Total eradication (of processed sugars)
If you intend to no longer eat sugar and don't wish to use sugar alternatives, it is fairly simple in theory (though may or may not be harder when it comes to willpower). I would suggest cutting out the obvious foods first; cakes, biscuits, puddings and sugary drinks. Meanwhile you would need to look at how to avoid the hidden sugar in other foods (see below) which will be a lot more challenging. You would need to take care with this, ensuring that you are still consuming a healthy balanced diet. If you feel a need to cut sugar entirely from your diet I would strongly urge you to seek professional advice first, particularly as you don't want to be depriving yourself of other necessary foods as you seek to avoid sugar.
Sugar alternatives (particularly for baking)
I have researched and experimented with a number of options, and found a variety that I am pretty happy with. Using a variety of options strikes me as a sensible, balanced approach. If you intend to make significant changes to your sugar usage, I'd encourage you to continue the research yourself. Here are my top favourites and my understanding of them:
Glucose - sugar is made up of 50% glucose, which is a vital part of life; all living organisms require it to survive. It's the good part of sugar, our bodies process it well and only a very small portion of it gets turned in to fat. Glucose can be purchased as a powder (and as a liquid) so is an easy substitute for sugar, and it is very reasonably priced. It generally behaves like sugar in baking, but is less sweet. Glucose has a very high GI and is marketed towards sports people for its energy giving qualities. This perhaps highlights the inappropriateness of hoeing in to a bowl of chocolate pudding at 8 o'clock at night just before bedtime, but this is the case with a glucose-made pudding or a sugar-made pudding. It seems many of us tend to do just do it anyway. Glucose is also known as dextrose and is generally found in the supermarket.
Xylitol - a naturally occurring sugar extracted from plant materials (it is not an artificial sweetener despite its name sounding like one). It has 2/3 the calories of sugar and is low GI. Much sweeter than sugar, so less can be used. Actively good for your teeth. Expensive and only found in specialty stores. Apart from the cost, xylitol seems too good to be true, and I keep waiting to hear some bad news. But so far everywhere I turn it has a good report. This seems like a great option to combine with glucose in some recipes where you want that extra bit of sweetness (particularly if you are keen to make the much cheaper glucose your main player). Too much xylitol will cause gas and have a laxative effect. If you are interested in xylitol and want to know more, may I suggest a gaze around google (though I'm happy to receive questions, I can't guarantee I'll know the answers). This is a really exciting option. Don't be put off by the fact that you have to pop in to a different store to pick it up.
Sweet Freedom - A syrup made 100% from natural fruit extracts (apples, grapes and carob). Has 25% fewer calories than sugar, plus you can use less as it is very sweet. Contains 24% fructose, as opposed to the 50% in sugar. So a great improvement and relevant alternative. I haven't tried it in many things yet, but suggest using in place of honey, golden syrup, maple syrup and possibly condensed milk. Use on pancakes and french toast, on porridge, when baking homemade muesli, instead of honey on toast... in fact it seems you can't do breakfast without it. Use in baking when you need to stick things together. I have struggled to get my head around using a liquid as a replacement for dry sugar, and our lovely reader Alex has had a go with not ideal results, despite an ability to understand complex mathematical equations and a strong willpower to make it work. So far I have only found it in the UK and ordered it online. Which is not hard. Easier than going to the supermarket actually.
See my Sugar Alternatives page for more details on costs and purchasing (and possibly mention of other alternatives you may be wondering about).
(I am hoping Stevia will make it to my list of top favourites. Despite some apparent controversy I am hearing many good things. I'll let you know. I've also started seeing some interesting info on molasses and palm sugar. I'll update ASAP. If you have any knowledge on these, do pass it on)
Hidden sugar (reading the packets)
We've talked a whole lot about baking so far, but sugar lurks in all kinds of surprising foods, particularly packets and tins that we pick up at the supermarket. I am yet to learn how significant this it. Though it is listed as an ingredient in many, many items, it's hard to know how much there is, and how much it matters. Perhaps converting the figures on the backs of packets in to amounts that we understand will help us to learn. Sugar can be found in your baked beans, tomato sauce, and in fact many sauces, crackers, chips (crisps), pesto, soups, flavour packets of all kinds, tinned fruit (look for natural juice), tinned veges. It could be in your pre-marinaded meat. It's in cereal, of course. And most obviously, fruit flavoured yoghurts that people love to give their kids is packed with sugar (that's not hidden at all actually!).
I'm interested in doing further posts looking at just how much sugar we get though these means, and whether it is worth making changes to what we buy (homemade crackers, anyone?). For now, you may or may not choose to make changes here, depending on how much of this hidden sugar food you use. But do be aware of it at least, without becoming paranoid. And without cutting everything out of your diet to avoid all mention of sugar. I'd love your help on researching what products sugar is in and at what levels.
It may be that you would prefer to not eat soup and crackers with sugar in them so that you can happily enjoy a big slab of sugary cake instead, but I'm not sure the amounts are very equivalent, and anyway I've just given you some great options above for making cake without sugar.
We have spent alot of time looking at how we can get what we really want without feeling bad (or unhealthy) about it. How 21st century is that? Perhaps it's time we also looked at the option of actually eating less sweet stuff and getting some other seriously healthy things in to our bodies instead. Or if not seriously healthy, at least not sweet! We shouldn't expect to have what we want all the time. I am planning to do a post soon asking you for ideas for savoury snacks (not yet please!) and I encourage you to really start thinking about what you (and you children) can have between meals or after meals when you are likely to have reached for something sugary sweet.
I have had a couple of phases over the years where I have cut out all sugary snacks for a period of time. I have found the key to success has been finding enjoyable, satisfying, tasty alternatives. Let's think of some. Lots.
Cafes, parties and eating out
My only suggestion here is to make a plan. If you like to eat out and don't want to miss out on the treats, decide what your limit is. Have a look at what non-sugary options there are (not many in cafes, I find, unless you're actually having lunch). You might decide that one cafe visit per week with a chai and a friand (my current cafe weaknesses) is ok, but any more than that will see you with a cheese scone and a cup of tea.When I go out for dinner I couldn't possibly pass up an opportunity to order off the dessert menu, but I don't go out anymore so it's not a problem. If eating out and dessert menus are a regular part of your life just factor them in.
When I mention parties I confess I was thinking of children's birthday parties! Just take care not to waste too much of your sugar allowance accidently eating too much fairy bread and sticky popcorn, unless that's your top priority at the expense of other things of course. On the other hand, you may know some parents who do amazing party food that you wouldn't want to miss, so you can skip the chai and friand that week.
Don't waste your allowance (aka. cut the crap)
If you want to reduce your sugar intake I suggest you avoid eating sugary rubbish that's actually not that enjoyable, and save your sugar allowance for treats that are really good. For me, packet biscuits, supermarket baking, and pretty much all the food at a couple of cafes I occasionally accidently frequent are a complete waste of time. Decide what's a waste of time for you and leave it alone.
Contingency plan (for when you blow it)
If you have serious plans to eat less sugar but find yourself scoffing half a packet of chocolate one night, you can still put the other half away and begin again tomorrow (on the serious plans I mean, not the chocolate). If you head to a cafe planning for a cup of earl grey but find yourself desperately ordering a gigantic hot chocolate, you can still say "hold the marshmallows" and walk past the slices. Keeping some semblance of control will help you next time, and will still keep your sugar intake less than it might have been.
So, how are you going to tackle this?