Many of us have a sweet tooth, and sugary foods do have a tendency to be tasty and comforting, but could cutting out added sugar be the secret to good health?

The 'No Sugar' approach evolved from a weight loss programme developed by Connecticut-based physician and author Peter Gott in 2006 called the 'No Flour, No Sugar' diet.

To follow Gott's eating plan, you would need to eliminate all foods containing added sugar or flour, and up your intake of lean meats, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

What's involved with the 'No Sugar' diet?

The idea behind this is that sugar and flour are simple carbohydrates which need to be specifically targeted as they provide little nutritional benefit. By replacing these 'empty carb' foods with complex carbohydrates, you will get the benefits of more vitamins and minerals, and feel fuller for longer which result in better overall health and weight loss.

For each of your three main meals, half your plate should contain non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, capsicum, tomatoes or mushrooms. Quarter of your plate should be a serving of lean protein such as meat, fish, tofu or chicken, and the remaining quarter should be a serving of whole grains or starchy vegetables.

Is sugar easy to avoid?

It's fairly obvious enough to skip eating foods such as cakes, cookies and chocolate when you're avoiding sugar.

The problem is that many pre-made foods including sauces, crackers, muesli bars and dressings also typically contain sugars. To combat this, you either need to become savvy at nutrition label reading or you need to start cooking most of your foods - including snacks - from scratch.

Sugar can be disguised under other names in ingredient lists, which can make it tricky to avoid. Glucose, maltose, dextrose, golden syrup, corn syrup and sucrose are just some of the other names for sugar.

It's also important to note that eliminating refined sugar doesn't mean you have to cut out sugar completely, for example, on this diet you are allowed to have naturally occurring sugars such as lactose which is found in milk, and fructose which is found in fruit.

Pros

Limiting your sugar intake is a good way to lose weight, and reducing products containing refined sugar also often reduces your intake of calorie-laden foods such as biscuits, cakes and chocolate. The 'no sugar' approach could also be a great start for diabetics who want to make lifestyle changes that will help improve their health.

Cons

The problem with going sugar-free, is that it is a difficult diet to adhere to as many foods contain some kind of added sugar in them. This makes the diet very restrictive which means you are less likely to be able to maintain it in the long term.

Our advice

Do your best to cut back on processed foods - especially junk food - wherever possible, as this will reduce your sugar intake. Focus on eating plenty of fresh veges and fruit, complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber (such as whole grain breads, oatmeal and brown rice), and lean protein (such as tofu, fish, chicken or beef).

Most importantly, cook your meals and snacks from scratch as much as you can, as you will have better control over how much sugar is going into your food.

NZ Real Health is an online magazine where you can find practical information and advice on health, wellbeing and fitness . For more articles like this, visit www.nzrealhealth.co.nz.