Seven-Day Plan, Sugar Swaps, Benefits
A no-sugar diet is a dietary approach that eliminates or significantly reduces the consumption of added sugars and sweeteners. This includes avoiding foods and beverages that contain sugar, such as sucrose, fructose, and high-fructose corn syrup.
The goal is to promote better health by reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, which are associated with excessive sugar intake. Instead, this type of diet encourages the consumption of whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains as sources of natural sugars and carbohydrates.
This article will review how a no-sugar or low-sugar diet works, what to eat, its benefits, and other considerations for people with diabetes.
How a No-Sugar Diet Works
To maintain a healthy perspective on sugar consumption, it’s essential to consider the guidelines set forth by the American Heart Association (AHA), which include the following:
- For men, the recommended daily limit of added sugar is no more than 9 teaspoons, equivalent to 36 grams (g) or 150 calories.
- Women should aim for an even lower threshold, limiting their added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons, which translates to 25 g or 100 calories per day.
For context, a single 12-ounce can of soda contains 8 teaspoons of sugar, amounting to 32 g of added sugar.
The AHA recommends limiting added sugars to 6% or fewer of your daily caloric intake. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises restricting the consumption of added sugars to a level that constitutes less than 10% of one’s daily calorie intake.
Added sugars are commonly present in items such as:
- Sugary drinks (soft drinks, fruit juice, energy drinks)
- Processed snacks
- Desserts made from refined grains
- Canned fruits in syrup
- Baked good
- Energy bars
- Sweetened yogurts
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Canned or packaged foods
It is important to distinguish that sugars naturally occurring in foods such as fruits and dairy products are not classified as added sugars under these recommendations.
Examples of nutrient-dense foods with no added sugars include:
- Whole grains
- Legumes (such as beans and lentils)
- Unsalted nuts and seeds
- Dairy products
- Lean cuts of meat and poultry
The AHA and the USDA emphasize the importance of minimizing sugar and eating nutrient-rich foods and drinks that offer valuable vitamins, minerals, and other health-enhancing elements while maintaining low added sugars.
The duration of a no- or low-sugar diet depends on factors such as your current health status, your weight-management goals, and any underlying medical conditions.
It’s important to note that while a no-sugar or low-sugar diet may offer various health benefits, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian before making significant dietary changes to ensure it aligns with your individual health goals and needs.
Some people may choose to follow a no- or low-sugar diet for a short time, such as a few weeks or a month. Others may adopt a no- or low-sugar diet as a long-term lifestyle choice. This type of diet can be especially important for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance (when cells don’t respond well to insulin and can’t take up glucose from the blood), or obesity, in which managing sugar intake is crucial for overall health.
What to Eat: 7-Day Plan
If you are starting a no- or low-sugar diet, it may help to plan your meals for a week. It is crucial to prioritize the consumption of a diverse array of fruits and vegetables. It also means opting for whole grains as the foundation of your grain intake and favoring protein sources that are predominantly plant-based, such as legumes and nuts, alongside fish and seafood.
Here’s a sample seven-day meal plan focused on whole, unprocessed foods. It includes various nutrient-rich options aligning with the AHA and USDA guidelines with low or no added sugars. Talk to your healthcare provider or dietician before starting a new diet plan to make sure it is healthy for you.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach and tomatoes, with a small serving of plain Greek yogurt with a handful of fresh berries
- Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with a side salad (lettuce, cucumber, and bell peppers) dressed with olive oil and vinegar
- Dinner: Baked salmon with steamed broccoli and quinoa
- Breakfast: Oatmeal made with rolled oats, unsweetened almond milk, and sliced almonds, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few slices of fresh apple (keep the portion small)
- Lunch: Turkey and avocado lettuce wraps with a side of carrot and celery sticks
- Dinner: Tofu stir-fry with mixed vegetables (broccoli, bell peppers, and snap peas) in a low-sodium soy sauce
- Breakfast: Cottage cheese with sliced peaches (in moderation) and a sprinkle of chopped nuts
- Lunch: Lentil and vegetable soup
- Dinner: Grilled shrimp with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts and brown rice
- Breakfast: Smoothie with unsweetened almond milk, spinach, a scoop of protein powder, and a small amount of berries
- Lunch: Quinoa salad with chickpeas, diced cucumber, and a lemon-tahini dressing
- Dinner: Baked chicken thighs with asparagus and mashed cauliflower
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms and a side of sliced avocado with whole grain toast
- Lunch: Spinach and kale salad with grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, and a vinaigrette dressing
- Dinner: Baked cod with roasted sweet potatoes and steamed green beans
- Breakfast: Full-fat plain yogurt with chia seeds and a few raspberries
- Lunch: Zucchini noodles (zoodles) with pesto sauce and grilled shrimp
- Dinner: Beef and vegetable stir-fry with a homemade, low-sugar stir-fry sauce
- Breakfast: Sliced turkey breast wrapped around avocado slices
- Lunch: Cabbage and carrot slaw with grilled salmon and a light vinaigrette dressing
- Dinner: Baked chicken breast with a side of roasted mixed vegetables (zucchini, bell peppers, and red onion) and quinoa
For snacks, consider options like raw nuts, celery sticks with almond butter, or cucumber slices with hummus. Always check food labels for hidden sugars, and try to minimize processed foods as much as possible.
Tips to Cut Down on Sugar
Consuming a no- or low-sugar diet may be easier with some of the following tips:
- Eliminate table sugar, syrup, honey, and molasses from your kitchen.
- Reduce sugar in cereal and coffee.
- Replace soda with water or diet drinks.
- Opt for fresh, frozen, or canned fruits.
- Choose fruits in water, not syrup.
- Reduce sugar in baking recipes.
- Use extracts (vanilla, almond) instead.
- Spice up foods without sugar.
- Swap with unsweetened applesauce.
Benefits of Following a No-Sugar Diet
There is evidence that cutting down on added sugars in our diets can lead to better health outcomes and save a lot of money in healthcare costs in the long run. Some benefits include the following:
- Reduced risk of obesity and aids in weight management
- Improved heart health
- Blood sugar regulation and decreased chance of type 2 diabetes
- Reduced risk of liver disease
- May lower the risk of depression
Diabetes is a chronic medical condition involving elevated levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. This condition results from either the body’s inability to produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the body’s ineffective use of insulin (type 2 diabetes).
To effectively manage your blood sugar levels, your healthcare provider may recommend reducing your consumption of high-sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods and beverages.
Those with diabetes may be advised to reduce their consumption of refined carbohydrate sources such as:
- White rice
- Bread made from white flour
- Starchy vegetables like white potatoes, corn, and peas
Verdict on Artificial Sweeteners on No-Sugar Diet
In May 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued revised guidelines regarding artificial sweeteners, advising people not to use them to manage body weight.
The WHO’s guidelines stem from a comprehensive analysis of existing evidence, which indicates that the sustained use of artificial sweeteners doe not help with fat reduction, whether in adults or children.
Furthermore, the review’s outcomes propose that prolonged artificial sweetener consumption may have negative consequences, including:
- An elevated susceptibility to type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- An increased mortality risk in adults
No-Sugar vs. Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, aims to reduce inflammation in the body by promoting the consumption of foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
While a no-sugar diet may indirectly contribute to reduced inflammation by cutting out sugary, pro-inflammatory foods, an anti-inflammatory diet includes a broader range of foods that actively combat inflammation.
Similarities between the two diets lie in their potential to promote overall health and well-being. Both diets encourage the consumption of whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
Reducing or eliminating added sugar from your diet can lead to improved health outcomes by reducing your chance of health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Whether you choose to follow it for a short period or as a long-term lifestyle choice, consulting with a healthcare provider or dietitian is crucial to ensure it aligns with your individual health goals. Prioritizing whole, unprocessed foods and making mindful choices in your diet can pave the way to a healthier and sugar-smart future.