No added sugar please!January 13, 2019
I hate New Year resolutions, but it really is time I gave up sugar. Processed, refined sugar, that is – not the natural sugars found in fruit.
This realisation hit me after reading @zen-art’s post about neurobiology and sugar. Thanks for the inspiration Petra!
I’ve read a lot about the danger of sugar to health, but @zen-art’s research just adds to it. For a while – several years ago – I was in denial. Nine years ago, I was running my own juice and smoothie café, and the last thing I wanted to hear was that the delicious fresh fruit juices I thought were so healthy could actually be damaging to the liver.
Freshly-squeezed juice is full of vitamins, but as juicing eliminates the fibre in fruit, it’s a kind of refinement process. It’s not as bad as eating fully processed white sugar, which has no vitamins or minerals, but when sweet fruits are juiced, there is a significant glycemic load.
So when a video featuring the endocrinologist Robert Lustig warning of the dangers of sugar – even in fruit juice – went viral in 2010, I was initially sceptical. I even wondered if it was part of a conspiracy by soft drink manufacturers to make their products seem healthier than fresh fruit juice!
Then I learned about green smoothies, and I also started to introduce vegetable juices to my café, made from greens like spinach, celery and even broccoli. These don’t have such a high glycaemic load, and they deliver a lot of vitamins and minerals. They were surprisingly popular with my customers.
I have since read Robert Lustig’s book, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds against Sugar. I’ve also read the classic Pure, White and Deadly by John Yudkin (the title in the US was Sweet and Dangerous), which was first published in 1972. Yudkin’s book earned him a lot of criticism, not least from Ancel Keys, who was known for his research into cardiovascular disease. Keys’ research suggested that a diet high in animal fats could lead to heart disease, and he described Yudkin’s claim that excessive sugar consumption could be a factor in heart disease as “propaganda”.
I’m not sure why they couldn’t accept that both animal fats and sugar could be harmful when eaten to excess.
There’s a lot of confusion around the fact that the brain needs glucose in order to function. This does NOT mean that eating sweets will improve brain function!
The body makes its own glucose from the food that we eat. If you just eat the sugar, you’ll get a big glucose hit without the important nutrients that unrefined food gives us. Glucose in the body is mainly produced from starchy foods like fruit, bread, pasta and grains.
Temptation is everywhere!
It’s not really surprising that many of us don’t want to admit that sugar is bad for us. We’re addicted to it! And it’s all around us, everywhere we look – in supermarkets, cafés and advertising.
In 2017 I decided to give up sugar for six weeks. I wasn’t intending to give it up for life. I’d just noticed that I seemed to be addicted to the stuff! I couldn’t enjoy lunch or dinner without indulging in a sugary “treat” afterwards. I would regularly go to a café and order a slab of white chocolate meringue tart while smugly sipping a black, unsweetened coffee.
One day I went to the café and there were no more white chocolate meringue tarts. They never came back! The bottom dropped out of my world. I realised that I had a problem, and I decided to wean myself off sugar by going cold turkey for six weeks. I hoped that this would help me retrain my brain to enjoy sugary treats more sparingly.
I allowed myself natural unrefined sugar, in the form of fruit. When you eat fruit, you get the fibre along with the sugar, so the energy is released slowly.
A tough challenge
Giving up sugar turned out to be much more difficult than I’d expected! It seemed fairly easy at first, but after about three weeks I found myself thinking about sugary treats most of the time.
Years ago I gave up smoking, and there were some parallels. The craving was there all the time. I couldn’t put the thought of sugar out of my mind. I felt grumpy and slightly unwell with terrible brain fog.
Eating a lot of bread and butter helped keep reduce the sugar cravings. I found that having a croissant in the afternoon helped – that became my “treat”. Most croissants have added sugar, but there is a local health food shop that does sugar-free croissants.
The most obvious reward was that I lost weight. At the time, I was doing the 5:2 intermittent fasting, and my weight loss had stalled, but during the sugar-avoidance period, the weight started to come off again.
I was so shocked at how difficult it was to avoid sugar for just six weeks, that once the six weeks were over, I decided not to go back to my old habits. Instead, I allowed myself sugar no more than twice a week, and only after a hillwalk or other strenuous exercise, in the form of a sugary treat. I didn’t want the addiction to creep up again.
Now, 18 months later, the addiction does seem to have crept up again! Barely a day goes by when I don’t have some kind of sugary treat. It’s not surprising really – sugar is everywhere, especially at Christmas.
Anyway, now that the festive feasting is over, I’m ready for a change. I’m going to do another six weeks of no added sugar. I will allow myself some leeway, as I don’t want the challenge to fail just because of one or two slip-ups. So if I give in to my cravings, I won’t give up the challenge, but I will confess on Steemit! Hopefully that will keep me on the straight and narrow.
I don’t think this no-added-sugar challenge will be as tough as the one I did 18 months ago, as at that time I had just overcome problems of an underactive thyroid. I had been very fatigued with problems regulating my core temperature for several years, and I think that was the underlying cause of my terrible sugar addiction.
This is more of a maintenance challenge, because I want to keep my enjoyment of sugary treats at a moderate level.
Get enough sleep!
• I’m going to try and be disciplined about getting to bed early, as I often get cravings for sugary things in the evening. It’s a way of the body fighting sleepiness. Processed sugar gives a quick energy boost that can temporarily stave off feelings of fatigue. That’s one reason why exhaustion and overwork can lead to weight gain.
• I’ll allow myself two alcoholic drinks a week. I don’t drink much anyway, but if I’m out with friends it’s nice to enjoy a glass of wine.
The six-week no-added-sugar challenge will end just before my birthday, so I’ll be able to have some cake!
Join me in the no-added-sugar challenge if you like! Share your experiences using the tag #noaddedsugar.
• Feel free to do this in your own time. It could be more or less than six weeks.
• No sugary drinks or soda allowed!
• Check food labels for added sugar in savoury foods.
• Natural sugar, in the form of fruit, is allowed – but not honey or maple syrup. Dates (the glucose-free ones) can be eaten in moderation, as they have a lot of fibre.
• You can eat as much savoury food as you like. This is not a diet – though you may find that you lose a bit of weight.