The sugar challenge

Sugar is everywhere in our food. Not just in biscuits, sweets or chocolate, but also in jam, fruit, milk and in most processed products. Many people who struggle with their weight have a love-hate relationship with sugar. Sugar provides energy, but is also used to ease emotions in the short term. In addition, age-old traditions like a ‘biscuit with a cup of coffee’ continue to exist.

It’s very important to know that humans don’t need sugar. On the contrary, it contributes to the development of illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems, obesity, poor intestinal function and apathy.

Today many people suffer from a lack of energy, stress and listlessness. A month without sugar helps you see how sugar influences your level of energy, quality of sleep and taste sensation. Will you take the challenge?

In the following table you can find food that contains sugar and how to substitute it.



Biscuits, cake, sweets, chocolate, ice cream, crisps, energy bars, cereal bars

Healthy snacks such as crudités, olives, handful of unsalted nuts, egg, cracker with hummus

Sandwich filling such as jam, chocolate, apple/pear syrup, honey

Cheese, lean meat, Philadelphia light, hummus, egg, grilled bell pepper, courgette, aubergine, crudités such as bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce

Soft drinks (also Zero and Light), ice tea, fruit juice, smoothie, yoghurt drinks, energy drinks, vitamin water, chocolate milk, coffee with a flavour, but also alcohol

Water, sparkling water, tea, max. 2 cups of coffee, water with lemon/mint/cucumber, fresh fruit

Ready-made products such as tomato sauce, ketchup, tomato purée, canned soup, spaghetti sauce, BBQ sauce, salad dressing

Make your own with vegetables (soup, (spaghetti) sauce) or yoghurt (dressing, BBQ sauce)

Fruit and vegetables from a can, canned beans

Fresh fruit (max. 2/day) or vegetables, soak and boil your own beans

Muesli, cereal

Make your own using oats, rice and buckwheat flakes, unsalted nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, coconut chips

Dairy products with fruit (yoghurt, fromage frais, drinks)

Use unsweetened/natural and add some fresh fruit

What is the effect of a month without sugar?

  • After a month you are no longer a ‘slave’ of sugar and the craving has disappeared.
  • You get more energy
  • You sleep better
  • You lose weight
  • Your skin improves
  • You discover and appreciate other flavours
  • You no longer have a need for sweets, you start to enjoy the pure flavour
  • You feel proud of yourself

How to prepare for this

  • Write down what you hope to achieve in a month without sugar.
  • Write down what you are dreading most and what your pitfalls are. Try to come up with a way of dealing with this.
  • Throw away all ‘sugar’ products (including table sugar), give it to your neighbours or lock them away and give your housemate the key.
  • Tell those around you about your plan and ask for support. Ask a colleague to put the sweets jar out of your sight or make a healthy snack jar. Ask your partner for support and see whether he/she wants to join.
  • Find alternative products and recipes in preparation. Buy and/or make them in advance.
  • Introduce a reward. This can be a jar in which you donate one euro for every day you didn’t eat sugar. At the end you can treat yourself to something nice (nothing sugary of course ;-))
  • Start with a ritual. Think about what it will offer you every day (write it down a hang it on the fridge). Every day without sugar is a good day. Tempted anyway? Don’t let yourself go, limit sugar and start again the next day. It’s very human. A relapse is just a part of it.
  • Keep a diary. Give yourself a smiley for each successful day and reward yourself (for instance, the euro in the jar). Write down which effects you experience every day.

It might be possible that you feel bad at the beginning. This is perfectly normal as these are withdrawal symptoms. It’s tough, but realise that these effects are gone within a week. What can you expect? Headache, nausea, mood swings, dizziness, fatigue, sweating, sleeplessness, sugar cravings, emotional problems, lack of energy.

A label-reading lesson

Look at food labels to see the type/amount of sugar. Go over the contents as well as the ingredients list. In the table of contents you can find the sugars under the carbohydrates. There is a ’total carbohydrates’ indication, below which it reads ‘of which sugar’. Here you can find the sugars. Producers are smart enough to avoid the word sugar and replace it with a variety of other terms. These can be found in the ingredients list. Compare several labels  and make your choice.

All this is sugar:

  • Agave nectar
  • Agave syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Castor sugar
  • Beet sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Caramel
  • Dextrose
  • Grape sugar
  • Fructose
  • Fructose syrup
  • Glucose
  • Glucose-fructose syrup
  • Glucose syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Candy
  • Coconut flour sugar
  • Granulated sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Palm sugar
  • Pearl sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Sucranate
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar

Sweeteners or not?

There are sweeteners that contain no calories, but beware: not all of them. It’s best to also try to avoid sweeteners. You will still be accustomed to the sweet taste, while you’re trying to reduce this craving. Without sweetness you will discover the pure taste of products and will automatically no longer have the urge for sweetness.

What are the names of sweeteners? Acesulfame K, Aspartame, Cyclamate, Cyclamic acid, Glycyrrhizin, Isomalt, Lactitol, Maltitol, Neohesperidin C, Tagatesse, Trehalose, Saccharin, Stevia, Sucralose, Sukrin, Thaumatin.

What can you do when the temptation is too great?

Know that each craving doesn’t take longer than 10-20 minutes. This may seem very long at the moment itself, but distraction certainly helps:

  • Drink a glass of water
  • Brush your teeth
  • Eat a piece of sugar-free gum
  • Do something else: listen to music, shower, call a friend, take a walk
  • Are you really hungry? Eat something nourishing without sugar, like a cracker with hummus, sandwich with chicken fillet, cherry tomatoes or a boiled egg.