Tag Archives: no sugar

Sugar cubes, pudding tax, ‘New Year New You’ marketing and simplification

The first full week of each new year is when I actually begin any planned improvements. I’m such an introvert that I need time after the holidays to process and set my focus. For those starting their resolutions on New Year’s Day, this is the tough week. This is where it gets real. I’m just starting out and there is something nice about that, even if it means tough is still lying ahead, waiting for me.

It’s no surprise that the first week of the new year has been filled with health related stories designed to tap into people feeling guilty for their holiday gluttony and determined (again) that this is the year they’re going to turn everything around. 

It’s interesting to see that sugar has largely replaced fat as the demon in the headlines. When I first began looking into the benefits of a sugar-free lifestyle in 2015, saturated fat – indeed any fat – was still public enemy number one. The change has been swift and is getting less subtle. 

That Public Health England are now focused on reducing sugar intake as one of the key ways of reducing the obesity epidemic is the main driver behind this. I’m under no illusions that this is an altruistic gesture. Obesity simply correlates to more occurrences of diabetes and heart disease (amongst many things), all of which cost the NHS money to treat. Regardless of the motivation, it’s good to see that finally people are starting to be told the truth about how much sugar is added to our foods by manufacturers.

Of course, depending on the media outlet involved, the presentation is different. Nanny state and tax threats drive some clickbait headlines, others provide a more balanced view. But the truth behind the message is the same across the board – we need to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets.

What none of it seems to want to focus on is how hard it is to actually make that happen. A few foods get targeted here and there as extreme examples,  but that doesn’t really help people with the everyday foods that have sugars added to them. The unexpected ones – those often labelled as ‘diet’ and ‘low fat’ – that catch people out.

More importantly, none of them seem to offer any insight on the simple fact that there is something addictive about sugar. Something that makes it hard to cut out sweets and chocolate, no matter how much information we have or how good our intentions are. This is the element that trips people up time and time again, myself included. Just one little taste, one bad day, can get us reaching for a sugar-based snack before we’ve even had chance to think about what we’re doing. Time and time again I’ve done this since the baby was born, eating in some sleep-deprived haze and having very little memory of when or how. This lack of intentionality is something I absolutely must address this year, hopefully with the addition of an extra hour or two asleep each night.

I’ll be experimenting with general simplification of my life to do this and if it works well, that will be something I share throughout the year. There is a certain attraction to achieving more by doing less, but it will be interesting to see if the promise lives up to the theory.

So below are some of my favourite headlines of 2019 blitzing those with resolutions to think about. Where there isn’t a link it’s because I simply refuse to give clicks to certain sources. That’s another 2019 resolution for all of us. Let’s not feed the trolls.

Children are getting targeted in the blitz, with the story that children have already exceeded their entire childhood quota of sugar by the age of 10. That’s 8 whole sugar free years they then need to do just to break even. A scary thought. But I loved Matthew’s sugar experiment with his family – this is the kind of visualisation that you don’t get from simply reading the labels and doing the calculations in your head.

Are we going to get a pudding tax? Some progress has been made with other foods but I think a pudding tax is silly. Target the misleading foods and the everyday foods first.

And of course, the thought that our government would be together enough to order anyone to do anything is implied by the Sun’s headline ‘KIDS will be ordered not to eat Frosties and Coco Pops under tough new government guidelines’. The actual story is about a set of simple recommendations, but why not get people in a defiant and self-destructive mood instead? See earlier comment re: trolls.

If you’re more interested in the information behind the headlines, including some practical and actionable tips on how to eliminate sugar from your life, then my book is a steal at only 99p on kindle. It won’t break the bank and may change your approach to diet and healthy living forever. I’m re-reading it now to remember my own lessons!

 

Not interested in changing your diet but itching to make other improvements this year? Then take a look at my book on Resolutions instead. Goal setting doesn’t need to begin January 1st. Why wait for tomorrow to become a better version of yourself? Not just for the next week, but with a strategy that lasts.

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Sugar bans and freakshakes – consciously cutting down on sugar

Last week it hit the news that Action On Sugar was calling for a ban on milkshakes that had an obscenely high amount of sugar. The Unicorn Freakshake on sale at Toby outlets was highlighted in particular due to it’s 39 – yes 39! – teaspoons of sugar per shake.

Image from Toby Carvery

Whilst banning a treat that contains over six times the amount of sugar recommended for seven to 10-year-olds seems like a good idea, it of course prompted reactions along the lines of ‘nanny state telling us what to do’ amongst many. There will always be people who will deliberately do something rather than have someone else tell them they can’t. But is an outright ban a good idea anyway?

To ban or not to ban?

I believe there is a fundamental difference here in the approach required to many other foods. Firstly, I don’t agree with an outright ban (which may surprise you), but I do believe that menus with this type of item should be very clearly labelled. The news presentation is different to a standard menu presentation, for example. 163g of sugar on a menu is hard for someone to visualise (other than ‘a lot’), whereas 39 teaspoons is much easier. That’s why newspaper outlets use the latter to sell their story.

More importantly, whether or not you label a freakshake with all the information available, people know they’re having something unhealthy when they choose it. Admittedly, they might not realise just how unhealthy, but they’re not confusing it with a side salad. It’s a conscious decision to ‘have a treat’.

Unconscious vs conscious eating

In my opinion, it would be better to focus on those foods that are significantly more ambiguous. The foods that people eat because they’re labelled as diet foods, simply because they’re lower in fat. The foods that catch people out.

I know countless people who have gone on a diet so have stopped adding a spoon of sugar to their tea or coffee, oblivious that the low fat yoghurt they’ve started to include with their lunch (must be healthy!) contains 3 teaspoons of the stuff – a net gain of 2 teaspoons for the swap. And you all know where I stand on children’s cereals – if you want to get anything banned there’s plenty out there that should be. Over the course of a week’s breakfast, people give their kids a freakshake plus in terms of sugar, often without even realising it.

So yes, we need to label better and maybe even ban or tax certain foods, but we need to choose our targets carefully. Bigger isn’t always better. The road to obesity and all its associated health risks isn’t a single freakshake every now and again, it’s all the other meals in between, eaten without awareness until it’s too late.

 

You can find out more about how to make more informed sugar choices in  The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free

The 5 best bullet journal health tracker spreads

With all the apps out there focused on health and habits, analogue still remains a fantastic way to set goals and easily monitor your progress. I’ve been using a modified bullet journal for years now and its best feature is that the system does whatever you want. When it comes to tracking your health, a simple one or two page spread is all you need.

I have limited artistic skills to say the least. My bullet journal set up needs to be simple or I spend more time doodling than doing. So the following examples don’t all focus on exquisite calligraphy or time-intensive set up. Of course, they could all be made simpler or more elaborate depending on your personal preferences.

Remember, your healthy habits will be personal to you, so don’t worry about tracking things you don’t care about because someone has included them here. Alternatively, you might see something you’d never considered before.

1 – Minimal

Image: marianeofcysn

This is the kind of tracker I use. I can just about manage to draw small squares without going too far wrong. With the habits listed down the left hand side and the dates across the top, it gives a quick and easy visual of missed days and progress.

2 – Data driven

Image: oak.tree.journaling

These simplified graphs allow you to see much more than a yes / no response to your habits. This is particularly useful if you are setting yourself sleep, calorie or water consumption targets, for example. The space for notes is helpful for noting any external factors that impacted progress to add more context to the images.

3 – Funky

Image: Boho Berry

There is literally no one who bullet journals who hasn’t heard of Boho Berry. With good reason too – she’s always tweaking and experimenting so you don’t have to. With this tracker, I love the sense of full circle you get for the month. It is also a fantastic way of quickly assessing if there is any correlation between your habits. If you eat badly after a poor night’s sleep, then chances are you’ll be able to spot the pattern quickly with this one.

4 – Wordy

Image: b.izzi

Like the minimalist tracker above, this is the kind of spread I can get behind because it uses more words than images! This is great if you want to track at a greater depth on a weekly, rather than monthly, level. Instead of simply recording whether you hit (or missed) your goal that day, you get space to think about and record the reason why. This is especially useful for those who like to review for strengths and weaknesses so they can course correct as necessary.

5 – Visual

Image: mybulletjournal18

Although this one is also simple in terms of its components, visually it packs quite a punch. The bright colours and easy to read progress bars are great for those who like to take in their information in a visual way. Colour co-ordination really comes into its own with a spread like this and allows you to see where you need to focus your attention as the month progresses. It’s less useful if you’re trying to establish a successful streaking process.

Don’t forget to check out the creators of these spreads (click on the images) to get other ideas that might work for you and see their work in more depth. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options when you scroll through instagram, so if you’re new to it, start out simple and focus on what you need. There’s plenty of time to tweak it later.

For more information on building habits and healthy eating, check out The Realist’s Guide to Sugar Free and The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions.

            

Maintaining a sugar-free or low-carb diet: Quest bars review

We’re in the fourth week of January and if you started a weight loss resolution with nothing but good intentions, then chances are you’ve already crumbled. If you have, then remember that making a change for the better is not controlled by the Gregorian calendar. If it’s something you want, then dust yourself off and start again.

Although I believe the best way to live the sugar-free lifestyle is to avoid processed foods, I’m also realistic enough to know that life doesn’t play fair. Travel, long hours, unpredictable schedules – they can all hit your best intentions where it hurts.

Not all protein bars are created equal

One of the easiest ways to ‘cheat clean’ in these scenarios is by carrying a protein bar or two with you for emergency situations. The more prepared you can be, the less likely you are to be forced to have the only options available to you in the heat of the moment.

Although most protein bars clock in between 18-25g of protein per bar, the one thing that can vary wildly is the sugar content. Those that are promoted as ‘natural’ are the worst offenders in the sense of sugar content alone, often with 30g or above. As always, the trade off between sugar and artificial sweeteners is always a personal choice, but if you are aiming for a sugar-free, low carb or full on ketogenic diet, then a protein bar could do more harm than good.

What is a Quest bar?

Quest bars are high protein, low sugar bars that come in a wide range of flavours. Most of those are ‘sweet’ flavours, so if you’re not comfortable with artificial sweeteners then they won’t be for you. Because I avoid sweeteners everywhere else, I can compromise on that fact in a protein bar emergency.

What do Quest bars taste like?

The thing I like most about Quest bars is the range of flavours. Given that they don’t use any sugars to sweeten the deal, they manage to make bars that don’t feel like a virtuous chore to eat. If you’re in the kind of situation where it’s all gone wrong and your only choices are to buy junk food, eat a protein bar or starve, then you don’t want the protein bar to be unappealing. Cookies and Cream is my favourite for this.

Can you lose weight on Quest bars?

Probably, but that’s not the point as far as I’m concerned. They are not an ongoing meal replacement I can promote. But, if you have your diet right the rest of the time, they can certainly help you to maintain when the chips are down. Oh, and Quest bars are not allowed on Paleo, unless you are really playing fast and loose with the rules.

Are Quest bars really good for you?

No, in the sense they contain artificial ingredients. Many people (although I’ve never experienced it myself) have an intolerance to the types of sweeteners that are included in the bars. You’re better off having a wholesome, nutritious diet. Quest bars are great for when that option is removed and, if we’re honest, we’re often more out of control than we like.

So, if you’re on a low sugar, low carb or keto diet, then Quest bars can be a great substitute on the go when low sugar options are hard to find. The protein keeps you full with a blood sugar spike and corresponding crash. By keeping a couple in my backpack, they’ve helped me stay on track – throughout January and beyond.

Interested in a sugar free lifestyle? Check out The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free

Why the 45,000 pound sugar mountain wasn’t what it seemed

In today’s post-fact society, always read the label

Last week, a huge mound of sugar appeared in Times Square. This piece of educational art was installed to drive home the point that in America, every five minutes children consume 45,485 pounds of added sugar.

That’s a lot of sugar.

I’m all for promoting the dangers of sugars added to and hidden in food. But it did raise the question: who exactly were they trying to educate? What was really the message here?

I’ve been to Times Square. I love it. It’s hustle and bustle and, dare I say it, prime marketing real estate. This installation highlighting the dangers of added sugar comes not from any educational or government body. Nope, it comes from a food manufacturer.

KIND have a message that’s hard not to get behind. From their website:

“We believe if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it shouldn’t go into your body. Actually, it shouldn’t even go into your pantry. KIND® products are made from nutritionally-dense ingredients like whole nuts, fruits and whole grains – no secret ingredients and no artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners.”

However, this is where I get really frustrated with food companies being disingenuous when it comes to promoting healthy food. It’s true that the added sugar consumed by children is way above where it should be and where most parents probably believe it to be. But for many people, it is precisely the types of snacks made by KIND that cause the confusion. They’ve just launched a new range of snacking products, Fruit Bites. Let’s look at the description for the Mango Pineapple Apple version:

Our Mango Pineapple Apple Fruit Bites are made from only 3 simple ingredients and give you a delicious tropical fruit snack in every bite. We don’t use fruit juices, purees, concentrates or preservatives – so you can enjoy a fruit snack that’s actually made from real fruit. And with no sugar added and 1 full serving of fruit per pouch, it’s the perfect lunchbox snack.

Real fruit! That elusive serving! Perfect for the lunchbox! What parent trying to do the right thing wouldn’t go for that? However, let’s look at the nutrition label. Again, from their website:

Whilst it contains no added sugars, it still contains 11g per pouch of natural sugars. Which are, make no mistake about it, still sugar. At an 18g serving, that’s around 60% sugar.

Always be suspicious of marketing, especially when the message is wholesome and healthy. Even more so when that message is aimed at your kids.

Gran Canaria for Digital Nomads

After spending 3 months with Gran Canaria as my home base, I can say for certain it has been a perfect place. Although the location independent lifestyle is still in its infancy in real terms, I can see great potential for the Canary Islands as a whole to become the nomad capital of Europe. I group them together as a single entity because there is so much variety in such a small space, all of it easy to access. Tenerife and Lanzarote also have a growing digital nomad community that can be reached within an hour or two.

However, I’m also aware that I have some very specific requirements when picking out my ideal travel locations, so in the review that follows, I’ll try to be balanced towards the areas that matter to a majority of people. So how do the Canary Islands fare on the key metrics?

Costs are in US dollars, unless otherwise specified.

Cost

Compared to much of Europe, the Canary Islands aren’t that expensive. They’re not dirt cheap either, as they’re developed and off the mainland. But flights from all over Europe can be purchased for around $50 if you shop around. At this price, I was able to get a return flight to the UK for a long weekend in May for around $75 – an absolute bargain.

The cost of accommodation varies depending on season (as the islands have a strong tourist influence). A one bed apartment can cost as little as $800 per month with utilities included. For less than $900 you can have sea views and balconies, which are my personal preferences. The good news is that low season, when the prices are at their most competitive, the conditions are ideal for working.

Not a bad office view

As someone who tries to eat healthily, fresh meat and produce can be slightly more expensive than in mainland Europe. Supermarkets tend to be smaller and buying in bulk to save money is not always an option. Even so, it is still more cost efficient than eating out, especially in the tourist areas, when a main meal can set you back $15-20 per person.

You have to enjoy meat and cheese around here

The constant requirement of bottled water doesn’t sit well with my conscience either if I’m honest and adds about $2 per person, per day. That adds up over three months!

Weather

Located off the coast of Africa, approximately 28 degrees north of the equator, the Canary Islands have the best weather in the world. Hot days, balmy nights, with very little rainfall. Unlike a lot of other hot, palm tree laden places in the world, this is not subject to intense rainfall. The humidity doesn’t sap away all your energy and force you inside as a sweaty sticky mess.

There can still be variations in temperature, even on the same island, given the exposed position they have to the west. Gran Canaria is a good example of this. Las Palmas in the north has much cooler temperatures than the tourists hotspots of the south, only an hour’s drive away. Regardless, if daily temperatures of 25-35 degrees Celsius (75-95 degrees Fahrenheit) sound good to you, then this might be the place to visit.

Every day is a beach day

 

Internet

If you rely on the internet (and if you’re reading this post then I assume you do), the Canary Islands can be a bit patchy. Coffee shops and coworking spaces in cities have good enough internet to use in most cases. However, once you venture into tourist areas, then coffee shop wifi is more or less an afterthought.

There is a wide variety of accommodation that come with good, free internet access included, but if you want to work in public spaces more, then stick to the cities. I made the trade-off to keep the wifi in the apartment and the beach coffee shop for pleasure or analogue work. I’m still happy with that decision after 3 months, as it actually helped with a work/life separation that can be tough when you’re independent.

Community

A strong digital nomad community isn’t high on my list of needs. Much of the work I do isn’t collaborative and I’m naturally an introvert. Coffee shops with good wifi are enough for me.

Cafe Regina – with coffee like this, I don’t need people!

But I know that for many people, especially those travelling alone, a strong digital nomad community is a must. So, although I can’t speak from personal experience here, it’s clear that Nomad City are pushing things in the right direction. In April Digital Nomad Girls Las Palmas Retreat took place, again highlighting the potential for community over here.

They are all fairly positive, but in comparison to somewhere such as Chiang Mai, it will probably seem a little slow.

Transport

Travel throughout the Canary Islands is affordable and efficient. This applies not only to the bus services that connect the various parts of an island, but also to the inter-air flights that make island hopping easy. It is also fairly simple to hire a car if you prefer to drive yourself, but it is worth noting that these are volcanic islands, so confidence on steep, winding roads with a sheer drop is a must!

Culture

Puerto de Mogan is an idyllic getaway

Although the islands don’t have the same depth of history as much of Europe, there is still over five hundred years worth of culture to be absorbed here. There are some great old buildings, festivals and the food and drink is varied and tasty. You can also explore the volcanic landscapes. I recommend going over to Mount Teide on Tenerife (the highest volcano in the world base-to-peak outside of the Hawaiian Islands) and doing a Teide star-gazing trip.

 

Courtesy of volcanoteide.com

Safety

As a woman, safety is of high importance to me. The Canary Islands contain some of the most comfortable places I’ve found. Of course, in any location, I take a lot of sensible precautions. Outside a city such as Las Palmas, you can find sleazy tourist hotspots where it is assumed that you’re there to have a good time or a summer fling. If that’s also on your travel agenda, then great. For me, it was as simple as avoiding bars at kicking out time in these areas, just as I would anywhere in the world.

In summary, the Canary Islands have something for every digital nomad or location independent worker. The key is knowing what you need and how you want to live. For those who are starting out, bootstrapping and traveling for the first time, it might not be the best place to start if you’ve watched a lot of digital nomad YouTube videos. But for those who are more settled into the lifestyle, or want something in Europe rather than Asia, then I would recommend here so much that I already look forward to when I can return.

Interested in finding out more? Check out the resources below:

CANARY ISLANDS SEIZING THE GLOBAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITY – It’s great to see the government and locals embracing the opportunities of a global market and the digital nomads that come with it.

Places To Work – Las Palmas Co-Working spaces.

Wolfhouse Tenerife – Co-Living – I’ve not visited the Wolfhouse, but I have been to Los Gigantes several times and can say it is a great place to visit.

 

No juice for babies – the significance behind the shift

The American Academy of Pediatrics made the news recently when it updated its guidelines to advise that babies under 12 months should not be given juice. Previously, it had made this suggestion only for babies under 6 months.

Unfortunately, it is easy to assume that this means fruit juice is absolutely fine and should be encouraged for babies over 12 months old. In fact, the underlying reasoning for the change contains some findings that can apply to us all.

Fruit juice is promoted as a healthy and diet-conscious option. Yet research continues to show that it can actually be detrimental to controlling weight. From the article behind the headlines comes this snippet:

“High sugar content in juice contributes to increased calorie consumption and the risk of dental caries. In addition, the lack of protein and fiber in juice can predispose to inappropriate weight gain (too much or too little)”

One of the reasons I have become so vocal about the benefits of a sugar-free lifestyle is that it runs counter to food marketing, with its billions of dollars of advertising to blind and confuse the masses. For parents trying to do the right thing, when juice is promoted as an equivalent of whole fruit (which it really isn’t), it seems an easy way to get some nutrients into your kid. Yet, once they start loving and drinking it, the reverse becomes true:

“Malnutrition and short stature in children have been associated with excessive consumption of juice”

And of course, we’re encouraged to keep our children hydrated. Getting them to drink enough can be a problem, so we make it easy for them. But unless the fluid in that sippy cup is water or milk, you’d better hope that your kid enjoys going to the dentist:

“The practice of allowing children to carry a bottle, easily transportable covered cup, open cup, or box of juice around throughout the day leads to excessive exposure of the teeth to carbohydrate, which promotes the development of dental caries”

Although these issues are accentuated in children, it is easy to see that they can translate to adults as well. Fruit is amazing. It has fibre, nutrients and energy. Juice is sugar and water. I wonder how many parents would be horrified at their babies drinking a can of cola, but wouldn’t think twice about a nice healthy juice? This article is a great first step in educating ourselves away from ways of eating that simply aren’t beneficial, just easy.

For the actual article rather than the headline grabbing summaries, you can find it on the American Academy of Pediatrics Publications page. If you don’t want to read all of it, skip to the conclusions section to see the specific dangers and concerns.

 

If you’re interested in cutting down or completely removing sugar from your life, then check out The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free. It’s full of tips, tricks and information to help you live a healthier lifestyle.