I just completed a major sugar detox. Yes, even health-conscious folk – especially ones with a sweet tooth like mine – get stuck in sugar land sometimes.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have much processed sugar in my diet, but I do have things like honey and maple syrup, pretty much daily. Also, those that know me know I simply adore some good quality dark chocolate, also on a very regular basis. While these items are not nearly as detrimental to health as processed forms of sugar (cane sugar, corn syrup, agave, etc) and artificial sweeteners, the fact remains – they’re still sugar. It is possible to consume too much of even these healthier options.
So when January hit, I decided to embark on a sugar-free start to the year. (I did a Whole30, if you’re interested.) Holy crap, 30 days with so little sweetness in my diet was incredibly challenging, especially at first. But guess what – somehow, I did it.
Why take a sugar break?
Sugar is, well, bad for you. Really bad. But did you need me to tell you that? Processed sugars are toxins.
It’s in everything. By everything, I mean all processed and packaged foods that are rampant in our grocery stores, our kitchen cupboards, our lives. Even the organic, gluten-free, so called “healthier” packaged items at the health food store contain sugars. Take a look on your labels and see the various forms of sugar that creep onto ingredient lists:
agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, palm sugar, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, molasses, demerara, rapadura, muscovado, rice syrup, cane juice, cane juice solids/crystals, dextrin, maltodextrin, dextran, barley malt, beet sugar, corn syrup, caramel, buttered syrup, carob cyrup, date sugar, malt syrup, diatase, diatastic malt, golden syrup, turbinado, sorghum syrup, Refiner’s syrup, treacle, anything ending in -ose (sucrose, maltose, dextrose, fructose, glucose, galactose, lactose, saccharose, xylose, high fructose corn syrup, glucose solids, etc), and anything ending in -ol (sorbitol, xylitol, malitol, Ethyl maltol, etc).
Okay, processed sugars are bad for you, and they’re in everything. I bet you already knew that. There’s something else to think about, though.
We’ve become dependent on sugar for energy. In our highly stressed lives, most of us are walking around in a hazy state, awaiting our next sugar fix. We may not even be aware of it until we take a step back and truly examine how we feel on a daily basis. Are your energy levels up and down? Are you hungry between meals? How many times a day do you crave something sweet? These are all things to consider.
I know you may be saying: “But Alex, I eat pretty healthy and avoid processed sugars!”
Terrific. I do, too. But you know what? It’s still really easy to rely on sugar (aka carbohydrate) throughout the day. Take a look at what you’re eating.
I’m not just talking about simple sugars like honey
Complex carbs also play a role here. If you’re eating grains at every single meal and snack, chances are you’ve become reliant on sugar for energy. Are you hungry every two hours? This could be due to blood sugar (read: hormonal) imbalances. Sugar and grains are easy to overconsume, and unlike protein and fat, they don’t send our brains a satiety message. Which is why it can be easy to eat a huge pile of rice, feel full in the belly, but peckish a couple hours later.
So it’s good to take a break. To reduce our consumption of sugars and grains which can cause our metabolism to go astray, and our hormones and appetites to fall off balance.
(Now, there’s a whole whack of other reasons to reduce consumption of grains, which I won’t discuss now. I’ll save that for another time.)
What about fruit? It’s healthy, right? Yes, but not to the extent that some people consume it. A fruit smoothie is not a great way to start the day. Fructose = sugar. If you jam pack your smoothie with fruit, you’re jam packing your cells with more sugar than they can likely handle, potentially leading to metabolic troubles – not to mention a sugar crash later on.
What to do
Many people notice huge improvements to their health when they reduce their consumption of various types of carbohydrate. If you’re interested in examining your relationship with sugars/grains/carbs, or are considering taking a little break from these foods, that’s fantastic. Just do so with caution. I recommend seeking guidance from a trusted nutritionist (wink, wink) who can give advice specific to your needs. If you have a medical condition, it’s wise to let your doctor know what you’re doing.
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