I have been reading some other posts describing the rationale for giving up sugar, for many reasons – one of which is the fact it has pathways to hijacking the dopamine receptors in the brain. There are some compelling reasons to quit the habit. Like other types of addiction, sugar can become an insidious health problem.
Our brains and energy conversion relies on sugar. However all carbohydrates are broken down into simpler sugars for our bodies to burn as fuel. In addition, glucose feeds the brain. The liver stores glycogen to tide us over times when we have nothing to eat. But these bodily needs are a far cry from the sugar that is in a high percentage of foods. Although some people consider fruit to be taboo on a sugar free diet, I consider fruit to be as healthy as vegetables, especially when eaten as a whole food.
How successful can we be when it comes to eliminating added sugar? I will readily admit, it’s not easy and takes awhile to figure it out. Consequently I did not immediately eliminate all added sugar, because a few times I realized after the fact that I ate something that did have added sugar. Like who would think soup, gravy or certain types of cheese might have added sugar?
Overall, I managed to drop it to a few teaspoons a month, and then to almost nothing. I no longer have any added sugar on a day to day basis. During the occasional times I eat out, I don’t order anything I think might have sugar, but don’t worry too much about it.
Then there is the juice factor, which for awhile I thought belonged in the healthy eating category, but have since changed my mind. The assumption came about as a result of the promotion of juicers and combining things like kale and spinach to make green juice. It was further reinforced by the trendy juice bars and juice trucks parked in locations around the city. Green juice did not look that appetizing to me, but it gave the impression it was a way to concentrate and fast track the nutrients from fruits and vegetables into our systems.
Last year, after doing a twenty-one day water only fast, I thought juice was the best way to break the fast for some reason. But I simply could not tolerate it after the fast. Although I like carrots and most fruits and vegetables, the thought of drinking a sixteen ounce bottle of carrot juice is inconceivable. I know this because it made me sick after the fast and I could not retain it for five minutes. To break the fast, I switched to diluting small amounts of home made soup with water, which worked fine until I started sorting out what I could and could not eat.
After literally starving for three weeks, I wondered why I could not tolerate carrot juice. After doing some reading, I realized there are approximately twenty-one carrots in a sixteen ounce bottle of carrot juice. When concentrated like that, the juice is unnaturally high in natural sugar. The same size bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice has between six and ten oranges in it. We would not normally eat that many oranges or carrots in one sitting, or even over the course of several days. Plus, when we eat the fruit or vegetable we are getting all the fibre and other nutrients, along with a sense of fullness after we have had enough.
What I learned is to avoid juice with the exception of fresh squeezed lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange juice with sparkling water added. Mostly I squeeze a half a grapefruit at a time, and then fill the glass with water. I also eat the pulp of the remaining fruit to get the fibre. Juice can be a real culprit when trying to adjust or eliminate the amount of sugar in ones diet. One of the first things to evaluate when it comes to sugar, is the beverages consumed, especially if it is on a regular basis.
The next thing is to read labels and look for the hidden sugars in everything that comes in a package, can or bottle. Four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. If the food label says there is one gram of sugar, it sounds innocuous, but if that one gram is in every tablespoon of salad dressing, you could easily be adding a full teaspoon or more to a salad. One gram of sugar per serving is the lowest dose sugar in most packaged food. In comparison, a bottle or can of pop has between ten and fourteen teaspoons of added sugar. If you are not committed to giving up all added sugar, consider the old adage and “pick your poison”. There are plenty of reasons to cut down and reject sugar laden products, even without deciding on hard core abstinence.
The arguments against sugar abstinence are weak. They complain that adding sugar to the list of addictive substances like drugs and alcohol, is unfair because we can abstain from drugs and alcohol, but we cannot give up food. The other counter argument is that calling it an addiction turns it into a pathology, and could lead to cycles of binging. Some of the more illogical debates claim eliminating sugar is eliminating a food group! Defeating the sugar blues leads to improved nutrition, so calling it a food group is a major stretch.
Although I did eat some added sugar from time to time by mistake, as well as a piece of chocolate at Christmas time – on a day to day basis, I have kicked the habit, to include adding stevia to tea. I know stevia is not sugar, but I think it reinforces the inclination to rely on a sweetener. Going sugar free has been trial and error – because I will readily admit to being a bona fide addict. One good thing to note is that the piece of chocolate at Christmas did not lead to a relapse or binging.
By the time I finally made up my mind to quit, I could no longer deny the cravings and roller coaster aspects of seeking out sugar fixes every day. This included a yo-yo factor in weight gain and loss over the years, which in itself is unhealthy. For myself I choose the abstinence route because I know there is no middle ground. On the other hand, once it is under control for a period of time, all of the neurochemistry and energy fluctuations associated with it have settled down. The cycle is no longer ingrained.
The easiest way to give up sugar is to buy whole foods and prepare it yourself. It is one way to be sure you are not getting the “bliss factor” of added sugar in the soup from your local deli. Beware of cheese with fruit in it, because it often has added sugar as well. Some of it actually tastes more like cheesecake filling than cheese. The same goes for some nuts, peanuts and most dried fruit. The preservatives or flavouring often have extra sugar added (to keep you coming back for more)!
It took awhile, far more than an eight week trial – to become sugar savvy. I don’t get overly paranoid about it, because I know there will always be a few slips. I cannot bring myself to be picky and sugar snobbish when eating out, other than trying to pick the dish that is most likely to be sugar-free. Sugar dependancy involves the entire system, therefore the changes will be systemic and gradual when it is taken away.
It is not like our bodies go without sugar once we make the dietary changes. We simply adjust to the simple and complex carbohydrates with natural sugars in them. They are digested and utilized by the body as fuel. Whole foods contain hundreds of micronutrients, along with the natural sugars and do not contribute to the addictive cycles.
The quest to go sugar free has not been perfect, but is well worth the effort. I do believe it alters brain chemistry and helps keep me on a more positive and even keel. It stops the roller coaster cycle of ups and downs, both physiologically and mentally that accompanies repeated spikes and drops in blood glucose. Sugar is corrosive to every single blood vessel in the body and can damage the kidneys. It will shrink the vascularity of everything from our brains to our lower extremities. We should be sneezing at it!
Fifteen years or so ago, I did diabetic teaching. So much of it involved teaching people about the glycemic index in food, and testing blood glucose levels every four hours. In addition, we had boxes full of sugar substitutes to give to people. I would look at a box of Splenda and feel guilty offering it as a solution. I had a gut feeling it was not helping people at all. The same went for poking oneself every four hours, just to be guilt-tripped and mortified at the high sugar results.
I wanted to tell people, “If you don’t change your diet, don’t torture yourself. Either change what you are eating, or increase your activity, and then check your blood sugar.” I likened it to telling an alcoholic to test their blood alcohol levels every four hours while still drinking. What is the point? You already know you will have high readings, and it is probably depressing to reinforce it.
One of the interesting correlations is the one between diabetics and depression. If you talk to anyone who has done diabetic teaching for a period of time, they will tell you that counselling for depression is central to the role. Blood sugar instability does wreak havoc within our systems. Similar to alcohol, some people can tolerate it without getting addicted, sick or depressed – but others cannot.
Some of us cannot take sugar or alcohol in moderation very well. Our bodies and brains do not have a shut off switch. Somewhat like the genetically disposed mice in group A or B. Group A will go through a maze and discover food, water and alcohol in their travels. They might taste the alcohol a couple of times, but they will gravitate to the food or water. But the genetically predisposed mice in Group B will soon gravitate to the alcohol. After more trips through the maze, they will avoid the food and water altogether and go for the alcohol.
Surely mice cannot be character disordered little critters who just want to party. Even though we cannot really compare ourselves to mice, the experiment does tell us that we have markedly different genetic factors that make us susceptible to addictive substances.
How much of it is a cross to bear? Without a doubt, it is. What percentage of the population has addictive genetic traits? It is definitely a fairly high percentage. I also wonder how many have acquired addictive traits as a result of the substances that short circuit the neurotransmitters and neuro receptors in our guts and brains?
In hindsight, I wish I had given up added sugar a long time ago. It is one of the best things I have done for my health. After finally conquering it, I have no intention of going back to the same old habits.
No matter how you decide to go about it, there is a gradual mood and diet-altering change that takes many months to adjust to. You soon realize that even without the added sugar, there is no shortage of sweetness in this world!
Copyright Valerie J. Hayes and Quiet West Vintage (2019). Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie J. Hayes and Quiet West Vintage with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.