Eat Your Way to Better Health - Tip 2 - Cut out Processed Sugar
So now I sound like the Food Police or the Grinch who stole all the yummy food, and your chocolate-loving self is ready to bolt, right? Well, I’m not here to be a killjoy and take all the pleasure out of food. Trust me - I love food too much myself. So stick with me and I’ll explain.
In the past I was definitely a ‘sugar addict’. According to the experts, processed sugar can be as addictive as cocaine, so the compulsion to overeat it in any form is almost impossible to resist. I’m the girl who used to eat a whole bag of lollies as a snack, who couldn’t stop at eating just a couple of biscuits in a packet, and who demolished a whole block of chocolate in one go. Every Christmas when I had my gift shop I’d put out a bowl of sweets for the ‘customers’. Yeah, right. Guess who ate the sweets. I used sugar as a quick-fix energy boost. Good old processed sugar gives you a ‘high’ because your insulin spikes to regulate your blood sugar. But the ‘crash’ comes quickly after, once the insulin has done its job and your blood sugar drops again, leaving you feeling drained. My blood sugar levels were all over the place and I was very likely on my way to becoming diabetic.
Then six years ago I went cold turkey. As part of a weight-loss program, I removed sugar from my diet. While I was trying to lose weight, I cut out nearly all forms of sugar – anything with processed sugar added, fruit, alcohol, and even dairy products. This ended up being a completely life-changing experience. At the time I had read nothing about the impact of giving up sugar or any of the research. I just wanted to lose weight. Well, lose weight I did. Lots of it. But that was not the sole outcome by a long shot.
Within a few of months of quitting sugar my taste buds started changing. I could taste sweetness in things that had never tasted sweet to me before. Almonds were the first thing I noticed sweetness in that I’d never noticed before. I also lost my cravings for sweet foods. They no longer appealed to me – seriously! They still don’t tempt me now. This is a really difficult thing to understand for those who haven’t done it, and I totally get why. People think that by giving up sugar they’ll have to ‘miss out’ on something they love. But I’m here to tell you that you won’t love those things as much anymore, and you won’t be addicted to sugar, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out. I don’t feel deprived of anything at all. I don’t miss chocolate or lollies or cakes. I never even think about them. In my previous sugar-filled years I would have struggled to believe that could happen too, but that is my honest experience, and I know I’m not the only person who has found this.
Another positive ‘side effect’ of eliminating sugar was the impact on my hormonal health. I was in the throes of peri-menopause at the time and many of my ‘symptoms’ disappeared. I no longer had hot flushes. My mood swings and anxiety levels dissipated. It’s possible that these things were also impacted by other nutritional changes I’d made, but I firmly believe eliminating processed sugar was pivotal. Processed sugar affects your hormonal health at any age. One big issue with sugar is the amount of it that many people are consuming. It’s pretty easy to do if you’re regularly eating processed and packaged foods and drinking soft drinks. A sugar-laden diet is of course linked to obesity, but it may raise your risk of heart disease and a range of other chronic health problems, even if you aren’t overweight.
So let’s talk about what I mean by ‘processed’ sugar. Processed or refined sugar refers to sugar that’s been created from sugar cane via a manufacturing process. During this process impurities and coloured components are removed, and the remaining elements are separated to yield the white, pure sugar crystals recognised as table sugar, or pure sucrose. And don't be fooled - raw and brown sugar are also heavily refined and can be lumped into the same category as white sugar. Processed sugar has been part of our lives for generations and accepted as part of a normal diet. Most of us are aware that it’s used in cakes, biscuits, sweets, ice-cream, chocolate, and so on, but what we can easily miss is that it’s also used extensively as an additive and flavour enhancer in a huge range of processed foods – even savoury foods, savoury snacks and condiments. Even on chips! A cynical person could suggest that that food manufacturers use it to get us to eat more of their products. After all, that certainly works for them.
Now while I’m on a slightly cynical bent, I also want to draw your attention to HFCS – high fructose corn syrup. This stuff has not really been on my radar, especially since I’ve changed the types of foods I consume, but it’s used as a sweetener by food manufacturers, and recent research has shown it’s even worse for you than processed cane sugar. It’s been linked to all sorts of chronic disease. HFCS is mostly used in highly processed foods and soft drinks. The only way to know is by checking the listed ingredients on product labels. Please note that this fructose is manufactured and is not the same as the naturally occurring fructose in fruit. Fruit is definitely not the enemy.
Often to this day when I say to people I don’t eat sugar, many think I’ve just stopped having sugar in my tea or coffee lol. Processed sugar has been so entrenched in our way of life and eating habits that it’s been part of our ‘normal’ forever. Well it’s no longer part of my ‘normal’. Let me be really clear here – initially I cut out all forms of sugar to lose weight. But here’s the thing - I still don’t consume processed sugar today because it has no appeal for me at all. I also know how my body reacts to it, and have no desire to go there. It’s become a complete lifestyle change for me. Doesn’t mean I won’t partake of a piece of birthday cake or sweet something on the odd occasion, but I prefer to dial down the sweetness. Even just a little blows my head off these days as my body isn’t used to it. I’d rather have a nutritionally rich slice of home-baked banana bread made with almond meal and sweetened with maple syrup. Something like that is filling and nutritious, and doesn’t leave you wanting more and more.
Once I reached my natural weight, I added dairy products back into my diet - ones without added sugar. I also started eating fruit regularly, and allegedly having the occasional glass of red wine (or two). I sometimes have raw forms of sugar such as honey or real maple syrup, which don't seem to have the addictive quality that processed sugar has for me. Adding these things back in has had no impact on my weight, which has remained stable for 5 years. It would be highly unlikely that this would be the case if I had reintroduced processed sugar.
There's been a lot of hype about eliminating processed sugar in recent years, and it's understandable that you might see this as a fad thing that’s been happening in the ‘dieting’ world. I strongly suggest that you don’t dismiss this as a fad, and seriously consider taking it on board. If you need research to convince you, read David Gillespie’s ‘Sweet Poison’. Of course making changes to your eating habits can seem daunting, but the benefits of ditching processed sugar go far and beyond even those I’ve mentioned here. If going cold turkey seems too hard, start by swapping sugar out for honey or maple syrup, or simply be more aware of the amount of sugar in foods you eat and start reducing your intake. There are so many great recipes available now that don’t use processed sugar or that allow for substitutes. It might be time to reconsider those old family recipes. Trust me, your mind and body will thank you.
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If you missed the start of this blog series, you can find my first tip here.
(Please note, the content of this blog is based on personal experience and is for informational purposes only. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program.)