This week’s tip for our Full Year of Resolutions is an important one: reduce your sugar intake. I’ve shared quite a bit about my sugar addiction. I grew up surrounded by sugar. It was simply part of my daily life. From sugary coca-colas to snickers to hostess ding dongs…from apple fritters to pastries to ice cream (oh how I loved ice cream!)… I ate it all without a second thought.
I was a true sugar-holic if there ever was one. My brain craved those endorphin sugar hits, and I gave in every time.
A Super-fit Sugar-holic
Twenty years ago I married Carla. She was shocked when she realized how much sugar I consumed. That’s because, despite my daily diet of sugar, I was in great shape. When we met, I had completed 42 triathlons and was currently training for an Ironman event. Because I was spending 28+ hours per week intensely training, I believed I could eat whatever I wanted. That’s what athletes 20 years younger than I were doing. One competitor, a famous athlete, would eat a whole pan of brownies for carb loading prior to a race. So I thought that was totally normal behavior.
Although I was a super fit athlete, I was constantly plagued with health issues throughout these years. Eventually, Carla and I learned what sugar addiction was, and how much inflammation sugar causes. Inflammation was causing all of the problems I was having in my body.
Sugar Causes Inflammation
Inflammation can sometimes be helpful. Things swell when they need repair. A swollen twisted ankle is a visual sign that the body is working to repair itself. But inflammation is often not a good thing; it causes damage and results in pain. Research now connects systemic internal inflammation (or silent inflammation) to many health issues, including autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Research shows that the brain can get inflamed, too, linking dementia, autism, depression, and anxiety to silent inflammation in the system. According to Andrea Nakayama, Carla’s Functional Nutrition Teacher, inflammation is an immune system response.
“When it comes to any concern of chronic inflammation we can start by looking at the gut—70% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut or small intestine. So what you do or don’t put in there is going to inform your immune system’s ability to quell those fires of inflammation there and elsewhere. An inflamed digestive tract, evidenced by gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, reflux or any sort of abdominal pain is certainly a sign of this chronic state of distress and should not be ignored.” (Nakayama, Cardiac Intensive, Sept. 2020)
Sugar is an Anti-Nutrient
It’s bad enough that we’re consuming empty calories when we eat sugar, but the truth is actually worse than that. In her Functional Nutrition education, Carla learned that the body has to steal vital nutrients (calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, thiamine, chromium, and zinc) from healthy cells in order to metabolize processed sugar. Sugar hacks our healthy cells, resulting in mineral depletion that’s a big kick-in-the-face to our immune system.
Refined sugar is the biggest offender: “Let’s start with mineral depletion in the body. When we look at mineral depletion, we are addressing the effects of those refined foods but most particularly the consequences of eating sucrose or table sugar—the white stuff. Mineral depletion in your body is the aftermath from the refining process. Refined sugars contain no fiber, no minerals, no proteins, no fats, no enzymes, and only empty calories. When sugar cane is refined and bleached all the nutrients and minerals are removed.” (Nakayama, Cardiac Intensive, Sept. 2020)
Realistic Ways to Reduce Your Sugar Intake
We get a lot of questions about how to reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Whether you’re a full-blown sugar addict like I was, or you simply need that 3:00 pm hit of chocolate to make it through the day, most of us find it hard to imagine giving it up.
One way to reduce your sugar intake is to use some sugar substitutes. You don’t want to do a lot of this, but using them in moderation is helpful. Our go-to is Swerve. Cup for cup it measures out and works like sugar. We’ve gotten used to it and like using it in recipes, like this healthy and delicious recipe for donut holes. Some of Carla’s clients don’t like it because the plant-based sweetener can cause diarrhea for some. Just like everything we teach, you have to experiment and see if it works for you.
There are a lot of sweeteners you can use. Sometimes we use stevia. Be careful, as this one is very sweet, and you have to figure out the right ratios. Sometimes we use monk fruit, or xylitol, or even molasses. Carla has found ways to convert a lot of her baked goods recipes to sugar-free through using a sugar replacement. This has especially helped me to eliminate sugar, as it’s extra hard to give up baked goods, and gives us a yummy snack to look forward to.
When we share these healthy desserts with others, things like Triple Berry Pie, Angel Food Cake, and Banana Bread, they often have no idea they’re eating something that is sugar free! Carla has many recipes that are dairy, gluten, and sugar-free. We often don’t tell people that’s what we’re serving, and they don’t even realize they’re missing all those inflammation-causing aspects of a dessert. They just say, “Mmmm, this is really good!”
Other Snacks for Your Sweet Tooth
Instead of reaching for sugar, have some fruit. Yes, fruit has sugar in it, but it is not the refined white sugar that is so bad for us. Don’t go overboard on fruit, eat it in moderation. Dark chocolate is another decent option. It might take a bit to get your palate acclimated from milk chocolate (which is full of sugar) to dark chocolate. It’s an acquired taste, as so many things are, but dark chocolate can really hit that sweet tooth. Choose chocolate with at least 72% cacao. It has a lot of antioxidants that are good for you, and doesn’t have the sugar, which isn’t. You can read more about the fascinating history and health benefits of chocolate here.
We encourage you to experiment a little. Try things and see what works. Take a recipe for one of your favorite baked goods and use a sugar substitute. It’s very hard to quit sugar cold turkey. You’ve got to have something to go to when that sugar craving hits. Play around with it and see if you can reduce your sugar intake, even a little bit at a time.
I wanted to make something different than Carla’s desserts, so I played around and I came up with a delicious gluten, dairy, and sugar-free granola recipe. Using some gluten-free oats, brown sugar Swerve, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate chips, this granola really helps fill the need for sweet for me.
Acknowledge the Sugar Urge
When that craving for sweet comes calling, many of us struggle because we immediately judge ourselves. We throw shame on top of the urges. We have negative thoughts. This makes that natural sugar craving all the more complicated and fraught with emotions that just make the urge stronger! Jody Moore, a successful life coach, teaches that when you have that urge, acknowledge it. Just experience it. Don’t throw negative feelings at it that create negative reactions.
When I go to a party and they have one of my favorite desserts, like german chocolate cake, I want it. That urge kicks in. What do I do? I acknowledge that urge. I sit with it for a second. Then, I immediately go to that place I’ve trained my brain to go. I remember the four most important words for me: It’s not worth it.
For so many years, I had no idea that my sugar consumption was causing so much inflammation in my body. My inflammation had shown up as severe GI issues, back problems, arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, and eventually, cancer. I lived with chronic pain for most of my life from all that sugar, so for me, it’s just not worth it.
Abstain or Moderate to Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Now, I figure there are two ways to be: we can be an abstainer or a moderator. Most people can moderate their sugar. We’re not advocates of having no sugar at all, but can you moderate it? In my case, because I had such bad health issues, I have to abstain. There are negative consequences to the sugar we all love, so we have to ask ourselves, is it worth it?
Check out this week’s video about reducing sugar. Also, we offer a free monthly coaching call. To get information and reminders about these calls, please text 1-647-558-9895 and enter COACHING in the subject line. You’ll then be prompted to add your email. We promise we won’t overwhelm you with emails or text. You will just get reminders for our live coaching calls. Come with your questions as we’re here to help. We love coaching you on your road to becoming More Than Healthy!