Why The Virgin Diet is Not a No-Sugar Diet

Apples and Peanut ButterSugar is sugar is sugar, right?

Well, yes and no.

“I thought The Virgin Diet was a no-sugar diet,” people write me, “so why does your All-in-One protein powder have 5 grams of sugar?”

In The Virgin Diet, my rule is that a protein powder or other packaged food can have no more than 5 grams of sugar per serving. I realized this created some confusion, so I’d like to more fully explain sugar rules for The Virgin Diet here.

Why The Virgin Diet is a low-sugar (not no-sugar) diet

Save for momentary gratification, nothing good comes from eating sugar. It wreaks your immune system, crashes your blood sugar to create fatigue and bloating, stores as fat, and sets the stage for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But unless you eat an all-meat diet (something I don’t recommend), you’re going to get some sugar in your diet. Even though they aren’t necessarily sweet, even green non-starchy veggies and raw nuts contain a little sugar. In fact, 2 cups of broccoli contains about 5 grams of sugar!

The important thing is how quickly that sugar raises your blood sugar levels. Rather than being a no-sugar diet, The Virgin Diet is a low-glycemic diet.

In other words, the foods you eat on my diet create a slow, steady rise in blood sugar. You don’t get a giant insulin surge that subsequently causes your blood sugar to crash and creates fatigue, inflammation, and fat gain.

On the other hand, let’s say you eat a hot fudge sundae, which you won’t find recommended anywhere in The Virgin Diet.

You’re going to get a rapid blood sugar spike. Insulin swoops in to pull that blood sugar down, but what happens too often is insulin over-compensates and pulls your blood sugar down too low, leaving you fatigued and oddly craving another hot fudge sundae even though you just ate one 2 hours ago.

You’d have to eat a heck of a lot of broccoli or raw almonds to raise your blood sugar even a little bit. Besides having trivial amounts of sugar to begin with, fiber in these foods further buffers out that minute sugar load.

Even legumes and other starchy carbs, which are a little higher in sugar, offer beneficial amounts of fiber to balance blood sugar levels. I recommend them in small amounts on The Virgin Diet because they offer nutrients and steady sustained energy.

Bottom line: it’s not just the sugar in these foods that creates problems. It’s the food’s overall glycemic impact on your bloodstream. In other words, too much sugar and devoid of fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

Sugar in fruit

Because some varieties are higher in sugar, fruit is a little more complex than vegetables and other foods on The Virgin Diet.

Higher-glycemic fruits like bananas and grapes can raise blood sugar pretty quickly because they have more sugar but also less fiber than, say, raspberries. They aren’t “bad” foods, but neither are they unlimited as some diet plans will have you believe. Trust me: if you eat a big bowl of red grapes, you will raise your blood sugar.

Berries, on the other hand, are lower on the glycemic index, which means they provide a slow, steady rise in blood sugar that won’t trigger a dramatic insulin response. Berries are my preferred fruit in The Virgin Diet, followed by apples and other lower-glycemic fruits.

Occasionally someone will ask why I recommend something like blueberries, considering a cup of them contains 15 grams of sugar. Doesn’t that violate my 5-grams-or-less per serving sugar rule?

Well, nature packaged blueberries (and other fruits, for that matter) with nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and all kinds of other compounds that cumulatively reduce that sugar load.

Like I mentioned before, the fiber and nutrients in blueberries create a relatively low glycemic index. In fact, studies show blueberries can help normalize blood sugar levels and reduce your risk for diabetes.

On the other hand, dumping 15 grams of sugar into processed foods like a protein bar has a completely different effect on your blood sugar levels. Even if you get a little fiber, you’re not getting all those nutrients and antioxidants to buffer out sugar’s effects. Processed food will never be able to compete with Mother Nature!

What about fructose in fruit?

If you follow my blog or read The Virgin Diet, you know fructose is nasty stuff. It raises triglycerides that store as fat, stresses your liver, and triggers inflammation.

There’s more. Fructose raises your cholesterol, increases glycosylated hemoglobin, spikes your blood pressure, and sets you up for insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes.

Doctors are seeing more non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD) than ever before, and a huge culprit is the increased amount of high-fructose corn syrup and even “healthy” sweeteners like agave.

“But wait,” people say, “an apple has fructose. So why do you tell people to eat apples?”

Remember how I said blueberries came wrapped up with fiber and nutrients that buffer out some of their sugar? Same deal with apples.

That’s far different, in other words, than getting fructose in a candy bar. Whether it goes by high-fructose corn syrup or agave, added fructose in packaged foods comes heavily processed, typically from corn (a no-no on The Virgin Diet), with little or no fiber and other nutrients to buffer its negative effects.

Apples and other fruit contain a combination of glucose and fructose as sweeteners. Unlike glucose, fructose does not impact your insulin levels but instead goes to your liver to process.

Your liver can handle about 15 grams of fructose. Any more than that and your liver gets overwhelmed, leading to inflammation, fat gain, and other problems. That’s why I tell you in The Virgin Diet to limit fruit to 1 – 2 servings a day.

To further buffer that sugar load, I like to combine fruit with protein and fat. Smear almond butter, for instance, on apple slices, and add blueberries into The Virgin Diet Shake.

One last thing about fruit and sugar: I like to add frozen (rather than fresh) berries to The Virgin Diet Shake for better texture and taste. Always read your label when you buy frozen fruit, since some varieties contain added sugar.

What about no-sugar-added foods?

Manufacturers realize you know sugary foods are bad, so they’ve cleverly developed “guilt-free” versions of your favorites. Craving chocolate toffee or butter pecan ice cream? No worries: now you can “legally” enjoy a sugar-free version.

Manufacturers originally created these processed foods for people with type 2 diabetes, but dieters quickly caught on, believing they could literally have their cake and eat it too.

Let’s take a look at 2 of these disclaimers to see how they can become confusing:

  • “No sugar added” – just because a manufacturer hasn’t added sugar doesn’t mean the food or drink doesn’t contain sugar. For instance, a no-sugar-added ice cream might still contain 10 grams of sugar per serving, depending on what other sugar-containing ingredients they’ve used. In other words, “no sugar added” does not mean that food is sugar free.
  • “Sugar free” – again, you’re not off the hook here. That food or drink may indeed have no sugar, but it frequently contains artificial sweeteners and/ or sugar alcohols. Artificial sweeteners are off-limits on The Virgin Diet. Excessive amounts of sugar alcohols (particularly maltitol) in processed foods can cause unpleasant gastric effects (better be near a bathroom!), and experts aren’t sure their impact on insulin secretion.

In other words, these aren’t the guilt-free indulgences manufacturers would have you believe. They often have as many calories as their sugar-filled version, they’re trigger foods, they create a halo effect, and they can seriously stall fast fat loss.

You won’t find a “sugar free” or “no sugar added” label on vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and other whole unprocessed foods. They may contain small amounts of sugar, but that sugar is a far cry from the heavily processed high-fructose corn syrup in packaged foods.

Indulging on The Virgin Diet

I get it: everyone likes to indulge sometimes. The Virgin Diet is about eating sensibly, not deprivation, and I’m not going to have you forgo the occasional dark chocolate or almond butter.

But the 5-grams-or-less sugar rule still applies, and use it sparingly!  Dark chocolate lovers rejoice: you can find many higher-cacao bars that meet that quota. Just remember my per serving rule, since many dark chocolate bars contain several servings.

I also like the sweetener Lo Han (monk fruit), which So Delicious uses in their no-sugar-added coconut milk ice cream. Lo Han offers health benefits and does not raise blood sugar like sucrose (table sugar). When you’ve reached cycle 3 of The Virgin Diet, you can enjoy these and other treats from So Delicious. Learn more about what natural sweeteners I recommend here.

You can even occasionally incorporate their unsweetened coconut or almond milk yogurts, which are slightly higher in sugar, into The Virgin Diet once you’ve reached cycle 3.

Whether you do dark chocolate or So Delicious unsweetened coconut yogurt, remember portion is key when you indulge. If you take a few bites of dark chocolate and lose control, break off 1 serving and step away from the chocolate!



© 2012 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food allergies.  She is the bestselling author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, a Huffington Post blogger, creator of the 4X4 Burst Training Workout & co-star of TLC’s Freaky Eaters. Her latest book, New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days, is out now. Learn more at www.thevirgindiet.com.


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  1. Jane Faris says:

    I have often read that fruit should not be combined with any other food because it wreaks havoc in your digestive tract. What does JJ have to say about that?

  2. While I agree with almost everything said, I prefer protein powder without sugar. I like the brand I buy which is sweetened with Stevia. I lost my weight starting in 2003 with a low carb diet and have maintained. I REALLY watch sugar. I eat nothing with actual sugar but of course DO consume my green veggies and thus, as JJ says do get some sugar. I realize there is sugar in the whey protein powder, too, but I get much less with my brand (and the added stevia). I am STILL hoping JJ will come out with a stevia sweetened PP because I know a LOT of people who will not go to 5 gm of sugar in anything! (I have tons of LC friends online and they will NOT do sugar… Just saying…) I also prefer an organic, NO rBST or growth hormone PP so right now I am using Natural Factors french Vanilla Ice Cream. I love it but I would switch to a non-whey base if I could find one that fit my requirements. I keep hoping JJ will come up with one soon…??

  3. Teresa Knispel says:

    Today was four weeks for me. I didn’t have any withdrawl systems. But I was doing a controled carb diet before, so many things were already not on my diet. But I was stuck before I went to this plan. I have not gone to step 2 yet. I have lost 11 pounds so far and have 35 more to go, so I am waiting a bit. Very glad of the clarification on the sugar. It really does seem to be in almost everything, even in small quantities. So I will look at the labels without the absolute. Good luck everyone. It really is a great plan.

  4. Good Morning JJ:

    I thought Stevia was OK. I found some in the organic/naturals section of the market. All the brands had other ingredients: malitol, erythritol…What’s a girl to do?

    • @Mary, I use the SweetLeaf brand of stevia and the only ingredients are Inulin soluble fiber and organic stevia extract.

    • Crystal Vance says:

      I am considering going on this diet. I did some “better” shopping today. I see that coconut milk is a recommended product. What about coconut sugar? I saw it on the shelf today.

      • JJ Virgin JJ Virgin says:

        Coconut sugar is still sugar.

        • Having a hard time finding “sugar free honey” heath foods stores were confused . I have some recipes that call for a small amt . Rebecca Lorraine’s book My Virgin Diet Book

          • JJ Virgin JJ Virgin says:

            Thudy, I know there is an imitation honey. However it has it’s own problem ingredients and check out serving size. If you need to use honey your are allowed 1/2 tsp per serving. I would use your math skills and pay attention to serving size. You will need to increase volume maybe with applesauce, small amount of honey and stevia or monkfruit to taste.

  5. i have your book and am nearing the end of the 3 weeks without the seven foods. The website with the re-entry symptoms checklist referenced in the book doesn’t work anymore. How can i find it? I appreciate any help you can give.

  6. Can I ask why the sugar is even added at all? My friend makes theri own without any sugar. Should he be adding some cane sugar?

  7. I purchased the chai flavor, but it doesn’t taste very good to me at all. Any suggestions to make it better?

  8. Bashar Nabi says:

    I am confused about what should be completely off limits for the “First 3 Weeks”. I am still reading the book, but I am anxious to begin and want to be clear on some foods like soy sauce, sugar, and corn.

    Am I supposed to eliminate all refined source of sugar (even in HEMP protein powder), or does the 5g per serving rule apply?

    I enjoy eating Sushi once or twice a week. Am I supposed to avoid any “Soy Sauce” (even if it is Organic Soy sauce)? I believe Sushi rice may be seasoned with some sugar. So, do I need to avoid sushi rice and stick to Sashimi for the first 3 weeks?

    Is organically grown corn acceptable? I am not clear if the issue is with GMO corn or any source of corn.

  9. jamie renninger says:

    I have been on the virgin plan for 60 days and have lost 15 lbs. i am not adding the 7 foods back into my diet as non feel good to me and i still have 25 lbs to loose.

  10. edwina.eht@gmail.com says:

    On day two of diet, feeling extremely bloated, what’s causing this?

    • Lyonella says:

      Maybe the pea protein? I felt bloated at first also but now am better. Increasing my water intake between meals helped. HTH!

  11. you repeatedly recommend “protien powder” added to shakes. What protien powder? Whey? which, out of what subtance?

  12. Lyonella says:

    SoDelicious Coconut Ice Cream lists “agave” as one of its sweeteners on its website, and not lo han. Have they changed this? Are there any other brands that use lo han?

    • JJ Virgin JJ Virgin says:

      You want to get the no-sugar-added variety, NOT the regular version which is agave sweetened.

  13. The Virgin Diet book says not to eat cane sugar. Yet, it is in the Virgin Diet shake. Can you clarify this? Why is this OK?

  14. I went on the diet because I have arthritis in my left knee, I was shocked , I am on day 22 and my knee is so much better, I am having only a slight soreness once in a while.

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