The average American now consumes 175 pounds of sugar per year! That’s 46 teaspoons a day! If we pretend that sugar actually had some benefits, eating one-half pound every day would not seem like such a bad idea. But the truth is that sugar has absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. Not only does it totally lack nutrients, but when you eat sugar it actually robs your body of nutrients– vitamins, minerals and even enzymes.
Sure sugar may be temporarily pleasing to the taste buds, but the rest of the body suffers for it. The sad thing is that most people are not aware of the devastating effects that excess sugar consumption has on the body. The cartoon illustrates a typical day for many Americans and how the standard American diet affects our health, especially the way we think and feel.
Eating a typical high carb breakfast or skipping it all together can have a major impact on the rest of your day. Here’s why: Blood sugar (glucose) is the fuel for every single cell in your body. So naturally you want your fuel supply to be constant all day long. Eating balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day is necessary to maintain this balance. Breakfast is important because it lays the foundation for the rest of the day. Typical breakfast foods–cold cereal, bagels, donuts, pancakes, waffles, or even oatmeal with sugar, fruit, toast with jam, and fruit juice–are all high in sugars and simple carbohydrates which cause the blood sugar to spike up and then crash.
Panel 2. The morning crash
The “crash” actually has a medical word for it–hypoglycemia. It is a state of low blood sugar, not actually a disease. When your blood sugar drops too low (after eating a high sugar, high carb meal) or stays too low (after eating nothing at all) many symptoms can occur. The first symptoms to set in are usually mental difficulties, because the brain requires a lot of fuel to do its job. So you may have trouble concentrating or processing information, being forgetful, or feeling mentally dull. Other symptoms include anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, irritable (especially when hungry), depression, crying spells, addictive behavior and cravings for sweets or starches. And, of course, if your fuel supply drops too low, fatigue will obviously be a factor. Many people rely on caffeine to pick themselves up when they crash, creating a “tired-wired” feeling. Many are not aware that the caffeine creates further problems by weakening the adrenal glands which produce hormones that help your body deal with stress.
Panel 3. Lunch on the go
It’s common for many people to rush through lunch, grabbing something quick and convenient, basically whatever it takes to make the hungry feeling go away. Convenience foods are high in refined carbohydrates, which not only perpetuate the up-and-down cycle of the blood sugar roller coaster, but also weaken the immune system. Studies have shown that the ingestion of 100-gram portions of carbohydrates, such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, and orange juice, all significantly reduced the ability of neutrophils to engulf and destroy bacteria. These effects started less that 30 minutes after ingestion and lasted for over five hours.1 Eating sugar throughout the day is a constant assault on the immune system.
Even if you don’t think you eat a lot of sugar, you’d be surprised at how quickly 100 grams can add up. Just 10 gum drops, three pancakes with syrup, four pretzel rods and a pop, or even a “healthy” meal like oatmeal with raisins, a banana, and a glass of orange juice, are all well over 100 grams each!
Panel 4. The afternoon crash
Ever feel that slump in the middle of the afternoon? You know, when you’re so exhausted the only thing you can think about is taking a nap. This is the time when most people go in search of some caffeine and sugar to pick themselves up quickly–especially at work because falling asleep at your desk doesn’t go over really well with your boss! The problem with the quick “pick-me-up” is that in no time your blood sugar crashes down again. “What goes up quickly, comes down quickly” applies to your blood sugar as well as other things in life!
These “pick-me-up” convenient snack foods are high in refined carbohydrates, such as white flour and white sugar, which rob the body of enzymes, minerals and vitamins, especially B vitamins. B vitamins are essential for proper brain and nervous system function. A deficiency in B vitamins includes symptoms like depression, anxiety, panic attacks, heart palpitations, and muscle weakness and tenderness, to name a few.
Panel 5. Who feels like cooking dinner?
I’m sure at one time or another, possibly every day of your life, you have felt like the woman in our cartoon; let’s call her Suzie. Suzie has deprived her body of the proper nutrients and fuel it needs to do its job. It’s no wonder that she, just like millions of other Americans, feels so exhausted by the end of the day. So when she comes home from work, taking the time to prepare a nourishing meal for herself and her family is probably the last thing on her mind. The problem is that now Suzie’s poor eating habits–and all the problems caused by poor eating habits–are being passed on to her children. So after loading up on a convenient high-carb meal, Suzie, as well as the rest of the family, is likely to experience symptoms of low blood sugar, creating an evening full of mood swings, tension and chaos.
Panel 6. Why can’t I sleep?
At the end of a long day of exhausting your body with a poor diet, sleep couldn’t come soon enough. But for those who have sugar-handling problems, falling asleep and staying asleep can be quite a challenge. The purpose of sleep is to heal and repair, and the body requires fuel for this work. So if your body doesn’t have enough fuel to do its job, chances are you’ll find yourself just lying there in bed, unable to fall into a deep sleep no matter how exhausted you may feel. If staying asleep is the problem, you’ve simply run out of fuel, so you find yourself staring at the clock at 2:57 A.M. unable to go back to sleep. Not only does a lack of sleep further weaken your immune system, but it also causes an even deeper level of fatigue, weakness, anxiety and nervousness.
This is an example of what can occur during a typical day in the life of an American who eats the standard American diet. And this is just one day. Over time, this pattern can seriously affect the way that we think and feel, and ultimately our overall health. It’s much easier to enjoy life when you’re healthy! Before we can build good health, we have to stop doing the things that destroy it–eliminating white sugar is a great start!
The following program will help you replace refined sugar with natural sugars, one step at a time.
Step 1. Eliminate all sugar drinks
Avoid all sodas, powdered drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices (basically anything in a can, bottle or drink box). Instead, drink plenty of clean water (reverse osmosis filtration is best). It can be flavored with juice of lemon, orange, or essential oils like cinnamon, tangerine or peppermint. Also, herb teas make tasty drinks and come in many delicious flavors (but avoid those with added “flavorings”). Try serving tea chilled and add a pinch of stevia (a natural low-calorie sweetener available at health food stores). If you have access to some sour lacto-fermented drinks or are willing to make them, these would be great.
Step 2. Limit sugar foods to three times per week
Even if you don’t think you eat a lot of sweets, you might be surprised at how quickly they can add up without your even knowing, especially if you have a habit of “unconscious grazing.” Use this step to help you pay close attention to the foods you put in your body. Food journaling can be quite helpful for some people. Most important, pay attention to how you feel after eating sweets. Once you have given up the habit of eating sweets on a daily basis, it is common to experience symptoms like nausea, headache, fatigue, or dizziness after indulging in sweets. After giving up sweets for a while, many people say that they don’t even taste that good anymore.
Step 3. Make a habit of eating at least three good meals per day
One of the best ways to overcome cravings for sweets is to eat balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day. To build a balanced meal, begin with a protein (complete protein is anything from an animal), include a natural source of carbohydrates (veggies, legumes, properly prepared whole grains, or fruits), and don’t forget the good fats (butter, lard, tallow, coconut, oil, palm oil, and olive oil). Don’t be afraid to eat lots of good fat at every meal. Fats slow down the entry of sugar into the blood stream and prevent those morning and afternoon crashes. If your breakfast, lunch and dinner are filled with nutritious, high-fat foods, you probably won’t even think about snack foods between meals.
Step 4. Replace refined sugars with natural sugars
Get in the habit of reading labels and avoid products made with white sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, and ALL artificial sweeteners. Instead use natural sweeteners, including pure maple syrup, molasses, stevia, Rapadura (dehydrated cane sugar juice) or raw unfiltered honey. Many health food stores offer products made with natural sweeteners, like cookies and ice cream, and even licorice, although it is better to make your own. Use this step to help you become acquainted with all the natural alternatives to replace refined sugar products.
Step 5. Limit natural sweets to three times per week
Blood sugar imbalances occur after eating too many sweets, even the natural ones! So it’s important to limit even the natural sweets in your diet. And remember, the best way to prevent sweets from causing a major crash in blood sugar is to avoid eating them by themselves. Instead include dessert as part of a balanced meal. A steak with some steamed veggies, a salad topped with olive oil-based dressing, and a couple of natural cookies made with butter and eggs would be a healthy and balanced way to include dessert. Avoid having dessert with a meal that is high in carbohydrates like pasta, bread, or rice.
Eliminating refined sugar can be quite a challenging step, but the incredible impact it will have on your overall health and well-being is definitely worth it! Set a target date for accomplishing each step and be sure to complete one step before moving on to the next one. Be patient with yourself through this process. Many times people try to quit sugar “cold turkey,” but end up dreaming about it all day long until eventually they binge on sweets. Then they are right back on the blood-sugar roller coaster. The goal is to stabilize your blood sugar by eating balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day so that you no longer crave sweets. True success comes when you do eat sweets and they no longer taste good, better yet, they give you a headache, make you nauseous, tired, dizzy and depressed!
How to Stabilize Your Blood Sugar
Blood sugar (glucose) is the fuel for every single cell in your body. Eating balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day is the most important thing we can do to keep our fuel supply stable. In order to know how to balance a meal, it is necessary to understand how different foods burn. I like to use a simple campfire analogy to explain this to clients. Food burns a lot like a nice campfire.
Fats are like the big log in the fire that burns for a long time. Fats are slow-burning fuels that help to stabilize blood sugar and allow you to go between meals without feeling so hungry. Fats also send a signal to your brain to tell you when you’re satisfied, so you know when to stop eating. This explains why people on lowfat diets are so hungry all the time. Eating fats at every meal helps to control your appetite. The best fats for consumption are butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, palm oil or olive oil. Good fats should be included with every meal.
Protein is like the teepee which provides the support and structure for the campfire. Protein is the building block for every single cell in the body. It’s what the body uses to heal and repair. Protein also supplies the body with amino acids which help to stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings for carbohydrates. Complete protein comes from animal sources and should be the base of every meal.
Carbohydrates are quick burning fuels which are like the kindling in the campfire. Carbohydrates that are high in fiber burn a little slower, like little twigs. The processed carbohydrates like white bread, sugared cereals, candy, cakes, cookies, crackers, pasta, and bagels burn up more quickly, like leaves and paper. And what would happen if you threw a bunch of twigs, leaves, and paper in a pile and lit them on fire? You’d get a huge blaze and then it would burn out quickly. The same thing happens when you eat a meal of nothing but carbohydrates, even the natural ones like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
So to keep your blood sugar stable, think of building a nice campfire at each meal. Start with your protein teepee, add some natural carbohydrate kindling, and be sure to include your big fat log to keep your fire burning strong!
- Role of Sugars in Human Neutrophilic Phagocytosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1973, 26pp. 1, 180-4)
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2002.