Why going sugar-free is important for fertility
For me, going sugar free represented sad, sad times. My great loves in life are 1) my husband, 2) my family and friends 3) Cake. (Cake is followed closely by hot baths and extreme weight loss TV programmes). Eating cake was a daily pleasure and I could barely stomach a cup of tea without also grazing on a slice of cake. But reading up on the potential impact of sugar on my fertility made me put down the dessert spoon and take my hand out of the biscuit tin.
Danish research from 1999 showed a strong relationship between sugar molecules attached to red blood cells (glycosylated haemoglobin) that show high blood sugar levels. and fertility. The odds of pregnancy per cycle decreased with increasing concentration of this blood sugar indicator and the researchers the researchers thought that reduced fertility among women with high blood sugar may be due to an association with subclinical (i.e. symptoms aren't severe enough for a diagnosis) polycystic ovaries (PCOS).
The evidence shows how important it is for me to to keep my blood sugar levels on an even keel, especially given my mild PCOS and therefore possible insulin resistance. Sugar is everywhere, so going sugar-free is quite a challenge. Here is how I went about it.
What is 'sugar-free'?
What does ‘going sugar free’ mean, as a quick search on the internet shows me that it means very different things to different people? Should I cut out refined sugar, all sugar, glucose, fructose? What about fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice? It is a mine field. In summary, when it comes to different types of sugars my body doesn’t know its arse from its elbow and the overall impact on elevated blood sugar levels is roughly the same.
My focus has been on dramatically cutting down my sugar intake of all forms. On the special occasions when I allow myself to eat sugar it is unrefined sugar (honey and fruits) because although the impact of the sugar may be the same from a slice a cake or a banana, the nutritional benefits of vitamins and nutrients are not.
Tip: watch out for starches
Starchy foods snuck up on me, like a lion in the undergrowth, and are now a group that I am wary to avoid. For starches think potatoes and other root vegetables (parsnips, butternut squash, beetroots and carrots), white rice, bread and pasta. These don’t taste sweet to me (potatoes for pudding anyone?) but can dramatically increase blood sugar levels. My mouth now operates a potatoes, white bread and white rice no go zone. This is easier said than done. Attempt to buy lunch at a supermarket without bread, potatoes and rice and you have about as much choice as...
5 top tips for going sugar-free
- Only buy products with less than 6 gm of sugar per 100 gm. Sarah Wilson, beautiful Australian cook-book author and my sugar-free guru, says to check the food labels in supermarkets and only buy foods that contain less than 6g per 100gs of sugar. Condiments, pickles and cereals are real surprise offenders, so be wary of those!
- Going gluten free. It helps to reduce my sugar in-take at work as you can guarantee that there will be nothing gluten free in the ‘treat area’
- Not keeping sweet treats in the house. This has spared me many a weak moment of overindulging. By the time I have debated with myself whether to change out of my PJs (which I nearly always wear when I’m at home) and walk to the shops my sugar craving has passed.
- Drinking chai tea. It is sweet but not sugary, and having a tea break ritual of creating a nice cuppa can really help fill the sugar gap.
- Only eat 80%+ dark chocolate. It is so rich and bitter that after a couple of squares I have had enough. I am trying to train my taste buds to delight in 100% chocolate, but I have so far faced resistance.
- Switch fizzy drinks for Kombucha, coconut kaffir (both fizzy alternatives) or chai tea (sweet alternative).
- Switch conventional hot chocolate for low sugar home made hot chocolate (you can try this recipe).
- Switch ordinary chocolate bars for 80% or more dark chocolate which is much less sweet and more filling.
- Switch cake for home made banana bread, coconut loaf or ginger nut biscuits (although ideally try to cut out all forms of cake completely.
The hardest meals to go sugar-free are puddings (obviously) and breakfast (more surprisingly).
Lower sugar puddings and cake ideas
No sugar breakfast ideas
Why not go savoury for breakfast? Eating different foods to other meals and eating sweet things for breakfast is just a social construct. Other cultures eat savoury foods for breakfast, much the same as we would eat for lunch or dinner. So why not have soup for breakfast?