A sugar-free diet restricts added sugar. This includes sugary foods like candy and soft drinks, although added sugar can also be found hidden in salty foods like pasta sauce. More extreme versions of a sugar-free diet may also limit foods with natural sugar, such as fruits and vegetables, but this is not usually recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet.
When diet and nutrition experts refer to “sugary” foods, they are most often referring to foods that are high in added sugar, which is any type of caloric sweetener added to foods. Artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, are non-caloric. Sugar provides energy (that is, calories) but offers no added nutritional value, which is why calories from sugar are often labeled “empty calories.”
Foods with added sugars often don’t have enough vitamins and minerals to make up for all the extra sugar calories, and as a result, consuming too much contributes to weight gain and health problems. The bottom line is that while a little bit of sugar may be okay, too much sugar leads to weight gain and chronic disease.
Artificial sweeteners can offer an alternative to sugar as they contain few or no calories, but there is a lot of controversy surrounding sugar substitutes. Many health and nutrition experts have raised questions about whether artificial sweeteners are healthy, safe, and effective for weight loss. Some have also argued that sugar substitutes are so sweet that they actually stimulate the taste buds for sweet foods and drinks. On the other hand, some advocates claim that artificial sweeteners can help people steer clear of added sugars and eliminate them for good.
Although there is no “official” sugar-free diet, nutrition experts generally agree that the healthiest version of the eating plan eliminates added sugars by focusing on whole foods rather than simply replacing sugar with no-calorie sweeteners.
It is important to limit your intake of added sugar to 100 to 200 calories a day. Everyone should limit added sugar intake to 10% of daily calories or less.
Foods with natural sugars
Whole foods that naturally contain sugar are not prohibited in a balanced sugar-free diet. For example, while whole fruits like oranges and pineapple and 100% fruit juices are naturally sweet, they don’t have added sugar.
The exceptions, and probably part of the reason behind the confusion, are products like fruit drinks that contain added sugar. For example, most cranberry juice drinks are a combination of fruit juices (which naturally contain their own sugars), added sugar, and water.
Even though it’s allowed on a sugar-free diet, you may still need to control your calorie count with natural sugars like those found in fruit if losing weight is one of your goals. A large quantity of fruit juice can have as many calories as the same glass of sugary soda. But at least the juice also offers vitamins and minerals.
sugar free drinks
Soda, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, and many sports and energy drinks contain added sugars and, as a result, are not allowed on a sugar-free diet. Advocates of sugar-free diets encourage drinking plain or carbonated water, unsweetened tea or coffee, and 100% fruit juice (in moderation).
What we eat on a sugar-free diet may depend on whether we have a health problem or have specific weight loss goals. For example, people on low-carb diets like keto can avoid most fruits and many complex carbohydrates, which can still be included in other variations of a sugar-free eating plan.
The following three-day meal plan is not all-inclusive, just a general idea of what a few days on a well-balanced, low-sugar diet would look like.
- Breakfast: vegetable omelette; 1 serving of spinach and green kale juice; 1/2 cup of blackberries
- Lunch: Citrus, kale, and quinoa salad
- Dinner: Grilled salmon with quinoa and 1/2 cup roasted broccoli
- Breakfast: Bowl of oatmeal with spinach and feta, half a grapefruit
- Lunch: Tuna wrap; 1 cup red curried lentil soup with kale
- Dinner: Chicken roll-up stuffed with quinoa; spring vegetable mix with olive oil
- Breakfast: 1 cup breakfast quinoa topped with fresh mixed berries and almonds
- Lunch: 3/4 cup chicken salad with avocado; 1 cup of vegetable soup
- Dinner: 1 serving of grilled Mediterranean prawns and vegetable skewers; 1 cup of brown rice or couscous
There are many benefits of following a no added sugar diet.
practical and realistic
Many diets, particularly those that promote weight loss, are not always realistic in practice. Some diets make bold claims of rapid weight loss in a short period of time. But more often than not, these plans end up failing and any weight loss experienced is likely to be regained once regular eating habits are resumed.
A sugar-free diet focused on whole foods teaches healthy lifestyle habits, since cutting out added sugar means you’re also cutting out many processed and packaged foods that contain artificial ingredients.
Easy to follow
A sugar-free diet has no timeframes, guidelines, rules, or restrictions (other than eliminating added sugars). There are no books to buy or products or supplements to subscribe to, nor is it promoted by a single celebrity or public figure.
All we have to do is avoid added sugar by eating whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible, which makes this an easy plan to follow.
Flexible and adaptable
As there are no hard and fast rules on a sugar-free diet, what we eat depends on our personal preferences and budget, and the plan is tailored to our lifestyle. Additionally, as we slowly wean ourselves off sugar and the body begins to naturally crave more nutritious foods, a sugar-free diet can encourage mindful, intuitive eating.
Over time, adhering to the sugar-free lifestyle can become a habit rather than a temporary fix or short-term diet.
It’s healthy and safe to eat this way indefinitely, and sugar cravings should go away over time. As long as we stick with whole foods and read labels carefully, we may find it easy to follow this diet long-term.
Following a sugar-free diet (or even a low-sugar diet) should offer health benefits, including weight loss. But it can be difficult to completely eliminate added sugar from your diet.
However, there are some risks or cons of this type of diet.
There are no guidelines to follow
Since it’s not a formal plan, a sugar-free diet has few guidelines other than eliminating added sugars as completely as possible. There’s no calorie or carb counting here, not even recommendations for portion control.
While this can be a benefit for those looking for a less regimented eating plan, some people may need more structure and parameters to meet health and weight loss goals. For example, with no calorie requirements to meet, it’s still possible to overeat on this plan.
The common taste for sugar aside, there is a lot of sugar hidden in many foods (some of them quite unexpected). Distinguishing added sugars from natural sugars can be difficult.
As a general rule of thumb, the best option is to stick to real, whole foods and limit many packaged convenience foods. We will always read labels carefully to look for added sugars.
Waste of time
Although following a sugar-free lifestyle is undoubtedly healthy, keep in mind that we will have to prepare, plan and cook many more meals.
For those who don’t have that much time, a sugar-free diet may not be the most realistic option. Especially if you don’t have professional advice.