Sugar is POISON!!! Or is it?
Sugar is POISON!!!!!!
At one point in my life, I was completely sugar-free. No added sugar, no honey, nor maple syrup. I didn't even eat carrots or sweet potatoes because I was so concerned about the (naturally occurring) sugars they contained.
I also counted out rations of almonds, weighed my food, spent hours a day obsesses about what I was "allowed to eat" and what I wasn't...
It took a move across the country and removing myself from the environment that created this problem, but I freed myself from those disordered eating habits.
As a necessary part of that healing journey, I let the pendulum swing to the other extreme. I let myself eat anything and everything I wanted.
Donuts, pastries, chips, pizza, bagels, brownies, sugary coffee drinks, ice cream were eaten every day in place of meals and before, during and after meals.
Binging is natural response to deprivation as anyone who has ever been on a diet can tell you and multiple experiments have demonstrated.
I felt no guilt however and knew that re-feeding was an important part of my coming to find the healthy, middle ground.
Thank god I am past that and have found a balance, because as a doctor it is also disingenuous to say sugar does not have an impact on our health.
Sugar, aka glucose, is the primary fuel for the cells of our brain, muscles, and other tissues and organs in our body. We have sophisticated physiologic controls to keep blood levels of glucose in the optimal range. Our bodies even have a back-up system to create glucose (gluconeogenesis) if the body is starved from this source of fuel.
In other words, we need sugar.
However, like anything else, there is a sweet spot (haha) of how much we actually need. Too little can put stress on the body AND too much can also be damaging.
The leading causes of disease and death in our country as primarily related to diet and lifestyle. Increased sugar intake has been linked to development of cancers, metabolic diseases, diabetes, inflammation and more.
I am not here to convince you to go "zero-sugar" OR that it's ok to eat processed, added sugar every day, all day.
I hope that this article will help you 1) learn the hidden places sugar is hiding in everyday foods and 2) open your eyes to your actual intake and adjust if needed.
The problem isn't sugar. It's EXCESS SUGAR. Sugar is in practically everything!
Over 68% of barcoded food products sold in the US contain added sweeteners—even if they are labeled as “natural” or “healthy.”
There are obvious sources of sugar like candy, donuts, brownies, cakes, cookies, fudge, ice cream, milkshakes, pies, sweet coffee drinks, cupcakes, sodas, etc but did you know it's also added to breads, condiments like ketchups, mayonnaise, pasta sauces, breakfast cereals and granolas, yogurts, sports drinks, and even "healthy" drinks like packaged teas and superfood drinks, protein bars and granola bars, frozen waffles, pancakes, sauces like teriyaki, and even dried fruits have added sugars.
Two hundred years ago, Americans only ate about 2 lbs of sugar a year. Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year. This is equal to 3 pounds (or 6 cups) of sugar consumed in one week! Nutritionists suggest that Americans should get only 10% of their calories from sugar. This equals 13.3 teaspoons of sugar per day (based on 2,000 calories per day). The current average is 42.5 teaspoons of sugar per day!
Sugar does naturally occur in fruit and vegetables and those should never be restricted. It has been shown that consuming sugar as part of a whole food (for example, dates had no effect on blood sugar or weight and a BENEFICIAL on triglycerides and anti-oxidant stress levels despite being almost 80% sugar) has a different impact on our body than when we eat added processed sugar stirred into a tea for example.
This just confirms for me that humans were meant to eat whole, real foods in their natural, whole forms. And as someone who was diagnosed at a young age with a metabolic disorder, I do my best to stick to real food because I feel better.
Of course, if a beautiful friend makes me a beautiful cake for my birthday, I eat a piece. But just one piece. I don't keep the cake around for a week and eat it every day.
I don't think extremism either way is beneficial.
The first things to do is become aware of how much added sugar you are actually consuming.
Read labels. Not just the nutrition facts but also the actual list of ingredients. Sugar can be hidden under may different names.
Monitor yourself over the course of a week and observe (without judgement) how often you are eating foods and drinks with added sugar. It might be eye-opening to ask your barista at Starbucks how much sugar is in your Caramel Macchiato (32 grams, over 4 teaspoons or 4 packets of sugar).
The second thing is to become the scientist and impartial observer of how you feel. Leave all judgement out. See how you feel when you start your day with a pastry vs an egg. Which keeps you full longer? Do you get a crash later only to need an afternoon sugary energy drink? Which meal gives you cravings?
The three main areas to pay attention to are Hunger, Energy and Cravings. Your body gives you these feedback and feelings to help you understand what's happening on the inside. Frequently, eating excess sugar makes you crave more sugar because of the effect it's having on your blood sugar levels. If you feel hungry and have cravings 1-2 hours after you ate, you don't need a blood sugar monitor to know that you having a hypoglycemic moment (aka blood sugar crash).
The third step is start to make small changes. Ask yourself, where can I reduce sugar and probably not even notice or care? Experiment and use your Hunger, Energy and Cravings to give you feedback. You might find that you enjoy drinking your coffee with cream only. You might feel better when you skip your morning pastry and have plain (unsweetened) yogurt with fresh fruit instead. Maybe eliminating sugary breakfast cereals and fasting til 10am may actually give you more energy through the day. Swapping sourdough bread vs. the loaf you usually get (with added sugar) might even taste better to you. Observe what happens when you start to make these small changes.
One swap I have made is to use dates for sweetness in my morning cacao drink.
1 date, medjool or hallawi
1 tsp-1 tbsp organic cacao
1/2 tsp powdered turmeric
1/4 tsp powdered cinnamon
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp hemp seeds
1/4 tsp ghee
2-3 tsp adaptogen mix, optional*
1 cup cool water
1 cup just boiled water
Put one cup cool water and the rest of the ingredients in a high speed blender (Blendtec, VitaMix or Ninja). Blend until smooth and creamy. Pour into mug with 1 cup hot water, mix and enjoy.
This cacao blend is very personalized based on my unique constitution (dry, cold, airy). The adaptogen blend helps my body handle stress, increase energy and mood.
If you are interested in a personalized recipe including the right type of adaptogens for you, or if you need support in evaluating your sugar intake to improve your health, please let me know.
Sugar is NOT poison and yet it needs to be consumed in harmony for our best mental, emotional and physical health. I hope this article has helped you.