The Sugar Challenge: Cut It Out and Change Your Life

Sugar, as Dr. Doni explains, is abundant in processed foods and is a major contributor to numerous health issues. She asks: Can YOU eliminate it from YOUR diet?

sugar, sugar free, carbs, carbohydrates, insulin, losing weight, lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, the sugar challenge, cut down on sugarI was a nutrition and pre-med student in the 1990s when the fat-free craze was at its peak. We learned the all too standard mantra that the way to maintain a healthy weight was to balance calories in with calories out. That is, making sure you burn off the same number of calories as you eat.

And yet, when I sat down to crunch the numbers for myself and for clients, it never added up. The problem was that, as well as avoiding fat in their diets, people were being encouraged to eat more carbohydrates (8-10 portions of grain, bread or cereal per day). This really threw off all my calculations because when we eat carbohydrates they convert immediately into glucose (i.e. calories) eventually resulting in increased body fat. Basically, when people decreased the amount of fat they were eating, they also increased their carb intake—which led to the opposite of the desired effect.

Instead, I found the best way to achieve a healthy weight for me and for my patients was to focus on choosing carbohydrates that occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, and balancing them with protein and healthy fats. Now, twenty-some years later, research is confirming that my instincts were right: Decreasing the percentage of carbohydrates in the diet and ensuring adequate fats is what leads to improved health. Yet that information has still not been widely distributed.

The Simple Facts About Carbs and Fat

I want to make sure that you have the correct information to benefit your health and it boils down to these three important points:

  1. A healthy amount of fat in your diet will not lead to you getting fat.
  2. Too many carbohydrates at any one time will lead to weight gain.
  3. Eating too many carbohydrates, too often, will put stress on the carbohydrate metabolism and lead to increased weight and inflammation in your cells, blood vessels, and nervous system.

The key to understanding this is to understand how our bodies handle carbohydrates, including sugar. All carbohydrates are digested down to sugar, which then enters the blood. It is the hormone insulin that moves this sugar into your cells, where it can be used as energy. But if you eat too many carbs at once, insulin will not be able to keep up, and any excess sugar will be stored elsewhere in your body, as fat.

Now it is important to keep in mind that sugar is the simplest and most common source of carbohydrate in our diets. This is because, while the focus was on minimizing fats in our diet, sugar was added to packaged foods and beverages to make up for the taste and calories that were lost by the removal of the fat. However by doing this, we actually increased fat storage in our bodies. The result has been the soaring numbers of adults and children who are overweight that we have seen in the past twenty years. In fact, what was once called adult onset diabetes now exists in children because of their increased intake of sugar and carbohydrates.

Here’s a fascinating article published last year in Forbes magazine that talks about the financial cost of this problem.

The Sugar Challenge

Sugar is added to so many foods, it is shocking. Just take a look at the ingredients listed on products as you shop. In fact, I would like to challenge you to look for sugar on every package you come across this week. And if the product contains sugar, then don’t eat it.

Sugar comes in many disguises so be sure to look on the label not just for plain old “sugar” but also for:

  • Agave
  • Beet sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Cane sugar or juice
  • Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Maltose
  • Malt
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose

Don’t forget that sugar is addictive, so what you may notice during this challenge is that at first, you may crave it. It is only once you avoid it for long enough that your cravings will stop.

Remember to check your condiments, salad dressings, and baked goods (breads, pasta, and pastries) too. They all often contain sugar in some form or another. Alcoholic drinks often contain sugar and alcohol itself also increases insulin so think about avoiding it altogether during this challenge. And don’t forget to think about packaged foods that seem healthy—crackers, juices, and cereals for example. If they say “fat-free” or “reduced calorie” on the box then, in all likelihood, they contain sugar. Look under sugar on the label and if there is anything other than 0 grams, RESIST! I just noticed a tempting gluten-free product that is filled with sugar!

Once you have a clear sense of where sugar exists in your diet, it can be a lot easier to choose how much, and from where, you consume it. It is optimal to keep your total sugar intake for the day under 6 teaspoons per day (24 grams) for women and 9 teaspoons per day (36 grams) for men.

Try to avoid substituting sugar for artificial sweeteners as these are derived from chemicals and have also been shown to both increase blood sugar levels and disrupt the healthy bacteria in your gut. The best thing to do is choose real, naturally sweet foods that are not processed and contain fiber to help balance blood sugar levels. Try vegetables and fruits such as carrots, apples and oranges and eat them with foods that contain healthy amounts of protein and fats including wild fish, nuts, seeds, and eggs (unless you are allergic or intolerant to eggs).

By simply decreasing your sugar intake, while balancing your blood sugar levels, you will be improving your health. A patient just yesterday reported to me that he lost 34 pounds in three months by dropping his carb, alcohol, and sugar intake. His cholesterol levels returned to normal – because cholesterol is made from sugar – and his blood pressure came back down as well. The only issue was that he needed a whole new wardrobe, which he gladly chose because the value of health exceeds that of a spoonful of sweetness. Another patient found that her daily headaches completely disappeared after decreasing her carb intake. We also know that sugar inhibits healthy immune function, leaving you vulnerable to colds and flus.

More Sugar-Related Resources

If you’d like to learn more about all the troubles that sugar causes, I highly recommend the newly released documentary called FED UP: It’s time to get real about food. In this narrated film you’ll learn the history of the “fat-free craze” and about why packaged foods have been filled with sugar. You’ll also hear the staggering statistics when it comes to the number of cases of obesity, diabetes, kidney failure and dementia related to diet.

Your best bet is to start thinking about sugar now, and to teach your kids to watch out for it as well. In my book, The Stress Remedy, Chapter 6 is devoted to sugar and carbohydrate metabolism, and Chapter 9 includes a three-week sugar-free menu plan. By the time you learn how sugar is affecting your health and how you feel without it, I think you’ll be hesitant to go back to it.

Another great way to support yourself with the Sugar Challenge is to follow the Stress Remedy Program, which includes a meal plan and recipes to help you avoid sugar as well as gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and alcohol. So if you do better with guidelines and structure, this may be the perfect way to accomplish your goals.

I’m interested in hearing how you get on with the Sugar Challenge and your stories of where you found sugar that you least expected it—please do share in the comments section below!

–Dr. Doni
18th September 2014

 

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