What is a Low-Sugar Diet?

C. Mitchell

A low-sugar diet is an eating plan that centers around limiting all forms of sugar intake. Individuals participating in low-sugar diets often stay away from both foods with added sugar as well as foods that are naturally high in sugar, such as fruits. One of the primary goals of the low-sugar diet is to regulate the body’s production of insulin, which can stabilize metabolism and sometimes lead to weight loss.

Drinking eight glasses of water per day is recommended for those on a low-sugar diet.
Drinking eight glasses of water per day is recommended for those on a low-sugar diet.

Doctors generally recommend that people not consume more than a fixed number of grams of sugar per day as a general health precaution. While there is nothing inherently wrong with sugar and its many derivatives, excessive amounts can cause health issues over time. A low-sugar diet is more than simply following loose guidelines, however. For many people, it is more than a comprehensive eating plan, it is a way of life.

Drinking green tea helps to lower blood sugar.
Drinking green tea helps to lower blood sugar.

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The low-sugar diet was first pioneered as a way for diabetics to manage their insulin output. Insulin is the body’s way of breaking down sugar. A person who suffers from diabetes is unable to produce normal amounts of insulin, which can lead to unhealthy spikes in blood sugar if left unregulated. Most diabetics take medication — often involving insulin injections — but doctors usually also prescribe a low-sugar diet.

Demerara sugar.
Demerara sugar.

Participation in the diet requires individuals to carefully scrutinize all foods and beverages that they consume to identify sugars. Some sugars are easy to see and eliminate, such as white sugar added to coffee, or sugary foods like cookies, sweets, and other desserts. Other sugars are more covert.

Sugars targeted by the low-sugar diet include all sweetening agents, whether listed in nutrition facts as sugar or not. Fructose, sorbitol, dextrose, corn syrup, and maltodextrin are among the compounds the low-sugar diet counts as sugars. Foods with more than trace amounts of these ingredients must generally be avoided on a low-sugar plan, or consumed only in relation to the plan’s allotted amount of sugar per day.

Many popular sugar substitutes and sugar alternatives also contain ingredients that are considered sugars in the low-sugar diet. Accordingly they, too, must be avoided. This includes agave nectar, honey, and molasses. Artificial sweeteners may be permitted in moderation, particularly if the diet is geared primarily for weight loss rather than diabetic care.

In recent years, the low-sugar diet has gained some traction as a way for dieters to lose weight over a sustained period of time. Limiting the body's insulin production can, the theory goes, also regulate the body's metabolism and minimize blood sugar spikes that can lead to cravings. Over time, this can make the body more efficient at breaking down food, and can make the dieter less susceptible to over-eating.

Most of the time, a low-sugar diet for weight loss is paired with a low-carbohydrate, or "low-carb," diet. Simple carbohydrates, which include most white breads, pastas, and rice, are quickly broken down by the body and converted to glucose, which is a sugar. Limiting carbohydrates as well as sugars helps reduce the total amount of sugar in the body, whether introduced or internally manufactured.

Low-sugar diets typically recommend replacing sweet and starchy foods with complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and lean protein. Vegetable consumption is usually encouraged, while consuming fruits and fruit juices is not. Some low-sugar foods and low-sugar beverages are permitted, but dieters must usually fit these within a very stringent daily sugar allowance. The goal is to obtain a near-zero sugar consumption. This often involves avoiding that which is sweet — naturally or otherwise — and drinking plenty of water.

There is some debate over the value of low-sugar diets for non-diabetic purposes. While many people extol the benefits of limiting sugar, there is little scientific evidence that reductions in sugar actually lead to sustained weight loss. Sugar is not itself a high calorie food. Eliminating carbs as a means of weight loss or dieting is also highly controversial. While some doctors claim these practices will revolutionize any weight loss plan, others find it potentially harmful, citing the body’s need for a balanced, well-planned diet.

Some alcoholic drinks can be made with sugar free mixers for a low sugar drink.
Some alcoholic drinks can be made with sugar free mixers for a low sugar drink.

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