What Is a No Sugar Diet?

No sugar diet

  Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your health care provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

A no sugar diet, also known as a sugar-free diet, restricts added sugar from obvious foods like candy and soda. But added sugar is often hiding in many foods we think are healthy such as smoothies and salad dressings. More extreme versions of a no sugar diet may limit foods with naturally occurring sugar such as fruits and vegetables, but this is not usually recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet.

When diet and nutrition experts reference "sugary" foods, they are most often alluding to foods that contain lots of added sugar—which is any type of caloric sweetener that's added to foods. (Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, are non-caloric.) Sugar provides energy (i.e., calories) but does not offer added nutritional value.

Excess sugar intake is associated with the rise in obesity in the United States. The problem with sugary foods begins by eating or drinking too much of them, as they are high in calories and not usually nutritious. They don't have enough vitamins and minerals to make up for all the extra sugar, and consuming too much of them contributes to weight gain and health problems.

Artificial sweeteners offer an alternative since they contain little to no calories, but there's a lot of controversy surrounding sugar substitutes. Many health and nutrition experts have raised questions about whether artificial sweeteners are healthy and safe, and whether they are effective for weight loss.

Others have argued that sugar substitutes are so sweet they actually ramp up your tastebuds for sweet foods and drinks. On the other hand, some proponents claim that artificial sweeteners can help people transition away from added sugars and cut them out for good.

Then there's high fructose corn syrup, which many have argued is worse for your health than regular sugar, but there isn't enough credible scientific evidence to back that claim. Both sweeteners are made of a similar combination of glucose and fructose, which have similar effects on the body. 

Honey, which is a naturally occurring sugar, contains roughly the same amount of sugar as both high fructose corn syrup and granulated sugar, so foods made with honey are also considered sugary. But honey is a natural sweetener because it's produced by bees, whereas regular sugar is made from beets, corn, or sugar cane. Technically, honey does contain some nutrients, but not enough to notice an improvement in your overall diet.

The bottom line is that while a little sugar might be OK, a lot of sugar leads to weight gain and chronic disease. Those who follow a no sugar diet avoid added sugars to promote weight loss and improve their overall health.

What Experts Say

"While there’s no official definition, a no sugar diet typically cuts out added sugar while allowing for natural sugar. Experts agree reducing added sugar intake improves overall health, but clarify that you don’t have to completely eliminate all added sugar for such benefits."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

Since there are several forms and types of sugars, it helps to know what you're looking for. If you see any of these on an ingredients list, the food has added sugars: 

Look at the Nutrition Facts Label to determine how much added sugar is in each serving. It may be just a small amount, or it might be a lot. 

What You Need to Know

Following a no sugar diet does not mean you have to adhere to a formal eating plan, so there's no advice on when to eat. You may find that if you are just starting to cut out added sugar, it's best to do it gradually. If you're still facing sugar cravings, drink water and eat (non-sweetened, nutritious) food regularly, so you don't add extreme hunger to your sugar craving. Healthy fats are especially helpful for fighting sugar cravings.

To begin, try to limit your added sugar intake to 100 to 200 calories per day (a tablespoon of honey has about 60 calories and a tablespoon of sugar about 50). The USDA's dietary recommendations suggest that everyone should limit added sugar intake to 10% of daily calories or less (so, 200 if you're consuming about 2,000 calories a day).

What to Eat
  • Foods that naturally contain sugar

  • Unsweetened beverages

What Not to Eat
  • Foods with added sugar

  • Sweetened beverages

  • Sugar, honey, molasses

Be sure to read labels carefully and choose products that have the least added sugar. You don't have to give up sweet foods altogether, rather, just make healthier choices.

Foods with Natural Sugars

Fruits and 100% fruit juice are naturally sweet, but they aren't classified as having added sugar (some research shows that this is confusing to consumers). The exception is fruit drinks, such as most cranberry juice beverages that are a combination of fruit juices with sugar and water.

With natural sugars like those found in fruit, you may need to watch the calorie count. A glass of fruit juice may have as many calories as the same size glass of sugary soft drink. But at least the juice also has vitamins and minerals.

Unsweetened Beverages

Soda, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, and many sports drinks and energy drinks often contain added sugars. Milk has its own natural sugar (lactose). Drink plain or carbonated water, unsweetened tea or coffee, or fruit juice (in moderation). Or use a zero-calorie sweetener like stevia or sucralose. 

Foods with Added Sugar

Pastries, cookies, candy bars, syrups, jams, jellies, and pre-sweetened breakfast cereals are all obvious sources of added sugars. But other foods such as salad dressings, sauces, condiments, flavored yogurts, instant oatmeal, and fruit smoothies can also contain added sugars.

For cereal, look for brands that have less than 5 grams of sugar per serving, and choose the ones with the most fiber. Or make your own oatmeal or plain unsweetened cereal and add fruits and berries. Similarly, buy plain yogurt and add fresh fruit.

In general, choose whole foods whenever you can. Processed foods tend to have added sugar, salt, and/or fat. Similarly, simple carbohydrates (such as white flour, white rice, and pasta) don't contain added sugar, but they do break down into sugar quickly in the body. So choose complex carbohydrates, like whole grains.

Many low-carb diets also limit sugar, and a vegetarian or vegan diet can easily also be a no sugar diet. As with any diet, if you have a health condition such as diabetes, consult with your doctor about the best eating plan for you.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Weight loss

  • Improved health

  • Improved dental health

Cons
  • Challenging to achieve

There are many great reasons to reduce the amount of added sugars in your diet. Review the pros and cons to help you decide whether a no sugar diet is right for you.

Pros

Weight Loss

Cutting out sugar means cutting out empty (non-nutritious) calories. Doing that should help you lose weight. And whole, nutrient-dense foods tend to be more filling, so you can eat less of them and still feel full.

Improved Health

Along with the health benefits of weight loss, a no sugar diet can help users avoid other health risks that go along with high sugar intake. For example, one research review listed three studies that showed consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with increased blood pressure, inflammatory markers, total cholesterol, and visceral (belly) fat.

Improved Dental Health

Your parents were right: Too much sugar will rot your teeth. So a no sugar diet should help lower your risk of dental decay.

Following a no sugar diet (or even a low sugar diet) should offer health benefits including weight loss. But it can be difficult to truly cut sugar from your life.

Cons

Challenging to Achieve

Setting aside the common American taste for sugar, there is sugar hiding in many foods (some of them quite unexpected). And distinguishing added sugars from natural sugars can also be difficult. All this means that following a no sugar diet can sometimes be a challenge.

Is the No Sugar Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Many low-carb eating plans also limit sugar, so those plans can resemble a no sugar diet in some ways. And cutting sugar also aligns with government advice on healthy eating.

The USDA's dietary guidelines suggest a balanced mix of fruits, grains, vegetables, protein, and dairy products. There's no space for added sugars, but they're also not strictly forbidden.

To lose weight, you may need to count calories in addition to cutting back on added sugars. Avoiding those sugars will likely result in consuming fewer calories altogether, but to know for sure, use this tool to calculate a daily calorie goal, and then an app or journal to track your progress meeting that goal.

USDA guidelines suggest limiting your sugar intake to no more than 10% of your daily calories. Once you get there, you can gradually reduce your consumption of added sugars even more.

Health Benefits

The benefits of reducing sugar consumption are well studied. Research has shown a number of positive health outcomes for cutting back on added sugars, including a reduction in the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 

Health Risks

While there are no common health risks associated with a diet low in added sugar, restrictive eating plans can sometimes lead to unhealthy eating habits or an extreme obsession with healthy eating.

Similar Diets

Many weight loss plans restrict sugar since it's an effective way to cut calories. In particular, low-carb plans tend to also be low in sugar. Here's how they compare:

No Sugar Diet

  • General nutrition: Since it's not a formal plan, this diet has few guidelines other than cutting added sugars as completely as possible.
  • Practicality: There's no calorie or carb counting here, or even portion control. But you'll need to become a careful reader of nutrition labels and limit many convenience foods.
  • Sustainability: It's healthy and safe to eat this way indefinitely, and sugar cravings should fade over time.

Sugar Busters Diet

  • General nutrition: This diet is based on its limits of not only added sugars, but also natural sugars in the form of high-glycemic foods. Therefore, it is a low-carb plan that allows certain fruits and vegetables along with lean proteins and whole grains.
  • Practicality: This diet also doesn't require any counting or measuring. Once you know which foods to eat and which foods to stay away from, you know what to do.
  • Sustainability: The difficulty is that those foods can be hard to avoid. And nutrition experts say there's no reason some of them (such as bananas and beets) need to be excluded.

Sonoma Diet

  • General nutrition: The Sonoma Diet is a low-carb plan that not only excludes sugar and artificial sweeteners, it also cuts fruit (in its first phase), certain starchy vegetables, and all processed foods.
  • Practicality: Because of its restrictive nature, particularly during the first 10 days, this diet can be hard to follow. But it doesn't require carb or calorie counting and has its own simple system for portion control.
  • Sustainability: The initial phase is very challenging, but the second (main) and third (maintenance) phases are more reasonable.

Mayo Clinic Diet

  • General nutrition: This is an example of a weight-loss plan that cuts sugar while keeping other foods and nutrients well balanced.
  • Practicality: There's no need to count calories or carbs, but you'll have to watch portion sizes and cut out many convenience foods.
  • Sustainability: The diet should be safe and effective for those who follow it carefully, and it has a maintenance phase to avoid regaining any weight that was lost.

A Word From Verywell

If you are looking to lose weight or simply improve your health, cutting added sugars could be a smart and fairly simple choice. For weight loss, you might also consider adding fiber. But remember that weight loss is a complex process that should also include exercise, stress management, and other lifestyle factors. Discuss your plans with your physician to help create a plan that meets your needs.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, and budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Article Sources
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