Why to quit sugar?
Updated: Mar 6, 2022
It was the beginning of 2017, when I quit consuming foods containing sugar. The decision to quit came couple of weeks after I quit consuming gluten-containing products. Today is 2022 and I have not regretted my decision once as I have experienced great benefits from it. Sugar is quite often a topic we discuss amongst friends and this is the reason why I decided to write about it in my blog as well. It is a big topic, so I am trying to make it as condensed as possible.
Why I decided to quit sugar?
As written in my past post I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in autumn 2016, which unfortunately affected my body quite bad for a few months. Having done a lot of reading on how can I support my body to fight better against the Lyme bacteria, strengthen my immune system, then the recommendations from many health experts was and is- in order to fight any illness or bad bacteria, you need to reduce the inflammation level within the body. The food groups that tend to create most inflammation in the body, depending on the person, are gluten, added sugar, lactose and trans fats. I had a brain surgery in 2019 as a result of a head injury and I am of a great belief that having stayed away from added sugar for couple of years prior to that already and making sure I focused more on consuming healthy fats, it helped me to recover from the surgery quicker and better.
How have I managed to stay away from added sugar?
Firstly, I need to say, I was not born with a 'sweet-tooth'. Not that I did not like or eat sweets when I was a child- yes I did. But I have always preferred savoury foods to sweet foods. So making a decision to quit eating foods with added sugar was not a big challenge for me. But I am the only one in our family following the no gluten, no added sugar and limited lactose diet. I have taught my kids about the effects of refined sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners etc on health, but I am not being very strict with them (it's a fight I can't win and hope they will come to a conclusion themselves that there is no benefit in consuming added sugar). So far we have simply limited the amount of sugar containing foods we buy home and if I bake something for the family I opt for healthier sweeteners like honey.
Once you make a shift and stay away from sweetened food, your palette will change. Foods that did not taste very sweet before, suddenly do (like fruit and berries). And sweet foods, like cake, candies, pastries, milk chocolate, you simply can't eat as they taste too sweet and create a 'sugar-rush'. If you go off added sugar too quickly, you might experience issues like fatigue, headaches, muscle pains, nausea, anxiety, depression- so give yourself time to adapt.
When I quit consuming added sugar I focused more on consuming healthy fats, like avocados, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, eggs etc. I also made sure I consumed enough fibre-rich foods and adequate amounts of good-quality protein. And let's not forget- drink your water!
My daily menu contains many vegetables, some fruits or berries, plus other healthy starches to add to the glycose my body needs for sustainable energy. As we know, glycose is crucial for cell function, especially for your brain, which consumes around 20 percent of your daily energy intake.
Sweeteners- the worst, not too bad and fine to consume, but sparingly
When you want to limit your intake of added sugar or avoid it, you need to be smart when shopping your groceries. The easiest of course is to stick with vegetables, fruits and berries and keep away from packaged foods as much as possible as many of them contain sugar or sweeteners.
Always read the labels on packaged foods! I have taught my kids to follow these basic rules when checking food labels at stores:
if sugar is listed as number one or two in the ingredients list, you know the product is mainly made of sugar
one teaspoon of sugar is 4g. So if they want to buy morning cereal, where on the box it states 60g of sugar per 100g (and it's a 300g package), there is 45 teaspoons of sugar in the package. If they do this calculation, they likely put the box back on the shelf.
if they can't recognise (or pronounce) the name of the ingredient in the list of ingredients, it's not worth putting the product in your shopping basket.
if they want to know if the product contains any added sugar, one way to find out is look for hidden sugars in the ingredients list ending in "ose" (fructose, maltose, dextrose etc)
Foods that commonly contain sneaky sugar include:
Sauces (barbecue, hickory)
Plant milks (coconut, soy, almond)
Cereals and granola bars
Mustard and ketchup
Deli meats (ham)
Cured meats (bacon, prosciutto)
Store bought ceviche
Common forms of sugar
Sugar comes in different forms: granulated sugar, syrups, sugar alcohols, -oses, -ides, natural sugars, artificial sweeteners.
White granulated sugar
High-fructose corn syrup
Nectars (for example, peach or pear nectar)
Corn syrup solids
Confectioner’s powdered sugar
Evaporated cane juice
What are the worst sweeteners you should try and stay away from?
Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame, saccharin. They change the bacterial makeup in your microbiome, which can lead to weight gain, diabetes, metabolic disorders, autoimmune problems
High-fructose corn syrup- which is derived from the stalks of corn and then converted to syrup through a chemical process. It does not need to be digested and therefore goes straight into your blood, raising blood-sugar and contributing to hormonal issues like leptin resistance (leptin is your 'feeling full and satisfied' hormone). This again could cause weight-gain and weight-loss resistance.
White refined sugar
What sweeteners to be very mindful about when consuming?
Agave nectar- though it's considered healthy alternative to sugar, it's very high in fructose. Fructose goes straight to your liver, which is turned there into fat. Too much fructose can cause fatty liver.
Brown-rice syrup- it's made of brown-rice and enzymes. Using a lot of brown-rise increases your exposure to arsenic (which is a poison). Enzymes used in rice-syrup are very often from barley (which contains gluten). So better to consume it very mindfully.
Turbinado or raw cane sugar
What sweeteners to use if you do choose to sweeten your food (use them very sparingly though)?
Monk fruit or luo han guo- fermented from the pulp of monk fruit. Make sure you get pure monk fruit without any added ingredients. Same as with sugar alcohols, it can cause upset stomach, so consume sparingly.
Stevia- as long as you use the raw organic stevia in it's green form, you will get the best health benefits from it. Not everyone like the taste of stevia though.
Sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol)- these don't have an effect on blood-sugar, but they can have a laxative effect, so not everyone can consume them. As your body does not completely digest them, these sugar-alcohols can end up fermenting in your gut and causing gas and bloating
Maple syrup- always look for 100% pure and organic maple syrup and the darker the syrup the better as it contains higher amounts of antioxidants.
Honey- it's 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Honey has great benefits as long as you buy it raw, unpasteurised, unfiltered and where possible, local. It contains antioxidants and bee pollen, which help to boost your immunity.
Molasses- which is made by boiling raw sugar down many times. Blackstrap molasses is the most nutrient-dense form of molasses with least amount of sugar and contains more iron than any other natural sweetener.
Fruit juice- as long as it's freshly pressed and without any added sugar, it's ok to use it and also drink it- but occasionally and in moderation. Fruit juice does contain vitamins and antioxidants, but it's still fructose. When possible, rather eat the whole fruit to get the benefits of fibre present in the fruit.
Dates- dates are very high in fructose, so do consume them sparingly (1-2 dates is more than enough). Dates are good for constipation.
Coconut sugar/coconut nectar- derived from the blossoms of the coconut tree. Though processed, they do contain some nutrients and inulin fibre which slows down the absorption of glucose in your body.
What are the best sweeteners?
Is added sugar bad for your health?
If you are not being mindful about the foods you eat- consume many packaged foods, eat foods like cakes, cookies, candies, ice-cream or drink soft drinks like Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta etc, you definitely increase your risk for various illnesses. A diet high in sugar can promote oxidative stress, which leads to cell damage. Below are just a few health issues, a high-sugar diet can cause:
Leaky gut (sugar changes the gut microbiota in a way that increases intestinal permeability, plus added sugar feeds yeast and bad bacteria)
Certain types of cancer like breast cancer, small intestine cancer, colon cancer
Brain related illnesses
Skin issues and allergies
Ages the body
What are the biggest changes I have seen in my body after quitting consuming added sugar?
I have more sustained energy throughout the day and my mind was sharper.
Though I had never had any bad skin issues, my skin visibly cleared up, became soft to touch.
I understand that giving up sugar can be a real challenge for many. As scientists say, sugar alters brain circuitry in similar ways to cocaine, which is well known to alter the dopamine and opioid systems in the brain.
But a change starts with a choice. Even if you start to be more mindful about how much sugar you consume, or what sweeteners are in your foods and opt for healthier versions of sweeteners, you do a great favour to your body!