Living without sugar: Here's how to start

Leben ohne Zucker: So kannst du beginnen

Everyone knows that sugar is not really healthy, but hardly anyone can really live a life without sugar. That would mean that you would have to do without all the goodies that are available in the supermarket or at parties - is that even possible? Even if you're going on sugar withdrawal, sugar traps are lurking everywhere.

In this article, we're going to take away any doubts you may have about living without sugar. We answer the most important questions, give you tips on how to overcome addiction and give you deeper insights into the subject.

the essentials in brief

  • Sugar is firmly anchored in our lives. So that one can already speak of an addiction. To get off this drug, you have to go through a physical withdrawal.
  • Sucrose is the well-known household or industrial sugar. It contains no vitamins or minerals and does nothing for your body except empty calories.
  • The World Health Organization recommends a maximum of 25 grams of processed sugar per day. That's about 6 teaspoons, compared to 10 teaspoons of sugar hidden in a can of Coke.

Life without sugar: what you should know

We make around 20,000 decisions a day. This also includes decisions about what we want to eat or snack on. When grilling, for example, we use ketchup. This is one of many decisions. But you are not aware at this moment that you have already covered more than your daily sugar requirement with this decision.

According to statistics, we Germans ate a total of 34.6 kilograms of sugar in 2017/2018. Converted to a per capita amount of 95 grams per day (1).

What types of sugar are there?

First of all, you should know that there are different types of sugar . Some are natural and beneficial for our body and some are rather unhealthy. The following table gives you an overview of some types of sugar.

types of sugar what is hidden behind it
glucose Glucose: Blood levels rise rapidly
fructose Fructose: Blood levels rise slowly
galactose Slime sugar: found in dairy products
lactose Milk sugar: a combination of glucose+galactose
maltose Maltose: found in baked goods
sucrose Household sugar, brown sugar: a combination of glucose+fructose
isomaltulose contained in honey, suitable for diabetics (2).

These aren't all types of sugar, of course, but these are the most common ones you'll see on the ingredient lists of groceries at the grocery store.

Sucrose is the well-known industrial or household sugar. This includes the white and brown sugar anyway. The white sugar has no vitamins or minerals for the body to use. Brown sugar does contain vitamins and minerals, but in the small amounts we consume, they have no effect.

A study with honey bees tested that sucrose is not healthy. A group of honey bees were also fed sucrose syrup. When the honey was subsequently evaluated, it was found that the mineral content of the honey in this group was lower than that of natural honey. The sucrose content of the honey was also higher in the additionally fed bees (3).

What happens when you withdraw from sugar?

Sugar withdrawal affects everyone differently. It also depends on how much sugar is eaten. Most people who go into sugar withdrawal usually eat a lot of sugar and have a harder time kicking off sugar.

Because you deprive your body of the addiction, one can already speak of a drug, you will have withdrawal symptoms at the beginning of your withdrawal. These are, for example, irritability, increased hunger, tiredness, bad mood, headaches or even skin blemishes.

These symptoms also appear when you consume a lot of sugar. Since you eat a lot of sugar every day, you may not even notice these signs, but you still feel drained and can't understand what makes you feel so drained (4).

How long these symptoms last varies. Some people are fine after a week, others struggle with withdrawal symptoms for several weeks.

How can I avoid sugar?

Some studies have found that women are more likely than men to be tempted by sweet foods next to children. They have greater cravings for refined carbohydrates, especially when they're in a bad mood (5). On the other hand, men are more likely to drink sweets than women (6).

Sweetness in nature is a sign that food is safe.

Sugar is found in almost every food these days. Even in foods you don't expect it to be like muesli, yoghurt and ready meals. It's worth checking the ingredient list before the groceries end up in your shopping cart.

Unprocessed foods naturally have sugars, and our bodies can use those sugars in a useful way. It will help you avoid sugar if you start cooking instead of buying ready meals. This gives you a better view of what exactly is in your food and how it was processed.

If you don't always find time to cook freshly, you can also prepare your food for the next few days. It is best to take your time on Sunday and prepare your food for at least the next three days. You can also pre-cook many dishes and then freeze them. This is how you avoid buying something from the canteen or the bakery during your lunch break.

Find alternatives and use them. You can usually convert recipes and replace the sugar with an alternative. On the Internet you will find a lot of sweet recipes that are sugar-free and still taste delicious and sweet.

Prepare yourself such healthy snacks and get them out when you have a ravenous appetite or if you want to snack on something. Forbidding yourself treats can lead to failure.

Is life without sugar healthy?

High sugar consumption has some negative consequences. Many diseases such as cholesterol , obesity, blood pressure, diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease or a disturbed intestinal flora can be caused by too much sugar. Don't worry, that doesn't mean you'll get all of these diseases over the years, but the likelihood that sugar causes them is very high (7,8).


It will be difficult for you to give up the delicious sweets, but after weaning your body off sugar, you will be able to taste the natural sugars in foods. (Image Source: Julio Melanda / Pexels)

A complete renunciation of sugar is difficult and is not absolutely necessary to prevent the diseases mentioned above. The World Health Organization recommends a small amount of sugar per day. In 1989 it was 10%, but since 2002 they recommend less than 5% of total energy needs from sugar. Roughly speaking, that's 25 grams of sugar a day. The WHO only warns against industrial sugar, because the sugar in fruit, vegetables and milk has no negative effects on the organism (8).

What foods are allowed?

As mentioned above, the daily allowed 6 teaspoons of sugar do not include fruit or dairy products. So a yoghurt with fruit is a good snack for in between. A popular easy-to-make snack is walnuts coated in dates (9).

You can eat any unprocessed food.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • nuts
  • Fish and meat and tofu
  • legumes
  • Natural based dairy products
  • different oils
  • sugar free drinks

You should also pay attention to the sugar content of preserved foods. There is usually more sugar in an inconspicuous glass than if you buy it fresh and prepare it yourself.

If you have the option of fresh fruit, you should choose the fresh one rather than the dried fruit variant. The dried fruit tastes much sweeter because the water has been removed from it, but the minerals, nutrients and vitamins have been preserved. Dried fruits such as apricots, apples and figs are particularly rich in minerals.

You should eat dry fruit in moderation. A small hand is enough, because the sugar content increases threefold during the drying process. Your snack will quickly become a sugar bomb.

How do I recognize sugar in the supermarket?

A look at the list of ingredients is always worthwhile. Remember that dishes and foods with a small list of ingredients are the healthiest. And long incomprehensible lists of ingredients often contain hidden sugars.

Sugar can take many names and in the list you will find some names that belong in the sugar category:

  • dextrin, -dextrin
  • dextrose
  • fruit and fruit
  • barley malt
  • glucose, glucose
  • invert
  • yoghurt powder
  • lactose
  • maltose
  • whey
  • refined
  • sucrose
  • -syrup
  • Strength
  • milk powder

At first glance, all the names seem confusing and a lot, but as you delve deeper, you'll get a feel for the hidden sugar names. You should be particularly careful with products that say no added sugar.

What are the pros and cons of a sugar-free life?

It is well known that processed sugar is bad for the body. The sugar industry is also sensing that more and more people are watching their diet and are drastically reducing sugar.

Comparing 2018 to 2019 you can see a drastic decline in the sugar industry in Germany. In 2019, the turnover was only 2,065.7 million euros, whereas in 2018 it was still 2,323.43 million euros (10).

In the table below, we have listed a few pros and cons for why you should live your life without sugar.

  • you have more energy
  • your body is better
  • you perceive food more consciously
  • your sense of taste improves
  • you prevent diseases
  • Unhealthy if you avoid sugar in any form
  • almost impossible to give up sugar completely
  • Watch what you eat at parties
  • in the restaurant you don't know if the chef prepares the food with sugar
  • You can see from the downsides that when we talk about life without sugar, we don't mean healthy sugar. Sugar is found in many natural foods. But these sugar molecules are needed by our organism.

    It's not the sugar that makes you sick, it's the amount. However, you shouldn't substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar at this point, as doing so would confuse your body.

    How can I motivate myself to stay on the ball?

    You should always encourage yourself. And make you realize why you have chosen a life without sugar. Find one or more motivators that push you. This is how you reach your goal.

    Sucrose does nothing for our body except empty calories.

    Small tricks such as fruit spritzers with more water, fruit on the table instead of chocolate, cooking fresh, not buying sweets, natural yoghurt with fresh fruit instead of fruit yoghurt will help you stay on the ball.

    It won't be easy, but that's why there's no gain even without diligence!


    In conclusion, you can remember that processed sugar is not healthy for your body. Weaning your body off sugar, however, takes time and discipline. You're going to feel bad. But after surviving this low, you will notice the natural sweetness in foods.

    Sugar is so well hidden in the processed foods these days. That if you don't find out about it, you won't even discover it. This is a concern for people who suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure or are overweight. With simple tricks you can change your habits and make your life sugar-free.

    References Per capita consumption of sugar in Germany from 1950/51 to 2018/19, February 2021. Source Sugar & sugar types - what should you know about the sweetener? Source Musa Özcan, Derya Arslan, DurmuƟ Ali Ceylan Effect of inverted sucrose on some properties of honey, 2006, Food Chemistry, Volume 99 Issue 1, Pages 24-29, ISSN 0308-8146. Source Nicole M Avena, Pedro Rada, Bartley G Hoebel, Evidence for sugar addiction: Behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Volume 32, Issue 1, 2008, Pages 20-39. Source Karen Throsby, Pure, white and deadly: sugar addiction and the cultivation of urgency, 2020, Food, Culture & Society, 23:1, 11-29, DOI: 10.1080. Source Robert Koch Institute, Limo, Juice & Co - Consumption of Sugary Drinks in Germany, 2013, GBE compact 4(1). Source James J DiNicolantonio, James HOKeefe, Added sugars drive coronary heart disease via insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia: a new paradigm, 2017, Open Heart, DOI: 10.1136. Source WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children, 2015. Source Healthy Snacks Source Revenue of the sugar industry in Germany from 2000 to 2019 Source
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