Column: Nutritional Health
I’ve got sugar on the brain, literally. I have been working to prepare a sugar detox program for a group of participants. As you read this, we are in the midst of removing sugar from our diets for 21 days.
Why would anyone choose to do this? Does it seem like a form of torture? Even downright impossible? One could (rightfully) argue that sugar is in just about every food on the planet, natural or otherwise. That is largely true, but in doing this detox, I am focusing on removing added sugar as well as natural foods that have abundant sugar in them.
The question remains: Why? Why would anyone choose to go out of their way to remove this innocuous, omnipresent substance from their diet? Well, you can’t go a day without seeing some article about sugar and its negative effects: Diabetes continues to rise at an alarming rate. Obesity levels are higher than ever before. Heart issues, cancers and autoimmune diseases are also at an all-time high.
Never before in the history of mankind has there been an emergency need to lower blood sugar, that is until we started consuming large amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugar. On average, Americans consume over 180 pounds of sugar per person, per year. According to USDA statistics, in 1821 the average consumption was 10 pounds of sugar per person, per year.
There are many forms of natural sugar and, to be clear, sugar itself is not the problem per se. It is the fact that it really is a challenge to walk into any food store today and find products on the shelves that do not have some (or many) forms of sugar in them. This includes natural, artificial and substitute versions of sugar.
The artificial sweeteners, sugar substitutes and highly refined sugars (like agave nectar, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, malitol, sorbitol, truvia, et al.) have no business in any body. And let’s not forget the mother of all sugar substitutes: High Fructose Corn Syrup. HFCS could be the topic of its own article (and it is, of many) but suffice it to say that it should not be consumed at all, yet it is in so many of the foods we eat and drink. All of these sugar substitutes act as neurotoxins, digestive disruptors, oftentimes leaving chemical and heavy metal residue in the body. It is the liver, pancreas and adrenal glands that take the biggest hit from this, but all organs of the body are negatively affected by sugar.
Sugar is an antinutrient. That means that for every molecule of sugar you ingest, it robs your body of actual nutrients, particularly minerals, but vitamins as well. Your body then requires more true nutrients to replace the ones used by the fast-burning sugar. This is what is meant by the term “empty calories.” Do you feel really tired all the time and use sugar as a “pick-me-up?” You’re certainly not alone. It gets the job done fast, but then, as you may well know, it burns up just as fast, leaving you tired again and that is the yo-yo cycle of hypo- and hyperglycemia. Unchecked, these will turn into insulin resistance and diabetes. By the way, every disease you can think of loves sugar. Sugar is the best fuel for cancers, candida (yeast overgrowth), viruses, bacterial infections, depression, tooth decay, and on and on.
The more you eat sugar, the more you want to eat sugar. It is a very fast-burning form of energy. This is why, when you eat a highly refined carbohydrate (think cookies or chips) you want more and more of it, and you really aren’t satisfied or satiated. The brain is receiving the message that nutrients are coming in because it is stimulated by the sight, smell and taste of food, but in fact that message is incorrect since there are no known nutrients to speak of.
It is also an addictive substance and it doesn’t mean that you are a “bad” person or that there is something “wrong” with you if you consume or need, want and/or are addicted to the stuff. There are plenty of people who can have “just a little” sugar and not feel the physiological need for more. Just like there are plenty of people who can drink a glass of wine or beer and not need to have more. But for some people, the idea of giving up sugar is downright daunting. And that makes sense. As with any addictive substance, there will most likely be detox effects if you remove it from the body. And, depending on how much of it has been consumed over the last few months, those detox effects will be more or less intense. The very good news is that if you experience any of these after removing sugar from your diet you know that 1) it is temporary and 2) it means that your body is releasing the stored toxins and that is a very good thing. The other very good news is that, after experiencing the temporary negative effects, you experience long-term positive effects. These include (but are not limited to) more energy, mental clarity and focus, stronger immune system, mood stability, clearer skin, weight loss and, my personal favorite, better sleep.
If the idea of a full-out sugar detox is daunting to you, that is understandable. Awareness is one of the most powerful tools we have to keep our bodies healthy. The next time you go to the store, pick up a package of your favorite food and look at the nutrition label. If the grams of sugar is more than 5 per serving, put it back. And if there is even a trace of any sugar substitutes, don’t even consider it. See if you can find, or better yet, make your own healthier version of that food. A great tip for food shopping is to stay on the perimeter of the store. The outer aisles are where the fruits, veggies, dairy, eggs and meats are. You can live quite comfortably without the packaged, boxed, bagged stuff in the middle aisles. That is where the vast amount of unhealthy sugars are. If the idea of giving up your favorite food (cookies, chips, bread, soda, fruit drink, etc.) is scary or seems impossible, choose to have one less serving per day.
You probably won’t miss it, and your body will thank you.
Jeni Hall of Dublin is a board certified nutritional therapist practicing in the Monadnock region. Her mission is to empower you to heal your own body and keep it healthy. See www.jenihall.com, for more information.