Sugar - why quitting sugar guarantees you'll lose weight

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 06 May 2013.
Tagged: BMI, Calories, carbohydrates, diabetes, diabetes type 2, diet, dieting, diets, health, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, kilojoules, obesity, overweight, sugar, sugar substitutes, sugary drinks, sweetener, weight loss

Sugar - why quitting sugar guarantees you'll lose weight

Sugar. It's been labelled "deadly", "addictive", "toxic", "sweet poison" and blamed for the rise in global obesity in recent years." Get rid of the white toxin from your diet and you'll free up your body to drop those excess kilos" (or so say anti-sugar campaigners Sarah Wilson, David Gillespie and Robert Lustig). Here are the three real reasons why I believe quitting sugar helps you lose weight.

1. Cutting out sugar removes a lot of kilojoules/Calories

A level teaspoon of white sugar has only 70 kilojoules (16 Calories) but that's not the problem. It's not just the sugar. It's the company sugar keeps.

If you eliminate sugar-laden foods, you eliminate a lot of kilojoules/Calories from fat and refined starches too. That's because we don't eat sugar on its own. We consume it with fat and refined starches (you can't bake a decent cake or biscuit without flour, fat and sugar).

My short bread example

Shortbread arrangementThink of shortbread biscuits. Yes there's 12 per cent added sugar but with that comes 29 per cent fat from the butter and 65 per cent of starch from the flour. The sugar isn't the key issue. It's just part of the wider problem of junk food.

Recipe for shortbread:

350 g flour (or flour and rice flour)


100 g white sugar


250 g butter.

 Shortbread 100 grams g fat   g sugar  g starch kilojoules
   29  12  65  2220

Take a look at what you'll save if you say "No" to soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate biscuits, lollies, doughnuts and muffins. For instance, cut out just one can of fizzy drink and you cut out 555 kilojoules (130 calories) and 34 g sugar.

Carrot cake with icing          1400kJ (330 calories) and 26 g sugar

Choc-chip muffin                  1245 (295 calories) and 13 g sugar

Doughnut                               950kJ (225 calories) and 13 g sugar

Chocolate bar                        910kJ (215 calories) and 29 g sugar

2 Tim Tams                             770kJ (185 calories) and 16 g sugar

Energy drink can                   480kJ (115 calories) and 28g sugar

10 Jelly beans                         400kJ (95 calories) and 16 g sugar

Removing soft drink is a strategy often suggested to curb childhood obesity. Even reducing the volume of soft drink – as New York city has proposed with its ban on supersized cups and limiting a single serve to 500ml – can help.

 2. Sugar is a "marker" for highly-processed foods

Choc bix processedWhen you quit sugar you're cutting out foods nutritionists have always said you shouldn't eat.

No lollies, chocolate biscuits, cup cakes, fizzy drinks, caramel frappucinnos or Magnums means you're removing "junk food" that is kilojoule (Calorie)-dense, of poor nutritional value, that comes in huge portions, is highly refined with added colours, flavours and preservatives.

What's more it's usually low in fibre and has a high GI (not good). None of these foods is any loss in a healthy diet. You're better off without them.

What these foods have in common is sugar. It's there for sweetness and flavour. And sugar does functional jobs like balancing acidity, preserving by preventing bad bacteria from growing and creating nice browning during baking. Just ask any chef.

3. Quitting sugar means more natural, unprocessed foods

What do you replace sugary foods with? Usually it's more fruit and dried fruit (unless you're a "Sweet Poison" fan), nuts, salads, water or you just eat more chicken, fish meat and vegetables at your meals. Sounds pretty healthy to me.

Here are my 9 simple swaps to limit your intake of sugar junk foods.

Instead of this   sugary junk food …


sweetened soft   drink

water, mineral water, diet soft drink


water, or dilute cordial down so it just adds a bit of flavour

fruit juice

half juice (100%   juice) with half water or just sip a small ½ cup serve

chocolate or   chocolate bar

mug of hot milk with cocoa

dessert e.g.   cheesecake, pudding

fruit salad, fruit sliced up on a plate, 2 scoops ice cream if you’re still hungry, ½ cup custard with canned apricots or fruit

dessert e.g. apple pie, apple Danish, deep-fried apple turnover

baked apple or stewed apple or pie-pack apple with a scoop of ice cream home-made apple crumble with oats and nuts

frozen mixed berries with a scoop of ice cream


distract yourself if it’s after dinner and you’re not hungry.
Or have a few dates or prunes e.g.  3-4

chocolate biscuits

distract yourself if it’s after dinner and you’re not hungry.
Or have a few dates or prunes e.g.  3-4


A piece of grainy  toast with a nut butter
e.g. macadamia, almond or cashew.

 Salty fat

Note: You can still eat a lot of kilojoules by eating fat and starch with salt. I call them salty fat. No sugar there.

  • Watch how many potato crisps, corn chips or movie popcorn people wrap themselves around when no-one's watching.
  • Check out the amount of gourmet cheese with crackers that is consumed after you've eaten dinner.
  • Oh, and how could I not mention the tubs of hot chips or slabs of pizza at kids' parties?

The bottom line

You don't have to quit sugar entirely to improve your health and your weight (as the anti-sugar campaigners insist). Moderation, as always, is the key to eating healthily, sensibly and in a way that is easy to maintain. However, if you seriously want to lose weight, I do believe that eating less sugary junk food is a good thing to do.

Write out your day's intake of food. Circle the sweet foods and drinks you like to consume regularly or in large amounts. The most likely culprits are soft drinks, juices, cordial, chocolate, muffins and confectionery. Or circle the sweet foods you reach for when you need a comfort fix. Cut out those.

My advice?

Remove the large amounts of sugar from your diet and don't worry about the little bits that make low-fat, high-fibre, foods palatable such as a sprinkle of brown sugar on porridge, a scrape of jam on grainy bread or a drizzle of honey on your unsweetened breakfast cereal. And don't stop eating fresh fruit.

Downloads / Fact Sheets

Download my Fact Sheet on Sugar and where you'll find it

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.