As someone who has an ongoing battle with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and candida (an overgrowth of the candida fungus in the digestive system), I have a strong opinion about sugar. I have seen so many health benefits from eliminating sugar as much as possible from my diet, and while I understand that it affects some more than others, cutting back on sugar can only have a beneficial effect on health. My husband often teases me as I scour food labels, but the fact of the matter is, when I eat well I feel great and when I don’t I feel absolutely terrible. Most of the time when I’m feeling terrible it is because I’ve allowed too much refined sugar to creep back into my diet.
Refined sugar is empty calories, any nutritional benefit found in the raw sugar cane and sugar beet are removed in the refining process. High sugar foods pack a lot of calories into a small place. You need to eat a lot of high sugar foods to feel full which can quickly lead to an over consumption of calories and obesity. This is especially true of high sugar drinks. The site Sugar Stacks gives a visual representation of the amount of sugar in a variety of foods by stacking the equivalent number of sugar cubes next to the product. According to Sugar Stacks a can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar which is the equivalent of 10 sugar cubes and 140 calories. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories from added sugar (about 6 teaspoons) a day for most women and 150 calories from added sugar (about 9 teaspoons) a day for most men. This means that if a woman drinks one Coke a day she is already exceeding her recommended sugar intake by 40 percent and one Coke is 93 percent of a man’s recommended sugar intake.
Because refined sugar is metabolized so quickly, it gives an almost immediate burst of energy as blood sugar levels increase, often called a sugar high, however, as with any high, it is followed by a low. If you are very sensitive to sugar, as I am, those lows are more like crashes and are often accompanied by headaches, irritability, and exhaustion. On the occasions that I do choose to eat sugar, I try to eat it after a meal that includes whole grains and protein. These are metabolized more slowly and help to minimize the highs and lows from the sugar.
While I try to avoid sugar as much as I possibly can, it always finds a way of creeping back into my diet. I typically eat a very healthy diet when I am in my home and in control of the menu, but when we travel or celebrate a holiday I’m not very good at maintaining that healthy diet. I love food, I love to try new foods, and when something that looks delicious is in front of me I have very little will power. Because I eat well most of the time, I don’t beat myself up too much about my cheats, but the problem is that once sugar creeps back into my diet I start getting intense cravings for it and then I find myself feeding those cravings. When this goes on for too long my hypoglycemia and candida symptoms come back. That motivates me to take control again, which for me means completely eliminating all sugar and refined carbohydrates until I am feeling better and the cravings are gone.
When I eat healthy I feel great and I crave healthy foods, but when I eat junk I crave more junk even though I’m feeling lousy. It amazes me that while there is so much information available regarding the ills of too much refined sugar consumption, it seems to be found in almost everything. The Nutrition Diva’s, “Why is Sugar Bad?” post explains, among other things, how sugar suppresses the immune system, promotes inflammation, and can speed up the aging process. The bottom line is refined sugar in large amounts can cause or contribute to a wide range of health issues and there is no nutritional benefit to eating refined sugar, even in small amounts. If you want to cut back on your sugar intake you need to start reading labels, but it isn’t as easy as looking for sugar on labels: corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, caramel, fruit juice concentrates, honey, and molasses are all concentrated sugars. For a more complete list of sugar by other names to look for when reading labels see this list on fitsugar.
As I mention in my post, “Healthy Eating Plan: Bringing Real Food Back,” the closer to nature you eat, the healthier your diet will be. The same applies to sugar. To this end, eating a piece of fruit is better than drinking fruit juice (even if it’s 100% fruit juice). Using 100% fruit juice, honey, molasses, or pure maple syrup is better than using refined table sugar. These are still concentrated sugars and should be avoided when trying to cut sugar from your diet but at least they offer some nutritional benefit in addition to the sugar.
If you do not have a health issue that is exasperated by sugar intake, the consumption of whole fresh fruit and dairy products that include the natural sugars fructose and lactose do not need to be limited. When I go on my sugar cleanse I do eliminate these items temporarily because it helps to get rid of the sugar cravings faster, once I am feeling better and the cravings are gone I reintroduce some of them. In my everyday eating plan I try to limit my sugar consumption to whole fruits, dairy, and a little bit of honey when baking bread. I go a bit further and also avoid fruits that have very high sugar contents, berries tend to be lower in sugar than most fruits. Fitsugar has a list of sugar content in common fruits.
I felt lousy for years before I discovered what was triggering my health issues. I had very low energy, a fuzzy head, and I got regular headaches and often migraines. If you have these symptoms and your doctor hasn’t been able to find a medical reason for them, try eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates for a month and see if there is an improvement. The shift in the way I feel is the motivation I need to stick with my healthy eating plan, but it sometimes gets worse before it gets better. If you are currently eating a high sugar diet you may go through a sugar withdrawal for a week or two and feel worse before you feel better. If you stick with it you should see a definite improvement by the end of a month and your cravings for high sugar foods should decrease.
As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t have the best will power in the world and I haven’t been able to completely eliminate sugar from my diet for an extended period of time. It has been creeping back in over the last month and my daughter’s third birthday party is this weekend so I sense that there will be some overindulging in the near future and another sugar cleanse will be needed shortly after that.
I’ve stumbled across a great blog that is completely dedicated to the ills of sugar consumption, if you are interested in reading more My Years Without Sugar is worth a visit.