Western diet on average contains loads of sugars as well as carbohydrates that are also broken down in the body into sugar. As a result, the blood level rises, the pancreas secretes insulin that delivers glucose (sugar) into the cell to use as an energy. After each carbohydrate and sugar-rich meal follows a spike of insulin.
Keeping my sugar levels up at all times by eating sweets and refined carbohydrates are like bombing my body non-stop. What makes it even worse, is that due to a massive dopamine release in the brain, sugar is highly addictive. (1,2)
“The low-fat diet was a terrible mistake” -Professor Robert H. Lustig M.D.
THE REASONS I QUIT SUGAR IN MY DIET …FINALLY!
The number one reason why I started limiting my sugar fasting was definitely the chronic candidiasis that was a huge frustration for me for decades. But in the beginning, I didn’t have a clue how much sugar was actually hidden in my diet without realising the big picture. The years went by and I was eating less and fewer sweets and pastries but it was always a struggle because of the endless cravings. Again I didn’t realise, that as long as I had sugar-containing foods, wheat products and poor carbohydrates that kept my insulin rushing up and down, there was not a chance for me to get rid of the craving as well as the chronic inflammation I was developing.
During the years, the chronic inflammation was doing more harm in my body. I was getting the frequent flu with sinusitis and in the worst times, I had hardly few days a month that I would not suffer from this insidious sniffle. During those times I was working at my husband’s textile factory and the environment was full of textile dust and chemicals so that my infections got even worse. Soon I was diagnosed allergic to dust mite, cat, dog and a bunch of other stuff that I had never been allergic before. What a huge disappointment to a dog owner! Even when my office was moved into another building and years later the company was sold, I was stuck with my symptoms. In the end, after going through two surgical operations I still kept suffering from repeating rhinosinusitis (the clinical name for chronic sinus infections) and the newcomers – asthma-like lung problems, palpitation, depression, panic attacks and never-ending chronic fatigue. Please.. give me a break!
At that point I had already read some books and articles about the idea how food can affect your health and might even give relief for asthma and allergies – in the other words inflammations, I knew I had found something that I couldn’t back off. I had just been set on a strong antibiotic treatment for six months (three different antibiotics at the same time) since I was diagnosed with a chronic Chlamydophila pneumonia (a common lung infection with flu among adults and children that can sometimes become chronic). But even when the super dose of antibiotics couldn’t heal the repeating sinusitis, persistent cough and lung symptoms, I knew my only hope was to change my whole life to support my healing: reducing stress, getting more sleep, doing more exercise, practice mindfulness and meditation. Most importantly changing my diet back to basics, meaning whole foods, plant-based foods, grass-fed, pasture raised organic meat, poultry and healthy seafood, without sugars and processed foods, processed dairy or grains. This would support my cells to renew, gut to heal, reduce chronic inflammation in the body and support my immune system.
What happens when Jonathan and Anna eat the same foods than usual, but without sugar for three weeks?
INFLAMMATION, OXIDATION AND GLYCATION
Glucose and fructose, carbohydrates and also the extra protein that is left unused in my body, turns all into glucose. Glucose is fuel for the cells and our brain functions depend on it. But when received too much, glucose can be the “bad guy” that swings the blood sugar levels and harms the gut bacteria. When the blood sugar swings it means more insulin must develop, and the more insulin there will be, the more insulin receptors get resistant. They just can’t handle the amount of insulin! Now becomes a huge problem… Now that the cell membrane is lacking out of the insulin receptors there’s no one to take the glucose inside the cell even though the cell is demanding for energy! This is called insulin resistance that causes high blood sugar. (1,2)
Too much insulin in the body causes all kinds of problems. High insulin, for example, keeps body fat as a hostage and not letting the body lose weight even through exercise. Chronic high blood sugar causes chronic inflammation in the body when the cell functions become disturbed and more free radicals can activate (oxidation). Free radicals again increase the chronic inflammation. And the vicious circle is there. (1,2)
The higher the insulin, the more likely you are to store fat. Insulin is also an anabolic hormone that increases growth in the body and can affect other hormones as well. And what comes to ageing…: “If you were having a fruit juice this morning, you are ageing 7 times quicker!”, says Dr Peter Lustig.
When the inflammation continues for too long, the body starts to develop toxic chemicals that can destroy and damage cells and actually change our DNA with the free radicals. Extra glucose that can not access the cells because of the insulin resistance, can example oxidise the LDL-cholesterol making it a “bad LDL”. Extra glucose is stored as a body fat. In other words, the more insulin levels go rapidly up and down and the sugar levels stay chronically high, the more glucose (sugars) is turned into fat is stored. Consequences of insulin resistance might be type 2 diabetes. (1)
Elevated blood sugar can modify various proteins in the body through a process called glycation. When proteins are glycated, meaning that they are bound to this excess sugar, it compromises how proteins work in the body. This process develops advanced glycation end products, hence the protein fibres lose their shape and elasticity (the main cause of skin ageing). Most of us start showing signs of glycation after the age of thirty. Here comes along the sugars and the rich use of carbohydrates in the diet that speed up the glycation process. For example, the corn syrup (the main source of calories in the United States) increases the glycation speed ten times! The result: our body develops more free radicals, followed by tissue damage, which again damages fats, other proteins and even our DNA. In the other words, glycation is a normal part of our metabolism, but when agitated, it causes a variety of problems such as a lack of cognitive performance, kidney disease, diabetes, vascular disease and premature ageing. The best way to prevent this is to avoid sugars! (1,2)
Glycation can harm any protein in the body. This appears also in LDL glycation (hence it’s a protein!) when it oxidises significantly and turns dangerous for health. According to Dr David Permutter, the LDL cholesterol is not actually “bad cholesterol” at all like told, but a very important carrier protein that carries vital cholesterol into the brain and states an important role for example in Alzheimer’s disease. LDLs can turn dangerous when under oxidative stress. (1,3,4,5,6)
“The fact is: cholesterol isn’t the harbinger of nutritional doom that many would have you believe. In fact, study after study has linked cholesterol to improved attention/concentration, learning, memory and abstract reasoning. All this has a great impact for our brain health.” -Dr. David Perlmutter
In another study concerning sugar participation in cholesterol, researchers in New Zealand reviewed 39 studies that looked at diets in which sugar consumption was increased. Their results revealed that higher sugar consumption raised triglyceride levels, total cholesterol, low and high-density lipoproteins, as well as both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (1,7)
Dr David Perlmutter, the author of Grain Brain, explains the truth behind cholesterol, and why it isn’t cholesterol, but grains and the inflammation they can cause, that are the true culprits.
Dr Jonny Bowden claims that there is actually 5 different LDL (and HDL) cholesterol at least. These come in two patterns and not all of them are bad.
SUGAR IS A CANCER FOOD
Diabetes (primarily type 2) is associated with increased risk for some cancers. For example, American Diabetes Association has released a study concerning the link between diabetes and cancer. Like mentioned earlier the insulin causes all kinds of problems in the body. Chronic high blood sugar causes chronic inflammation in the body when the cell functions become disturbed and more free radicals can activate (oxidation). Free radicals again increase the chronic inflammation. When you have a lot of sugar in your diet, it also increases a hormone called GIP and releases a protein called s-catenin from your pancreas. This makes your cells become immortal (they don’t die and renew like normal cells) and self-replicate which means they are on their way to becoming a pre-cancer cell. This can be prevented by eliminating sugar consumption. (8,9,10)
“S-catenin is a protein that has actually been shown to cause your cells to replicate and cause your cells to become literally immortal, and so they don’t die and that really is what creates a pre-cancerous cell. So again, if you get too much sugar in your diet, it increases s-catenin that can lead to cancer. Too much sugar in your diet can increase your insulin resistance causing diabetes, and that’s why these two things are linked.”
There’s a collection of more than 300 trillion bacteria living inside of our intestines and the dietary sugar has a direct effect on this gut’s microbiome. A diet high in sugar consumption can actually change this essential bacteria and increase inflammation in our body. Inflammation is a key mechanism in such issues as coronary artery disease, elevated blood pressure, detrimental changes in blood lipids, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and even cancer. (11)
Possible mechanisms for a direct link between diabetes and cancer include hyperinsulinemia (excess levels of insulin), hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and inflammation. Read more about sugar / insulin connection with cancer on the following studies: (12,13,14,15,16,17)
Over the past decade, it has become widely accepted that inflammation is a driving force behind chronic diseases that will kill nearly all of us. Cancer. Diabetes and obesity. Alzheimer’s disease. Atherosclerosis. Here, inflammation wears a grim mask, shedding its redeeming features and making sick people sicker. (18)
SUGAR NAME HIDDEN ON THE LIST
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Artificial sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are substances used instead of sucrose (table sugar) to sweeten foods and beverages. They came to the market in the 1950s but as we know now, didn’t bring more health among people, but in some cases made the situation even worse! Scientific research shows artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, Sucralose, Saccharine and Acesulfame K are associated with many dangerous side effects. Studies show that people drinking zero-calorie beverages and using sugar substitutes may be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autism and cancer.
Artificial sweeteners can also cause headaches, migraines, mood disorders, dizziness and episodes of mania or have gastrointestinal side effects that include bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhoea. For example, Xylitol can be very laxative if consumed large amounts, but with that said, Xylitol also helps to prevent bacteria from taking a hold on your teeth so there are two sides of the coin.
Research shows that artificial sweeteners can make you avoid healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavoured foods with less nutritional value and the feeling of not satisfied. Also, Agave nectar (while your health food store likely stocks it due to its low-glycemic index) may be best to keep out of your cart. Agave nectar is often sold as a “natural” health food but it’s actually manufactured using a highly processed procedure which unfortunately strips all nutritional value and the end product contains more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Many Agave nectars consist of 70 – 90 percent fructose which is the highest fructose content of any commercial sweetener. In addition, fructose is probably the single most damaging form of sugar when used as a sweetener.
“Fructose — the sugar found naturally in fruit — is perfectly fine when you get it from whole foods like apples (about 7 percent fructose) — it comes with a host of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. But when it’s commercially extracted from fruit, concentrated and made into a sweetener, it exacts a considerable metabolic price.” – Dr. Jonny Bowden
60 Minutes – Why Fructose sugar is so bad for you?
Fructose may actually increase insulin resistance (both diabetics and non-diabetics) and significantly raises triglycerides (a risk factor for heart disease). Fructose like in Agave nectar also increases the risk to gain visceral fat which in turn amplify the risk for diabetes, heart disease and Metabolic Syndrome (AKA pre-diabetes).
Common names for artificial sweeteners:
- Acesulfame potassium
- Sucralose / Splenda (it’s chlorinated)
- Sweet ‘N Low
Artificial sweeteners lurk in suppressing places:
- Toothpaste and mouthwashes
- Children’s chewable vitamins
- Cough syrup and liquid medicines
- Chewing gums
- No-calorie waters and drinks
- Alcoholic beverages
- Light or diet beverages and fruit juices
- Salad dressings
- Frozen yoghurt and other frozen desserts
- Candies and snack bars
- Baked goods
- Breakfast cereals
- Processed snack foods
- Processed meat products
- Nicotine gum
WHAT CAN I USE FOR A SWEET TOOTH?!
- Raw Honey (also a great source of enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B, riboflavin and niacin)
- Natural Stevia (element in the leaves, heat stable)
- Dates (potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and vitamin B6)
- Coconut Sugar (low glycemic load and rich in polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients
- Dark Maple Syrup (manganese, calcium, potassium, zinc and antioxidants, heat stable)
- Blackstrap Molasses (copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, selenium and vitamin B6)
- Balsamic Glaze (antioxidants and enzyme pepsin that helps to promote healthy digestion)
- Banana Puree (fibre, potassium, vitamins B6 and C)
- Gluten-free Brown Rice Syrup (the fermented process helps to break down the sugars into ones that are easily digestible)
- Real Fruit Jam (berries, stone fruit, apples, pears and grapes, if you buy to make sure no added sugar or pectin)
“Sugar, in the form of fruit, was formerly rarely available, mostly in late summer, when it was advantageous to store a little fat for the coming winter.” – “The Neurogenesis Diet & Lifestyle, Upgrade Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life” by Brant Cortright PhD.
HOW TO BALANCE YOUR INSULIN LEVELS NATURALLY
AND HELP CRAVINGS
Cut the sugars, refined carbohydrates and starches from your diet and replace them with the following.
Add more fibres by eating more vegetables (and moderately fruits low in fructose) rich in fibre. It’s the fibre that restrains the insulin to rise up. Note that the fruit juices are lacking the fibre. Nuts, seeds and wild berries are a great source of fibres.
Healthy fats are crucial in your diet. Whenever we eat a source of carbohydrate or sugars, it should be accompanied by a quality source of fat. Fat slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and prevents sugar highs and sugar crashes. Fat also keeps you satisfied after the meal. Healthy fats include for example grass-fed butter (helps your brain function properly) or Ghee (clarified butter), virgin coconut oil (great anti-inflammatory food), virgin olive oil (omega 3-6-9, helps chronic inflammation), MCT-oil, and DHA, EPA found in fish oils (omega-3). Avocados, nuts (almonds) and seeds (flaxseeds, chia) are also a great source of healthy fats.
Find good sources of proteins. If your body can handle milk, a fermented dairy beverage that has probiotics and raw cheeses are great. Wild chicken and turkey, free range eggs and sustainable fish are also great sources of protein.
Add herbs. Healthy herbs like Sweet Cicely, Liquorice root, Ashwagandha root and Ginseng.
- 200mg high-quality Chromium supplement, 3 times a day with a meal
- Complex B-vitamin supplement as directed with your meal.
- Probiotics will help reduce yeast in your system and helps with sugar cravings.
Note! I’m a Nutritional Therapist, not a doctor or a nutritionist, and I have learned my way through the hard way: by studying, experimenting, reading and investigating. All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The Healing Foodie is not responsible for errors or omissions.