OPINION: Cut the crap; you're sweet enough

LIFE AS I KNOW IT, with Lesley Apps:

SUGAR. Who doesn't love it? It's conjures up images of deliciousness, fun and affection, and don't forget little girls are made of it, being so sweet and all that. From lollipops and fairy floss, biscuits and cakes, chocolate to tomato sauce.

While that last one might seem a bit out of place in that line-up, if you have ever checked out the sugary content in that stuff, even entry level percentages would make Willie Wonka's eyes pop.

And what about taco seasoning? Who grabs that without eying the back of the packet? Sugar city.

So where is this heading? Down the track I've been on for the past couple of years. Avoiding as much of that sweet white stuff as possible in an attempt to feel better and in turn look healthier. And you know what, it has worked. Best of all, the longer you do it the easier it becomes.

I won't harp on about science because I'm not a scientist, and won't carry on about the obesity epidemic because people just get angry, but I will harp on about the experience.

Firstly, it wasn't easy. Giving up any habit never is. How will I go without those three biscuits with my cup of tea every night? Or opting out of sticking something sugary in my mouth after every meal and at 4pm when that afternoon work slump arrives? Those were normal feelings, weren't they?

Turns out they're not. So I read a book on the subject and checked out some recipes that switched ingredients so the types of sugars being consumed came in the form of everyday wholefoods like vegetables and fruit and processed products like milk or yoghurt. There are substitutes out there you just have to be motivated enough to find them (which is quite a task when you aren't feeling very motivated).

So the biscuits were replaced with slabs of nutty, coconutty, cacao (chocolate substitute) to help the weaning process. Going cold turkey is almost impossible otherwise.

What I avoided the most were the processed foods with added sugar and chose snack foods more wisely. Microwave popcorn became my best friend as did nuts and savoury crackers and cheese. Added sugar is highly addictive and found in just about every kind of processed food you can imagine like that taco seasoning and tomato sauce.

Whenever I bought food that had been tinkered with I made sure it had no more than 5g per 100g, so in the case of yoghurt that meant plain, no fruit and no vanilla. And that's basically the approach to take to everything you put in your mouth. The more you do it the easier it becomes.

As the weeks and months went by my taste buds changed and suddenly that initial sour taste started to become sweeter and sweeter as my brain started to register what food really tasted like. Some vegetables are amazingly sweet. Occasionally when I came across some relish on a burger or some other sweet accoutrement, it tasted over the top, like minced lollies with a cup full of sugar thrown in for good measure.

Meanwhile my hair and skin looked better, the face jowls started to subside as did a few others. And that afternoon slump is nowhere to be found now. Occasionally I'll have some old school sweets but can't handle much more than a mouthful now. Reprogramming the receptors is half the battle. Stopping at two squares of chocolate is something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. Best of all you still feel satisfied. It's not like you are depriving the senses at all.

Exercise really did nothing to make me look leaner and less bloated; it was all pretty much down to what I was consuming. Physical activity now works much better when applied as a feel good strengthener rather than a weight loss tool.

It's worthwhile giving it a go if you feel like you are stuck in a sugary rut, are struggling to lose weight or just don't feel good generally.

But be warned, the world seems to be against you when endeavouring to break the habit, supermarket shopping isn't easy and, as I said before people, get angry for a number of reasons.

But, as the rather inappropriate saying goes, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" (or lack of, if you can conquer that sweet summit) and once you beat it you won't look back.


Things to substitute to help switch off those big sugary items: soft drink (soda water with slices of lemon or lime), flavoured yoghurts (add fresh berries to natural stuff), bottled fruit juice (whole press fruit yourself so you get the fibre), bottled sauces and packets of flavouring (check the label), chocolate (cacao). Cut out sweet snack foods and replace with nuts and savoury biscuits and cheese, unflavoured popcorn.

Try to eat more wholefoods and check the nutritional labels of everything you buy.

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