Friday, February 3, 2012

healthy habits: cut out refined sugar

I had this post written and ready to go when I heard researchers at the University of California just published an article indicating that sugar is responsible for 35 million deaths each year. If you have a moment, I strongly recommend reading this reaction to the news, an extremely well-written piece.

I also felt kind of bad writing such terrible things about something I've always loved. (I used to make and sell cakes from scratch during high school for some extra income.) I'm not hating on sugar lovers...I love it too! But bottom line, sugar is addictive and bad for your health, so I try to treat it like alcohol...a treat to be enjoyed on special occasions, for get-togethers with friends, or during romantic dinners.

My thoughts...

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Just over a year ago, I decided to completely cut sugar out of my diet. It was a grand experiment.

I knew I had been nursing a pretty strong addiction. When J and I lived in different cities, I would visit him on the weekends, and he had minimal sweets in his place. He would often find me curled up on a chair in the kitchen, pouring maple syrup into a spoon to sip. It was all he had, and I was that desperate for a fix. So on January 1, 2011, I cut out all sugar: refined sugar, sweetened processed foods, simple carbohydrates, and even fruit.

What happened immediately was amazing. My mood skyrocketed. I was suddenly so happy all the time. My cravings never disappeared, but they certainly diminished. I didn't lose weight, but I felt less bloated and lighter. I had lots of energy. Over the course of the year, my skin became more clear.

While I'm sure not everyone has the same sensitivity that I do, I encourage everyone to try at least a few days with absolutely no sugar. It's important to feel what it's like to free your body of sugar, and understand exactly how much we can actually become addicted.

Cafe au Lait

Most of my aversion to sugar is intuitive. I know I feel better when I eat less of it. But there is plenty of research to suggest that we do better without sugar. Basically, our species' physiology hasn't changed much in awhile, which means our bodies still function the way they did before we had access to unlimited sugar. In earlier days, sugar was only available in natural forms, and not nearly as plentifully. When humans did come across it, they ate it in abundance (as there's no brain signal to tell us we've had enough fructose), and stored it as fat. So nowadays we're getting way more sugar than we need, without the nutrients that come in fruit, and we're storing it as fat.

Plus, sugar wrecks havoc on your insulin responses, triggers the stress hormone cortisol, and feeds little critters in our bodies that can make us sick (like candida and cancer cells).

Sugar doesn't contribute anything good to our diet. And that means that it either adds excess calories (making us fat), or it takes the place of other nutrients we should be getting instead. It's no wonder we're all on multivitamins.

What works for one person doesn't work for every person. But given the abundance of research on the negative effects of sugar, it is worth trying your own grand experiment. Chances are, you're putting more sugar into your body than it's meant to handle.

Since my detox, sugar has crept back into my diet a bit. I eat fruit regularly now. I've integrated unrefined sugars (like pure maple syrup and raw honey) back into my diet. And on occasion, I still indulge in treats with refined sugar.

And that's okay.

I'm so proud of my progress. Before I reduced my sugar intake, I estimate that I was taking in 50-70 g of sugar a day, on top of all the hidden stuff, like what's added to peanut butter and ketchup.

Now, my worst days don't come anywhere close to that. So I feel like I can have my sugar, and eat it too.
But as I've said in the past, it's sometimes good to hit the reset button.

After a Christmas season full of cookies, a jar of Nutella sent by a loving grandmother, and some complimentary meals with dessert, I was feeling bloated, irritable, and pimply.

So I revisited this healthy habit. I cut out all sugar again, with the exception of the banana that I put in my post-workout smoothie. I can feel myself re-calibrating my idea of sweetness, and my body is thanking me for the change.

Morning Joe-coa

The photos in this post link to sweet and completely sugarfree recipes (no refined or unrefined sugar) posted on my blog. These recipes use stevia, and I get a lot of questions about that. Stevia is a sweetener derived from an herb. It can be a tricky ingredient to work with and sometimes leaves a strange aftertaste; I recommend NuNaturals to minimize this. You can read tons about it on the internetz and decide if you'd like to try it yourself...it can be found in the health food sections of most grocery stores.

And here are a few more sugarfree recipes from around the blog-o-sphere.

Chocolate Chia Pudding from Whole New Mom
Power Balls from Scandi Foodie
Chocolate Chip Zee Bars from Peas and Thank You
Carrot Cake for One from Chocolate Covered Katie
Skinny Chocolate Drop Cookies from Family Fresh Cooking

Please do let me know if you decide to try cutting out sugar! I'd love to hear about your trials and tribulations, and your successes and changes.

What do you think of this new research?

14 comments:

  1. I have a HUGE sweet tooth, I indulge a little too much in sugar. I want to try this, but I don't think I can quit cold turkey. Do you use something to sweeten your coffee?

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    1. Yeah, cold turkey was tough. You could start by switching to unrefined sugar or just eliminating it from one part of your day at a time (like coffee!).

      I use stevia and almond milk in coffee...about 8 drops does it for me. It's not as indulgent as cream and sugar, but I use really good coffee to make up for it. =)

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  2. Wow! You are brave. I don't know if I could do it - especially, as Jennifer, was saying - in coffee! But I can totally see how it would help with many aspects of health. And I'm checking out your almond truffle recipe as we speak.

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  3. I've done a hardcore no sugar - even fruit or juice detox in combating Candida - so it's really hard at first. But once you pull through it's so worth it. I can now control my cravings as opposed to have my cravings controlling me.
    Good for you for doing this - I'm sure you will feel great and be healthier for it ;)
    xo

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  4. i looooooove this post! I've been hoping for a post like this ever since you intrigued me with your recipes. :) you're too cool lady. i think i need to do this for myself as well. pimples and crankiness abound= my life.

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  5. I know I feel better when I eat less sugar. I always feel nasty the week after Christmas. I could never go 100% sugar free (I love my dark chocolatE) but LOW sugar is the way to go for me! Thanks for these great recipes, by the way.

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  6. I totally agree. Sugar is one of those things that we consume so much of without even realizing it. Great idea to cut it out - even if just for a little while.

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  7. I don't think I could ever cut sugar totally out of my diet, mostly because I have a big addiction to chocolate that I never intend on getting rid of ;) But I do always eat sugar in moderation. Having a lot in your diet is certainly bad for you! Go you for eliminating sugar!

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  8. I loved this post. I too had to cut out refined sugar from my diet. It was extremely hard in the beginning, but shortly after my cravings diminished and now I don't have any cravings. I think I am one of those people who are sensitive to sugar. A naturopath once told me that once you stop eating sugar for 3 days, most other things you taste, like fruit appear much sweeter. I agree with this. That's not to say I still don't occasionally have a sweet treat, but I approach it much the same way as you do, as a treat. Not to be had everyday, but once in a while. I'm always amazed at how many great recipes there are from so many wonderful blogs using dates and more natural sweeteners. I actually prefer these now and know they're better for me. Besides, we are sweet enough, right? ;)

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    1. Totally agree! I like to keep a tub of dates in the fridge...when I really want something sweet and don't have anything on hand, I eat just one...like a piece of candy. SO delicious to me now.

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  9. This is such an inspiring post! I'd love to try this sugar detox, but I'm not sure I could cut it out completely, even for just a few days..at least not fruit.

    Also, total side note I have to say I LOVE your Holly Hobby mug!!

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  10. Great post! Found you through the Daily Buzz top 9. Going to try the Joe-Coa. I've tried a few times to go sugar free. The longest I've gone is 6 days. These posts are inspiring me to give it a try again.

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    1. So glad to hear it! I'd love to know how it goes. Once you kick the habit, it's really easy to allow small amounts back in your diet without going overboard.

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  11. SO so true! Sugar Blues is a great book on the history of sugar and how it came to wreck havoc in the standard american diet. Good for you for taking care of your body! I too am sensitive to sugar so COMPLETELY relate to your story.

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Thanks for making me smile. =)