Sugar. It’s sweet, it’s seductive. It’s sneaky. It’s everywhere and in everything from cookies to baby food. It’s the reason your great-grandmother’s strawberry cheesecake tantalizes your taste buds and teases your palate. It’s the reason you love ice cream and have warm fuzzy memories of the corner candy store as a kid. But what’s the downside of consuming all that sugar? Your great-grandmother warned you about sugar rotting your teeth, but even wise old granny wasn’t prepared to take on the current health epidemic the sugar-laden Standard American Diet is promoting today. Since the average American consumes 142 pounds of sugar per person, per year, (Holford 2004) you owe it to yourself to read on…
Sugar is considered by nutrition experts to be a massive contributor to the obesity epidemic in the United States today. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s statistics in 2009, 30 percent or more of the population was reported to be obese in 9 out of the 50 states (see report). And the numbers show no sign of slowing down. Heart disease is also the number one killer today in America.
To what do the top wellness gurus attribute this? The culprit is none other than your sneaky friend sugar, which has found its way into our bodies in everything from super refined high fructose corn syrup to the mislabeled, “healthy organic evaporated cane juice.” It seems as if there is no place else to hide from it. Sugar is here and it’s in your face every day.
The best way to avoid the sweet stuff is to become knowledgeable and conscious of your dietary habits. You want to know how to look for sugar, and what names the government is allowing companies to call sugar — ultimately confusing the average consumer. And let’s face it, it’s tough to avoid it. So how can you get plenty of sweetness in life without worrying about the negative health implications?
Tip One: Drink More Water
Are you thirsty? In most cases, you are craving sugar because you are dehydrated. Our body does not send us a signal alerting us of thirst until we are actually on the brink of dehydration. The next time you are craving a chocolate-covered pretzel, ask yourself, “When was the last time I had a glass of water?” If you have had less than the daily recommended 8 glasses, try drinking a glass or two and see how you feel. Has the craving dissipated? It’s a great trick!
Tip Two: Eat More Sweet Fruits and Vegetables
Imagine you were alive 150 years ago. A grocery store would be foreign to you. A candy bar would be a rare commodity, if even existent. Thus, if you craved something sweet, you wouldn’t be thinking of a Boston creme doughnut, but an apple or sweet potato. A craving for sweets could indicate a lack of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Try some sweet veggies like corn, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, carrots, parsnips, pumpkin, onions, and tomatoes. Or try an apple, banana, or bunch of grapes — all of which contain higher amounts of fructose, the naturally-occurring sugar in fruit that does not have adverse health effects on your body.
Tip Three: Avoid the White Diet
Evaluate your intake of white foods, like cookies, bread, cupcakes, pretzels, etc. These foods are refined carbohydrates, meaning they are “empty” calories, containing virtually zero nutritional content. When we eat foods that are highly processed and void of nutritional value, we are doing the body a disservice by depriving it of nutrients by adding to our sugar cravings. Simple carbohydrates break down very quickly in the body, causing our blood sugar levels to rise rapidly and then decline. When this happens, we will need to eat more frequently to balance our blood sugar. This can cause cravings for more of these types of junk foods. On top of this, refined sugar helps feed bad bacteria, yeast, and fungus that can live and grow within your gut. Sometimes when you crave these foods, it’s these gut invaders that are wanting to be fed. Your best bet is to avoid these “white diet foods” and replace them with the following.
Tip Four: Eat More Whole Grains
Some people eat sugar because they think it will give them an energy boost. And yes, there is truth to that, however, we just learned that this boost is temporary and causes your kidneys and pancreas to work overtime to produce insulin. How do you gain long-lasting energy and avoid stress on the organs? Eat complex carbohydrates, like brown rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, wheat, rye, barley, oats, fruits, and vegetables. These foods contain natural sugars, in addition to essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. This allows us to eat a small amount of food and become full faster and for longer time periods. This will reduce the need for excess sugar in the diet.
Tip Five: Try Natural Sweeteners
There are some great new sweeteners out there that are actually healthy for you. Be adventurous the next time you are in the store and try one out, but make sure you read the label to make sure the source of the sweetener is not genetically modified or that there are no other hidden ingredients or “natural flavorings. Many times the “natural flavorings” label is a way for a manufacturer to get around revealing the true ingredients of the source of the flavorings, and in most cases, you should avoid any products created with that label. Also while natural sweeteners like raw honey, molasses, and real maple syrup are all improvements over refined sugar, they have a high glycemic index (i.e. can cause your blood sugar to spike) and these sweeteners can feed microbes, fungus and parasites just as well as refined sugar. The following two natural sweeteners have no negative impact on your blood sugar, don’t feed microbes and can be very beneficial for your health.
Stevia leaf is a natural product that has been used for at least 400 years as a food product, principally as a sweetener or other flavoring agent. Be careful to avoid powdered forms of this sweetener you might find in your grocery or natural foods store because those packets can contain other ingredients and “natural flavorings” that you don’t want or need (see “Sugar Substitutes to Avoid” below). Look for liquid stevia in tincture form. Lyme patients will be happy to know that in a 2015 study conducted by Dr. Eva Sapi at the University of New Haven (see study), Sapi showed that whole-leaf stevia extract in alcohol suspension (known as Stevia A in the study and manufactured by Nutramedix) was much more effective at killing all forms of the borrelia bacteria (longform, persisters/cysts and biofilm) than other forms of stevia (Now®, Sweet leaf®, and Truvia®) in vitro. And this stevia is one of the better natural sweeteners available.
Monk fruit is a small, round fruit native to southern China. The sweetener from this fruit is derived from something called mogroside, which is extracted during the processing of the fruit. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration labels monk fruit sweetener as GRAS: “generally recognized as safe.” Monk fruit’s sweetener is full of antioxidants and does not affect your blood sugar or feed internal microbes. This one is a safe sugar replacement when used in moderation.
NOTE: Make sure the above natural sweeteners have not been enhanced with any of the following sugar substitutes! Always check the labels.
Sugar Substitutes to Avoid:
– Erythritol is a sugar alcohol like xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol, and it can be made from corn using enzymes and fermentation. Its wide use as a sugar substitute began in the 1990s and was considered safe as long it appeared in less than 1.6 % of the food content. Doses higher than that were known to cause stomach distress and a laxative effect. However, a study published in February of 2023 in Nature Medicine reported that safe doses of erythritol were shown to be associated by heightened blood clotting through hyper activation of blood platelets. For people with existing risk factors for heart disease, including diabetes, high erythritol blood levels double the risk of stroke and heart attack (see study).
– Aspartame became the world’s most widely-used artificial sweetener after its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981, and it is marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin, and AminoSweet. However, when it is consumed, aspartame converts to aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol, which all can have negative side effects on the central nervous system. Unfortunately, it has also been linked to serious health problems including cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke & dementia as well as negative effects such as glucose intolerance and obesity (click the highlighted words in the previous sentence to see related studies). Upon ingestion, aspartame is broken, converted, and oxidized into formaldehyde in various tissues of the body possibly causing migraine headaches and allergic dermatitis (see study), as well as cancer (see study) and possible DNA damage (see study). In a 2022 study by Florida State University College of Medicine, researchers have linked aspartame to anxiety-like behavior in mice, and that this behavior could possibly have an epigenetic link, meaning these traits could be passed down through generations (see study).
– Saccharin is an artificial sweetener with no nutritional value. It is commonly used to sweeten soft drinks, candies, cookies, and some medicines. In the 1970s, a study showed it caused bladder cancer in laboratory rats, but that study has been overridden by several human tests that show no link to cancer. However, saccharin can disrupt the gut biome (see study) and a 2007 study showed it proved to be more addictive than cocaine in laboratory rats (see study).
– Agave Nectar: Believe it or not, this is a natural sweetener that is actually more detrimental to your health than refined sugar. Agave nectar is about 85% fructose — a much higher percentage than plain sugar (see study). Consuming high amounts of fructose can adversely affect your metabolic health and may contribute to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes (see study).
– Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute in drugs, dietary supplements, confections, toothpaste, and chewing gum. A 1985 report by the E.U. Scientific Committee on Food reported that “ingesting 50 g a day of xylitol can cause diarrhea.” Consequently, Xylitol labels are required to display the warning: “Excessive consumption may induce laxative effects.” While xylitol is generally safe in humans it can be extremely toxic to dogs! According to Caroline Coile, AKC Family Dog Nutrition & Health columnist: “The dog’s pancreas confuses xylitol with real sugar and releases insulin to store it. The insulin removes real sugar from the bloodstream and the dog can become weak, and have tremors and even seizures starting within 30 minutes of eating it.” Other symptoms of hypoglycemia include poor coordination and vomiting/diarrhea.
If you become more mindful of your sugar intake, you may realize you were eating way too much of the stuff. When you read labels, watch out for the words: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, and fructose — all of which are different names for sugar. After a month of following these tips, make a note of the positive changes you made and keep moving forward. Removing or reducing sugar from the diet is meant to be a gradual process. It will yield results for a lifetime if you do it in a way that does not require willpower, but simply by adding new foods and acquiring a taste for healthier foods. These tried-and-true suggestions really work if you make the effort.
The above material is provided for informational purposes only. The material is not nor should be considered a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
About the author: Christie Korth has been very passionate about health and wellness since healing herself from a crippling case of Crohn’s disease through diet and lifestyle changes. She is the CEO of Happy & Healthy Wellness, Inc. and the award-winning author of “The IBD Healing Plan and Recipe Book.” She has also has been treating late-stage Lyme disease for several years and is writing a book about her experiences.