controlling your sugar and sweetener intake.

While this strategy is primarily targeted at diabetics, it could serve as a basic guide for anyone interested in taking control of their blood sugar levels. Please note, I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. This is generic advice, which I’ve spent considerable time researching, that you will have to adapt to meet your own health requirements!

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The three usual situations in which we contend with sweeteners are: when eating at home, when eating out, and when grocery shopping. Let’s look at each.

EATING at home:

1. Avoid sugars, sweeteners, and substitutes in everyday cooking. 

A lot of traditional recipes, especially Indian/Asian, tend to use a small quantity of sugar or natural sweetener such as honey or jaggery to achieve a certain balance of flavours. For diabetic-friendly cooking: avoid these and get creative to achieve that balance. Use naturally sweet ingredients such as carrots, peas, pumpkins, coconut and cherry tomatoes. You will also benefit from the nutrients and fibre in these ingredients.

2. Eat a fruit to deal with sweet cravings but do so a few hours before or after a meal.

A gap between a meal and fruit allows time for the blood sugar to reduce after the meal. An apple is a good sweet hit with the benefit of fibre to ensure your sugar levels do not spike sharply. Other low-GI fruit include cantaloupe melon, strawberries, and papaya. Non-diabetics can have reasonable servings of any kind of fruit including high GI ones such as mangos, bananas, and grapes, each of which have beneficial nutrients.

3. Have desserts only occasionally. Make them using either natural sweeteners (such as dates or maple syrup) or zero calorie sweeteners (for diabetics).

Avoid sugar-based desserts. Non-diabetics can have desserts made using natural sweeteners such as dates and maple syrup instead. Diabetics may prefer desserts made from zero calorie sweeteners such as Sucralose or Stevia (but avoid Aspartame). However, remember that zero calorie sweeteners are either too new to be fully tested for long term effects or somewhat controversial in their side effects. So avoid having such desserts too often.

Try to incorporate naturally sweet, nutritious, and fibrous ingredients such as apples, pears, carrots, beetroots and coconut into your dessert recipe and bring down the quantity of sweetener you use. You could also experiment with adding vegetables and protein into your dessert to further reduce the carb load – try zucchini in muffins, bottle gourd in kheer, almond flour in baked goods.

EATING Out:

4. If you intend to have dessert, eat less carbs in your starter and main courses. Choose complex carbs where possible.

Even when eating out, try to have desserts occasionally only. Whenever you intend to have dessert, restrict your carb intake. So try having a low carb salad, avoid starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and eat more protein. When you have a choice go for whole grains, brown rice and protein based main courses (at Indian restaurants order Tandoori Roti or Dal ka Chilla instead of Naan or Romali Roti). I’m planning a separate post on understanding and dealing with carbohydrates – an often misunderstood aspect of the diabetic diet!

5. Choose a dessert made with natural sweeteners like dates, or with zero calorie sweeteners (if you are diabetic) and restrict yourself to a single portion. 

Since you have no control over the amount of sweeteners and fat used in restaurant desserts, just make the best of the situation by choosing the dessert that is most likely to be made with ingredients such as honey or jaggery/molasses rather than one that you know is made from refined sugar. And take just the one piece! If you are diabetic and are opting for the “sugar free” dessert, restrict your exposure to zero calorie sweeteners – you can always make your favourite dessert at home! 🙂

6. Plan your insulin intake just before the meal (if you are on insulin).

Your body has the best chance of dealing with the extra load of having a full meal plus dessert when you have taken your insulin just before the meal.

SHOPPING for Groceries:

7. Read every label before buying the product.

Sugars, sweeteners, and substitutes, lurk about in various guises in all kinds of processed food. So it’s a useful skill to be able to read label-ese quickly and effectively. Read this post, for my tips for reading labels and examples of sneaky label-writing that had me conned for ages!

8. Avoid all foods with processed sugars or refined sugar.

Don’t buy products that are bombarding you with high fructose corn syrup, golden syrup and invert sugar! More on finding these ingredients in product labels in the next post in this series.

9. If sugar is an inevitable ingredient, ensure it occurs in sufficiently low quantities.

We tend to buy processed foods to make life easy and to make cooking at home a convenient and sustainable option. Sometimes it’s impossible to get these foods without added sugar. When that’s the case ensure that the quantity of sugar per serving is low. For any product having more than 5g per serving you should look at a different brand or consider doing without it.

Most Important Take-away:

10. Be conscious of your carb and sweetener intake.

Always be aware of what you are eating. When you know what ingredients are in your food, and roughly in what quantities, you will be in a better position to judge for yourself what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat!

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Have you got any thoughts on this sugar control strategy? Tips and tricks you’d like to share? Please chip in!

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