When you read the word ‘sugar‘ here, does it invoke something in you? For me it’s duality. I think fondly of its’ sweet taste and immediate joy when it enters my mouth, but then my mind bolts in and screams “don’t do it, don’t give in” because it’s well-informed from experience that the sweet joy is quick, and confined only to the brief moments it spends in my mouth. Physical and emotional desire versus rational and experiential thought.
It never actually feels good in the end.
The post-consumption headaches and mental diarrhea I bat back and forth in my head around fulfilling a craving or not. The indigestion, parched skin and self-judgement over my inability to say no despite my understanding of its’ negative effects. The cost and pursuit of inhaling it, and its’ immense power to plow down my good mood, obliterating me into a non-verbal, irritated, angry slush of nothingness curled up in a mid-day ball on my bed, should by all intelligent means remind me to not consume it. I do though, again and again, perpetuating the vicious cycle of physical degradation and mental harrassment.
So what’s the deal? Why does sugar have so much control over us, and more importantly, can we be free of its’ allure?
Sugar is not evil, not in its’ natural form, and not if we don’t overeat it. But we don’t need it in the way it’s generally presented to us, as white, refined sugar processed from beets and cane, and as high fructose corn syrup processed from maize starch. Sugar in its’ refined state added to otherwise healthy foods to become a packaged item, or sugar used as the main ingredient to create an edible form of something or other like candy or pop, that doesn’t resemble anything whole from nature, is the kind of sugar we are going to tackle and kick to the curb. It’s the main form that creates our addictions, robs our body of longevity, sucks us dry, disables our healthy gut flora, sends our mind into fits, depletes our body of essential vitamins and minerals, contributes to a variety of diseases, knocks us to the ground in lethargy, rots our teeth and packs on the pounds. This does not however include sugar naturally found in fresh fruits, vegetables and milk, and it does not include proper proportions found in maple syrup or honey.
So how much of the good stuff do we need and how do we identify the bad stuff so we can cut it out and feel great?
Let’s first start with the good stuff. We want sugar and we want to know we can still eat it, don’t we? Yes, we can, but I want to be frank, it’s best to get it solely from whole foods. Good old fruit basically, and in moderation. If you are in the statistic of “normal”, like me, and crave sugar, then you probably crave the processed white stuff and the idea of fruit or a bit of honey as your only source of sugar makes you want to stop reading and either reach for the Oreos or gnaw your arm off. The idea of cutting out our beloved Frapuccinos, homemade cookies, birthday cakes, gummy bears, beer, cereal (yes cereal), and pop seems masochistic, boring, harsh, restrictive, depressing and down right lame. I experience an emotional reaction to the idea, a lacking mentality, sense of loss, even of love. What will I miss out on? How will I cope?
You wouldn’t miss out, you’d be further ahead in your health actually.
The idea is more daunting than the change. Over the past ten years or so I have gone through multiple sugar-free periods and each time I’ve done it I’ve kicked myself in the butt for not remembering how good it feels, and for being in that position yet again where I actually have to work on the addiction because I’ve let it slip in to the point of excessive intake, and therefore I feel the ill effects. You will either be the cold turkey kind of person where you quit, feel amazing and never go back. You may be the person who gets free, feels great, has control over it when you allow it for occasions, or you will find that your emotions and body are quite attached and after a short period of removal, despite the positive health effects, you will find yourself back in its’ grasp. It’s understandable, you are not alone, and at least you will have learned something about yourself in the process and gained new habits and knowledge. It will come. Eventually, the sugar-haze times will be less than the sugar-free times. Just remain mindful and be good to yourself. Sugar addiction is hard because the stuff is everywhere, and it’s cheap. The packaging and marketing of sugary products costs far more than the actual ingredients and additives. Companies that profit from sugar products are invested in your addiction and they are immensely powerful, not only in the presence of their products being absolutely everywhere, but in lobbying as well. You go in to pay for your gas and are inundated with rows of candy bars. Enter a cafe for a coffee and you have to stand in line staring at pastries, and the big cereal companies pay big money for eye level grocery store shelves. You won’t see a fruit bowl at a movie theatre. This is purposeful. And plain and simple, when you eat sugar, you crave more. No wonder it’s hard!
How To Remove Sugar From Your Diet and Your Life
Okay, so we know we are addicted, we know we don’t want to be, but how do we remove ourselves from it’s sticky clutch?
- Acknowledge if sugar is being used to fill an emotional gap. Do you automatically reach for it when you are down, stressed, grieving, even punishing yourself? Can you find an alternative? To better understand it’s hold on you, check out the resources at the bottom of this post. Being aware of it’s presence is a good start to gaining control.
- Remove it from your home, car, office, garage, wherever. It is usually in a packaged or baked form that provides convenience. You will need to replace it with healthier options, which bring us to number 3.
- Prepare or invest in healthy alternatives to keep handy for snacking, with proteins and healthy fats as your base:
- nuts and some olives
- raw veggies and healthy fat-based dip
- homemade granola bars
- coconut oil based energy balls
- olives and a few slices of good quality cheese
- sardines on gluten-free crackers
- Read labels to inform yourself. The FDA has new requirements on sugar labeling that will take effect by 2018. This will include the labeling of added sugars, as well as the percent of your daily value. It is a promising change and will offer more empowerment over choices. Keep an eye out for it. If you see these items in the ingredient list, you are consuming sugar:
- dextrose, dextran, diastase or sucrose
- fructose, crystalline fructose, fruit juice concentrate
- high fructose corn syrup, HFCS or corn syrup
- evaporated cane juice or dried cane juice
- malt, maltose, barley malt, diastatic malt or maltodextrin
- invert sugar, treacle, ethyl maltol
- turbinado sugar, refiners syrup, golden syrup
- beet sugar, cane sugar or brown sugar
- sorbitol, mannitol
- honey, molasses, brown rice syrup, agave, date sugar, maple syrup
- Prepare meals at home as much as possible to avoid hidden, added and manufactured sugar.
- Don’t grocery shop if you are hungry!
- Incorporate sour, spicy and pungent flavours in your snacks and meals.
- Complex carbs become sweeter the longer you chew them so chew thoroughly at meals so that you experience the sweet flavour of whole foods.
- Stay hydrated by consuming water throughout the day. Drink more if you exercise or consume caffeinated products.
- Don’t drink your coffee black. Keep your blood sugar balanced by adding fat to your coffee for stabilization. Add coconut oil or MCT oil, grass-fed butter, full fat milk or a milk alternative. And try not to add sugar. If you require it, use the single serving envelopes of the raw sugar, not the white.
- If you know you are going to be tempted by sugar at an event or celebration, be sure you don’t go hungry. Have some healthy fat and/or protein before entering that environment.
- If you like to bake, invest some time looking up new blogs and cookbooks that use alternatives to white processed sugar.
- Have fruit for dessert instead and water instead of pop or juice at meals.
- See a Naturopath or MD for tests to assess your vitamin and mineral absorption, as well as your hormone function. Sometimes we can’t fight the cravings because we are dealing with a hormonal or vitamin and mineral imbalance.
- The World Health Organization recommends your sugar intake be no higher than 50 grams, ideally under 25 grams. A teaspoon of sugar is about 4 grams, so to keep sugar at the lower end of the WHO recommendation, picture a total of 6 teaspoons of sugar a day. This visual can help when reading labels.
- Don’t let yourself get hungry as your body will crave sugar first of energy, it’s a natural reaction. Look ahead and try to anticipate periods in your day where you may not have time to prep or be in an environment with healthy food options. Help yourself succeed by being prepared with healthy snacks.
- Don’t eat processed food if sugar is in the first three ingredients on the label, or in multiple places and in different forms.
- Watch your intake of processed foods that don’t initially appear sweet:
- cured meats
- yogurt drinks
- canned foods
- bottled drinks, including fruit and energy drinks
- mixed nut butters
- frozen meals
- packaged snacks and granola bars
- ice cream and frozen treats
- packaged cookies and pastries
- bakery items like donuts, brownies and bars
- wine coolers, liqueurs, cocktails, ciders
If you are seeking improvement and balance, but not a complete eradication of sugar in your diet, consider the tips below.
- Bake with maple syrup, honey, molasses or brown rice syrup. Avoid agave and corn syrup like the plague! They are highly processed.
- Keep alcohol as clean as possible. A glass of scotch instead of rum and coke. Vodka and soda with lime instead of vodka and 7up or vodka and tonic. Keep your wine dry. When eating out, consider making alcohol your dessert and not the first drink you order. Start with water. Chances are you will finish one drink before food arrives and be tempted to order another when asked. This can be hard socially, but you and everyone else around you will get used to it and you will feel better in the long run.
- If you must drink juice, choose the brands with no added sugar, and no fruit juice concentrate, just pure juice, and consider diluting it with water. Look to your whole foods for vitamin consumption and requirements, not juice.
- Consume clean, dark muscovado sugar or raw plantation sugar in your coffee and tea.
- Instead of eating packaged cookies from the major cereal brands, bake them instead or invest in the brands that have only one form of sugar in the ingredient list.
- When purchasing cereal try to keep the sugar content below 3 grams. That is just less than a teaspoon so visualize pouring a teaspoon of sugar over your cereal. It’s ideal to have less than that, but 3 grams is not the end of the world. If you or your kids must have cereal with more sugar in it, watch for a short ingredient list, higher protein and fibre content and added vitamins and minerals to balance it out. For instance, Mini Wheats contain 11 grams of sugar, way too much, but they have 6 grams of fibre and 5 grams of protein, a short ingredient list, and a half decent amount of vitamins and minerals. Cheerios have only one gram of sugar, with 3 grams of fibre and 3 grams of protein, which is a much better ratio. And just don’t eat the brands with high fructose corn syrup. Better yet, consider starting the day with fat and protein to provide more sustained energy.
- If you want candy, seek the “natural” flavour options. The bulk section at Whole Foods has options sweetened with juice. It is still processed sugar nonetheless, but it’s not as harmful.
- If you want ice-cream, choose a plain flavour. The more treats added, and the longer the name, the more sugar there is in it.
- Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate when purchasing real chocolate (not candy bars). There is far less sugar in a bar with a 70% cocoa content than there is in a milk chocolate bar with say 47% cocoa.
- If you want a pastry at the cafe, consider a ham and cheese croissant instead of a chocolate or almond one. I know, it’s more fat, but it is far more satiating, doesn’t invoke a quick spike in blood sugar, is usually still relatively sweet, will fulfill the desire to consume something, anything (!) and it will provide fat and protein. Or choose a small item.
- When you go to the movies, pack water in your bag. If you usually get pop and candy, get a small popcorn instead and drink your water. If you really must have candy, stop at a store beforehand and get a smaller portion than the large ones movie theatres provide.
- If you must have pop, consider an artisan pop that doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. I think pop is one of the worst foods anyone can consume and if you had to drop one form of sugar consumption from this list above, hands down I would say drop the pop first. Diet pop contains artificial sweeteners that are generally deemed okay for Diabetics, but there is no ounce of nutritional content whatsoever and is simply a glass full of chemicals.
- Share your dessert at the restaurant.
Sugar consumption has increased dramatically all over the world, you are not alone in your consumption, we are an addicted civilization. So go easy on yourself. When people question your choices to cut out sugar, whether out of positive curiosity or an unfortunate show of lack of support, remain grounded in your choices and your reasons for making changes. Your health changes will be inspiring, most importantly to you, but certainly to those around you as well. And if you need a reminder as to why you are cutting out sugar, consider all the disadvantages to your health listed below.
The Negative Effects Of Excess Sugar On Your Health
- leads to weight gain and obesity
- leads to high blood pressure
- interferes with the body’s use of protein
- negatively affects harmonious interplay of hormonal activity
- depletes vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins
- tooth decay
- acidifies the blood
- retards calcium metabolism
- creates damp internal environment resulting in Candida and yeast infections
- contributes to major known metabolic diseases
- leads to diabetes
- disrupts healthy gut bacteria and contributes to indigestion
Those are some really good reasons to avoid added sugar and to remove it from your life. If you find it is too hard, consider seeking support. Hire a Naturopath or Nutritionist. Enlist your friends and family to do a sugar detox with you.
Further Resources and Support For Sugar Addiction
Check out this great book I Quit Sugar or go over Sarah’s corresponding blog I Quit Sugar. Diane Sanfilippo has another really great sugar detox book called The 21-Day Sugar Detox: Bust Sugar and Carb Cravings Naturally. Pick up the book The End of Overeating by David Kessler as it offers some really great insight into the food industry and helps you see the immense power it can have over you. Watch the documentary Sugar Coated, and check for it on Netflix. Read Dr. Robert Lustig’s book Fat Chance: Beating The Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease. I also recommend the pioneer book Pure, White and Deadly by John Yudkin or Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss.
Above all, know that you are not alone, not only in your consumption or addiction, but in your pursuit for better health and empowered choices. There are people out there wanting the same thing as you, to reduce sugar intake so they can live longer and enjoy it all along the way. If people in your immediate circle don’t support you, others will. Reach out, keep at it! Sugar may be prevalent in our life and society but this is your life, you ultimately make all the choices, and choosing health is the best choice ever!