The hardest part of sticking to a new regime can often be keeping the rest of the family happy too
Often the hardest part of sticking to a new healthy eating regime can be keeping your family happy, too.
It’s one thing for you to cut carbs, quit sugar and eat more healthy fat, but can you really contemplate banishing your child’s morning bowl of Frosties? Serving the family bangers without mash? Fish with no chips? Or packing the little darlings off to school with nuts, seeds and cherry tomatoes in their lunch box instead of jam sandwiches, Capri-Sun and a mini chocolate bar?
Do you have the conviction to empty the cupboards of squash and cola, or bid them wave goodbye to their last ever HobNob?
Persuading your partner of the virtues of curtailing his beer habit and his penchant for Haribo sweeties is likely to be tough. And, let’s face it, committing to the idea of getting a whole family to go sugar-free is likely to be a mighty challenge.
All this week in the Daily Mail we are serializing a fascinating new book, Sugar Free, by Karen Thomson, the granddaughter of pioneering heart transplant surgeon Dr Christiaan Barnard, in which she lays out a fool-proof plan for re-thinking what you should eat to stay slim and feel fabulous.
Today we give you the support you might need to get your whole family on board.
CRUEL TO BE KIND
Perhaps you’re keen to cut sugar out of your life because you’re sick of sugary cravings, being badgered by mood swings, or you want a quick and foolproof way to trim the fat around your middle for good.
Whatever your reasons, you can be sure that in quitting sugar you are making the best possible move for your long-term health — in fact, if you started following our revolutionary plan on Monday, there’s every chance you are already feeling healthier and slimmer.
But now you face a dilemma. Do you forge ahead alone, or do you drag your family with you on this no-sugar journey?
It’s a tough call, but the truth is sugar and processed carbs have no nutritional value and, increasingly, studies show sugar could be the evil key to rising obesity rates and a plethora of related disorders.
Even if sugar isn’t making you fat, there’s every chance its increasing your risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, mood disorders, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), hyperactivity and certain types of cancers are skyrocketing.
QUICK-FIX BREKKIE FOR CHILDREN
If your children are addicted to sugar-filled, unhealthy cereals, why not whip up a batch of this delicious nut granola?
Combine 200g coconut flakes, 100g almonds, 30g macadamia nuts, 40g sunflower seeds, 40g pumpkin seeds, 20g flaxseeds (or linseeds), 20g sesame seeds and 2 tsp ground cinnamon with 3 tbsp of melted coconut oil in a large bowl then spreading it over a baking tray and roasting in an 180-degree oven for 20 minutes (shake the tray every five minutes to stop things burning).
This can be stored in an airtight container for three weeks, or bag up individual 40g portions and enjoy as a grab-and-go breakfast with full-fat Greek yoghurt.
Make this more delicious still (once you’re through the weight loss phase of the diet) by transforming it into chocolate granola — just add 8 tbsp raw cacao nibs and 8 tbsp raw cacao powder once mixture has cooled.
You can also get no-sugar granola online from www.natural-low-carb-store.co.uk, in individual 30g portions (5g carbs per portion) at 95p each.
If you’re quitting sugar because it is bad for you, how can it be the right thing for you to be feeding it to your partner and children, no matter how much they plead? Can you really sit back and watch sugar wreak its evil work on your family while you enjoy life — and a delicious new diet — without it?
Taking sugar out of your child’s life is not going to be without its challenges, unless you started really young, and you’ve spawned a progeny who thinks the chime of an ice-cream van means it has run out of stock.
You might worry you could be somehow harming your children by not allowing them to have sugar, or even creating a fertile ground for some sort of eating disorder.
But even if your kids have grown up on Coco Pops and brush their teeth in cola, you know the sugar in their diet is not doing them any good, and every step you can possibly take to reduce their sugar intake is going to have an impact on their health.
At the end of the day, even if you succeed only in reducing your family’s sugar consumption at home, you are moving in the right direction.
You can’t stop children sipping sugary drinks and eating junk food when they are with friends or at school, but if you put your foot down in your own kitchen, there’s every chance they will be eating healthily 80 per cent of the time.
The less sugar they consume, the less they will crave. You will be taking the first step towards protecting your family against sugar addiction and introducing them to a wealth of healthy alternatives — even if sometimes they seem to hate you for doing so.
Aim to be as strict as you can at home, but allow your children to make their own choices when they’re out at parties or lunches.
They might gravitate towards junk, sweets and processed foods at first and you may find they become suddenly become deeply entrenched with a friend’s family with slacker restrictions than yours (mostly at meal times).
But they will come around when they realise for themselves the effect it is having on their bodies.
SUGAR-FREE BY STEALTH
Think of quitting sugar not as a diet but as a lifestyle. Work towards having no sugar-laden, junk-filled foods or drinks in your house. But aim for progress, not perfection, and take things one day and one meal at a time.
- Start cutting back on the sweet foods you eat regularly (biscuits, cereal bars, cakes), ‘forget’ to buy anything which contains added sugar or is made of refined white flour and get creative with sugar-free alternatives (see here for delicious home bakes).
- Pick one meal — breakfast, lunch or dinner — that you will aim to make sugar-free for the whole family.
- Move your attention to processed foods, particularly the savoury foods that contain added sugar (pizza, ketchup, baked beans, some soups and sauces). ‘Forget’ to replace them when they run out, and then stop buying them completely and aim to cook temptingly delicious alternatives from scratch instead.
- Aim to wean everyone off adding sugar to tea, coffee and breakfast cereal (you can use sweeteners such as Splenda and Xylitol as an interim measure). This might mean putting yoghurt and fruit on the table, or being prepared to whip up eggs (see here) to ease the grief over the missing Coco Pops.
- Stop buying fruit juice but put a large fruit bowl in the middle of the kitchen table — don’t restrict their intake of fruit or starchy vegetables
- Serve smaller portions of classic carbs (pasta, rice, noodles), experiment with wholegrain varieties (as an interim measure) to expand your repertoire and challenge their tastebuds. Reduce the amount you cook so there’s no seconds, fill the gap on the plate with vegetables and place extra amounts of those on the table for everyone to help themselves if they’re still hungry
- Start introducing a few lower-carbohydrate alternatives (courgetti fried in butter and dusted in Parmesan, cauliflower rice sautéed in butter or coconut oil, sweet potato mash, buckwheat and quinoa) to family meals
- Meanwhile, switch-up your household fat levels. Going sugar free is easier — and more healthy — if you increase your intake of fats, so swap semi-skimmed to full-fat milk, cook with lots of coconut oil and butter and add extra cream to soups. It will help everyone feel full, less prone to snack, and less likely to complain about the lack of carbs.
- Write out a list of delicious foods you can enjoy have and stick this up in a place that everyone can see. Young children may not be able to understand the science, but they can learn which foods make their brains and bodies grow healthy and strong.
A massively lucrative snacking culture has grown in recent years and has fuelled the illusion that you shouldn’t go more than a few hours without the opportunity to nibble or graze.
Once you embrace the principles of the sugar-free diet (see Golden Rules below) you should find sugar cravings disappear, you are better able to distinguish between real hunger and opportunistic peckishness and your quest to snack will diminish.
However, the diet plan does make allowances for two healthy snacks per day. These are optional — only bother if you’re hungry or if you worry you’ll be tempted back to something sugary if you don’t.
If your family is eating three healthy meals and not grazing throughout the day, their sugar intake will be reduced and life-long snacking habits avoided.
When packing children’s lunch boxes don’t even think about chocolate bars, crisps or dried fruit, but broaden their horizons with mini packs of cold meat or salami, a lump (or snack pack) of hard cheese, a mini bag of nuts, a pack of vegetable crisps (try making your own from root vegetables), or a pot of berries.
Health stores sell nut butters in individual sachets such as Pip & Nut peanut butter, coconut and almond butter squeeze pack (30g for £1.19 from Holland & Barrett). They’ll love parmesan crisps (see here) with guacamole.
Copy the following paragraph and stick on your fridge and your computer screen at work: ‘If you see me reaching for chocolate or a piece of cake please stop me: this is my sugar addict wanting a fix. I may be grumpy at the time but I’ll thank you later.’
The time constraints on modern lives means it can be impossible to cook separate dinners for each family member. But with a few tweaks you should be able to keep many of your best-loved family dishes in your meal plan without going off-message.
Use the internet to hunt down no-sugar flapjack and muffin recipes; pick sausages with at least 80 per cent meat content and serve with buttery mashed cauliflower, or parsnip, celeriac or even mashed butter beans.
For family dinners hold the roast potatoes (and Yorkshire puddings) when you’re making Sunday lunch, and serve up a big tray of roasted vegetables instead
Switch oven chips for chip-shaped roasted root vegetables (or you can find oven-ready sweet potato chips in the freezer section of large supermarkets).
Buckwheat can be cunningly disguised as a pretty convincing risotto, and soba (buckwheat) ‘noodles’ make perfectly acceptable alternative with a stir-fry.
Hold the roast potatoes (and Yorkshire puddings) when you’re making Sunday lunch, and serve up a big tray of roasted vegetables (butternut squash, sweet potato, peppers, parsnips, red onions) instead and lashings of buttery green vegetables to go with it.
If a family meal doesn’t seem complete without pudding, kids will love a super-quick homemade banana ice cream made from blending a ripe frozen banana with cream.
THE GOLDEN RULES TO MAKE IT SO SIMPLE
The low-carb, healthy fat diet is designed to keep carbohydrate intake low — between 50g and 120g per day — depending on how active you are and how quickly you want to lose weight.
n Weight loss mode (total 50g carbs): Three meals per day and up to two snacks (only if you’re hungry). Each meal should contain protein (¼ of the plate), non-starchy salad and vegetables (½ your plate) and the remaining ¼ should be healthy fats. In addition, enjoy berries (80g per day).
n Health mode (total 120g carbs): Three meals per day and up to two snacks (only if you’re hungry). Each meal should contain protein (¼ of the plate), non-starchy salad and vegetables (¼ plate) and starchy vegetables, pulses or low-carb grains (¼ plate) with the remaining ¼ as healthy fats. In addition enjoy berries (80g per day), a glass of wine or vodka (with a slimline mixer), plus two squares of dark chocolate per day.
Each meal should contain . . .
- Protein: Meat, poultry, fish: 100-150g (palm-sized portion) per meal. But relish the chicken skin and savour the fat on a juicy steak.
- Eggs: Up to two a day (or three?).
- Vegetables: As much as you like and as wide a variety as possible.
- Fats: A large handful of nuts (not peanuts) or 2-3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp butter, coconut oil or nut butter, ½ an avocado, 3 tbsp of full-fat yoghurt, 3 tbsp of cream or coconut cream, or 30-50g of cheese (hard or soft) .
- Drinks: Water (6-8 glasses a day), tea and coffee (with cream, but no sugar).
- Fruit: Berries, 80g per day.
- Carbohydrates: Avoid in weightloss phase, but if you are active, enjoy one tennis ball-sized portion (when cooked) per day of ‘dense’ vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, sweetcorn, peas, beans and pulses (lentils, beans and chickpeas) or ‘pseudo grains’ like quinoa.
You can enjoy pizza, pasta and burgers, too!
TURKEY BURGERS WITH A TWIST
Makes 4 burgers
200g turkey mince (thigh or breast)
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 large egg
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 whole chilli or 1 tsp dried chilli (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
50g soft goat’s cheese
Coconut oil, for frying
In a large bowl, combine the turkey and herbs, add the egg and mix by hand. Add the shallots, garlic and chilli, season with salt and pepper and mix.
Take a small handful and mould it into a flat shape, place a small piece of goat’s cheese in the centre, and cover with another burger patty, then mould the two together. Repeat the process three more times, then fry in a little coconut oil.
Serve topped with grated Cheddar cheese and a side salad. Add sour cream or homemade salsa.
AUBERGINE AND MOZARELLA MELTS
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste
50g Cheddar cheese
A few basil leaves
Cut the aubergine into 1cm discs and spread each with sundried tomato paste, top with a slice of mozzarella and a slice of Cheddar cheese and sprinkle with basil. Grill for 5–10 minutes. Serve with sauteed spinach or a side salad.
NO-DOUGH PIZZA THAT’S PACKED WITH FLAVOUR
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
30g parmesan cheese, grated
30g mozzarella cheese, grated
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried basil
1½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
¼ tsp salt
For the toppings :
4 tbsp homemade tomato sauce (made from simmering a 200g tin of tomatoes, 2 tbsp tomato puree, 1 tsp basil,1 tsp oregano, ½ tsp paprika, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar and 1 tbsp chopped garlic)
60g mozzarella cheese, grated
Toppings of your choice, such as sliced mushrooms,peppers or onions, or even an egg
Pre heat oven to 200c, fan 180c, gas 6 and line two baking sheets with non-stick baking paper. Blitz the cauliflower florets in a food processor until finely chopped, then microwave on high for four minutes.
When cooled, turn on to a clean tea towel and wring it tightly to expel excess water. Place this pulp in a mixing bowl and add the cheeses, herbs, spices and egg, then mix until well combined.
Form half the mixture into a ball and place it on a baking sheet, then flatten it out using your hands or the back of a spoon into a round about 30cm in diameter. Repeat for the other pizza base.
Bake for 10–15 minutes until the dough is golden‑brown, then carefully remove the bases from the oven.
Preheat the grill. Add your toppings and place the pizzas one at a time under the grill until the cheese has melted.
CHICKEN STUFFED WITH HAM AND CHEESE
2 skinless chicken breasts
2 slices ham (any type)
3 slices hard cheese per chicken breast
1 medium egg, whisked
2 tbsp ground almonds
Butter or coconut oil, for frying
Slice into the long edge of each chicken breast to create a pocket and stuff the ham and cheese inside. Re-shape the chicken to enclose the stuffing.
Place the whisked egg in one bowl and the ground almonds in another, then dip each chicken breast into first the egg and then the almonds to coat them.
Fry in a hot pan with some butter or coconut oil for five minutes on each side. Check that the chicken is cooked through before serving.
CREAMY MUSHROOM AND HAM ‘PASTA’
100g courgettes (3 baby courgettes)
½ onion (diced)
1 clove garlic
Coconut oil or butter, for frying
80g mushrooms (chopped)
25ml double cream
25ml coconut milk
1 tsp mustard
½ tsp garlic salt and pepper, to taste
75g ham, finely sliced
Grated cheese or finely chopped tomato
Thinly slice the courgettes into strips, or spiralise. Blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, plunge them into ice-cold water and tip them into a colander to drain. Fry the onion and garlic in coconut oil or butter until soft, add the mushrooms and cook for 2–3 minutes. Pour in the cream and coconut milk. Stir in the mustard and season with the salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the pan to a simmer and once the cream has reduced slightly, remove from the heat and tip into a food processor or, using a hand blender, blitz until it is smooth. Heat a little more oil or butter in a frying pan and fry the courgette ribbons with the ham for 2–3 minutes. Pour over the sauce and garnish with grated cheese or tomato.
SUGAR CRAVINGS RUINED MY LIFE
Amy Daniels said sugar cravings ruined her life
Amy Daniels, 34, who works as a producer and lives with her boyfriend, Mark, in Surrey, says:
Three years ago I was hanging on by my fingernails to a high-flying career in advertising and using sugar as a drug to get me through the stresses of my working day.
I’d duck out of meetings and hide in the bathroom scoffing sweets, chocolate, pastries and crisps.
Sometimes sugar gave me the buzz I needed to cope; at other times it was the comfort I sought when things were going wrong.
It would make me feel great for a few minutes, but then I’d ‘crash’.
I drank heavily in my teens and 20s, and the mental and emotional mood swings I was going through as a result of sugar felt just as bad.
One night, after a massive sugar binge, I woke up in my living room and looked around at a sea of foil wrappers. I was so ashamed, and it was a turning point for me.
I sought help through a programme Karen Thomson runs for sugar addicts. The first two weeks without sugar or refined carbohydrates were immensely tough – I battled with flu-like symptoms, spent a lot of time crying and became very withdrawn and low.
But three years later my weight, which fluctuated between a size 12-14, is now a comfortable size 8-10. My sugar belly has disappeared and I no longer look spotty, pale with puffy hamster-cheeks. I also have so much more energy and mental focus.
I’ll always be extremely sensitive to sugar — I can’t even have a Strepsil or a Lemsip when I’ve got a cold, and even fruit can trigger cravings. So I stick to healthy meals.
My life has been so transformed by quitting sugar that I decided to retrain as a therapist and counsellor so I can help other professionals to end their addiction.
WHAT TO PICK IF EATING OUT
Of course, in an ideal world you’d prepare all your meals, but at some point you’ll find yourself at the motorway services at lunchtime or invited to friends, or to a restaurant for a lavish celebration dinner.
Here’s how to stick to your guns and stay sugar-free.
It’s a great idea to plan as much in advance as you can so you can stay on track, make low-carbohydrate choices, yet still enjoy your food:
- Check out the restaurant online to determine the type of food on offer (Italian, French, Greek) and, if you can, to get an early glimpse of the menu.
- Start thinking about your lower-carb options— this takes away the pressure when you arrive and reduces your temptation to choose the wrong foods.
- Eat a healthy snack an hour before you go out to avoid arriving hungry and being tempted to go off-message.
- Avoid dishes with these words: breaded, deep-fried, battered, pastry, low-fat, Southern-style, sweet sauce, sticky sauce, tempura, reduced/low-calorie.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want — even if it’s not on the menu.
- If a dish comes with potatoes, rice or chips, ask for them to left off your plate, with a little more vegetables or salad instead, and don’t be afraid to ask for adaptations such as the burger without the bun and extra salad in its place.
- If there are two elements of dishes you fancy (steak on one and spinach on another), ask if you can combine the two.
When eating out plan as much in advance as you can so you can stay on track, make low-carbohydrate choices, yet still enjoy your food
Steer clear of paella, patatas bravas and traditional Spanish tortilla but pick tapas dishes such as albondigas (lamb meatballs), chorizo al vino (chorizo in red wine), gambas (prawns), solomillo con setas (beef in paprika), pollo marinado (pan-fried sliced chicken breast in a lemon and coriander sauce with chilli yoghurt dressing) and serrano ham.
Avoid baked vegetables stuffed with rice and the pitta bread served with dips, but feast on the meze selection of olives, cheese, aubergine, courgette and yoghurt, and enjoy souvlakia (meat kebabs), mousakka, Greek salad, tzatziki, peppers stuffed with mince, gyros (without the pitta), kleftiko and any plain fish or meat dish.
The traditional breakfast of cheeses, meats, tomatoes, green peppers, olive oil and eggs is an ideal option — no bread.
You can also enjoy mezes (cheeses, melon, yoghurt, aubergine salad, kofte), simply avoid the stuffed vine leaves) and kebabs of all kinds without the wrap or pitta.
Skip straight past the pasta and pizza options and focus on antipasti (an excellent choice as it usually combines delicious meats, cheeses and olives), and any secondo containing fish, seafood or meat accompanied by contorno (salad or vegetables)
You won’t miss rice and naan or chapattis if you chose a no-sauce meat tikka dish with curried vegetables — have gobi (cauliflower) instead of aloo (potato)
DINNER PARTY TACTICS
There are few situations more awkward than being invited to someone’s home for dinner and not being able to eat any of the food they graciously prepared.
To avoid embarrassment, phone or email your hosts and politely ask what they’re preparing for dinner and whether you can bring anything — suggest a delicious salad or sugar-free dessert. If you feel the need to explain why you’re asking, then do so. Keep your explanation short and simple: ‘I’ve changed my eating habits and no longer eat sugar and carbohydrates, but I’m more than happy to bring a dish,’ or ‘Can I bring a dessert? I know some great healthy alternatives.’
If this doesn’t work, just refuse pasta and potatoes but enjoy the salad instead. Be prepared to say ‘I don’t eat bread’ and politely refuse dessert by saying: ‘I love desserts but they don’t love me.’
When you face a situation where food is freely available (the buffet at a wedding or the snack table at an event), the lure of carbohydrates can be intoxicating. Try these tips:
- Pick up a the smallest plate.
- Aim to cover only 80 per cent of the plate with food (no piling up).
- Stick to healthy food choices.
- Eat slowly, chew thoroughly (at least 20 times per mouthful).
- Put down your knife and fork between mouthfuls — if you’re eating finger food, make a point of putting the food back on your plate while you’re chewing.
- When the plate is empty, enjoy the conversation, wait 20 minutes, then only return to the buffet if you’re still hungry.
If you have diabetes or high blood pressure or are on any form of medication, check with your GP before making any dietary changes. There’s lots of research to show an low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet brings blood pressure down if it’s high and can help to normalise blood sugar levels if you have diabetes (type 1 or 2). So keep a close eye on your blood pressure and blood sugar levels and be prepared to adjust your medication accordingly. Don’t do this without consulting your GP.
- Adapted by LOUISE ATKINSON from Sugar Free: 8 Weeks To Freedom From Sugar And Carb Addiction, by Karen Thomson (Robinson, £12.99). © Karen Thomson 2016. To order a copy for £9.74 (offer valid to July 16), visit mailbookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640. P&P free on orders over £15.