There is no bad time to take a closer look at your sugar intake. We always knew the white stuff wasn't good for you but we didn't realise just how bad it is. Lent is the perfect time to kick the habit.

As a confirmed chocoholic, I can’t believe that the time has come to give it up as Lent kicks in. Yes its very unfortunate timing that Lent is starting on Valentine's Day this year. Many of us probably have a little Pancake Tuesday hangover so withdrawals have yet to kick in. It's easily to face these facts now...

Excess sugar intake can lead to liver damage, heart attack, stroke, blindness, amputation, dementia, depression and as Dr Eva said in her RTÉ documentary Sugar Crash, we are currently the fourth highest consumer of sugar in the world. We need to stop.

I do Lent every year and it is a genuine sacrifice to give chocolate up. It’s not for vanity reasons and it's not for weight loss, as I’m such a sugar junkie that I get my fix elsewhere but normally it’s of the more natural, healthier fruit/fructose variety. I balance this with a little protein (nuts, usually, more on that below), avoiding the sugar-craving highs and subsequent crashes, that chocolate normally drives me to.

Is she dreaming about her Easter Eggs? Not if she follows these tips...

A 7 step guide to giving up Sugar:
Every year I say that I’m going to stay away from the hard stuff after Lent – the first bar on Easter Sunday never tastes as good as I remember and I vow to walk away for good… but then I get addicted again and the whole cycle continues.

Cue our Nutritionist Mags Carey – she’s here with advice on staying off the hard stuff to save our bodies (and souls) the sugar crash that Dr Eva Orsmond spoke about in that RTÉ One doc.

  1. Avoid Sugar High

The first thing that Mags recommends is avoiding sugar highs and lows by balancing your blood sugars. The way to do this is to take five minutes the night before and plan your eating for the next day – when and what you are going to have for your meals? Will you have a small snack in between and if so, what? Hunger leads to bad, sugary choices, leading to 11am and 3pm slumps. Refined sugars (the cheap white stuff) is simple carbohydrate which spikes your blood sugar, giving you a quick boost of energy which is burnt off quickly leaving you tired and in need of the next fix. Much better to have slow release carbohydrates in your system which are released slowler, letting you get on with life at your own speed. 

      2. No Added Sugar

For years I think I drank coffee simply so I could have an excuse to add sugar to something that was acceptable to drink. In recent years, I’m convinced that the coffee from a certain shop is my favourite because they give us a delicious ‘free’ sweet! Cutting out sugar from your choice of cuppa is an immediate step in the right direction. If you don’t like the drink without the sugar – then you don’t like the drink so find something else!

Scary stuff

3. Swap it Out

If you have to have sugar in your drink, food, baking etc then swap out the bad one (refined) for the more natural options (such as fruit, good quality honey, dates, molasses, desiccated coconut etc). Also beware - there are over 50 names to describe (refined) sugar (for example, dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose, sucrose, maltose, agave, sucanat, panela and, and, and...) so you need to read the labels closely. Other things to swap out with mega gains and not much pain are white pasta and rice for whole grain. Why? The starch in the white rice/pasta converts to sugars when cooked and ingested, leading to spikes in your blood sugar.  

4. Get Fresh, Not Dried Fruit

Many of us think that dried fruit is the healthy option but during the drying process, the sugar content of the fruit increases (simplifying/butchering the science here but you get it). Calorie wise that isn’t ideal plus it’s a killer for the teeth so go for fresh fruit instead and keep an eye on how much fruit you have a day – try to balance the amount with your vegetable intake to make sure you and yours are getting your 7-a-day.

5. Go Veggie, Not Fruity – Juice Wise

Juicers have taken centre stage over the past year and they are readily available to buy at prices to suit most budgets but the key is to go veggie rather than fruity to reduce your sugar intake and to keep your blood sugars balanced.

Yee-um. Swap the sugar for water with a little fresh fruit, cucumber or mint

       6. Get Nuts

One tip that I love, not least of all because it’s so simple, effective and involves nuts, is the tip to eat protein with your fructose. Together they slow down the release of the sugar and balance blood sugar levels, which as we’re all learning is key.

        7. Water

Instead of drinking concentrated fruit juices, you’re 100% better off going for water – most of us don’t drink enough of it anyway. If you’re not a fan, then add a little fresh lemon or orange juice or add mint/cucumber. I always think that those are things I’ll never get the time to do but like everything, you just get organised and fill up a jug the night before in the fridge which you can keep adding to throughout the week. Soon the whole house starts to drink it and join in with the prep.

Need an incentive: By 2030, Ireland is expected to be the fattest nation in Europe unless we do something. Dr Eva revealed that children are getting the same diseases that alcohol causes through sugary drinks – there are on average ten spoons of sugar in a can of carbonated soft drinks. There are over two and a half spoons of sugar in one of those live yogurt drinks. ‘Nuff said.

Remember it can take up to 21 days to adopt a new habit and to end our toxic relationship with sugar and in the first week, Mags advises us to prepare to feel a bit off-form as the sugar leaves your system.

I believe in the gently, gently approach to these things and will begin by doing one of the steps per week for seven weeks, rather than trying to do it all at once and failing.

To make sure that I do it though and I'm not too easy on myself – I'm getting out my phone/diary, today, marking in each of the seven steps into my diary over the next seven weeks. Just think of the energy levels, the pounds lost, bod on the beach, your summer wardrobe…now, step away from the sugar bowl.

We can do it. We have to.

Now that's a pretty picture...healthy and happy