My Love/Hate with Sugar: Oh sugar my sugar. Don’t you just love your sweet treats? And if not a chocolate bar, bowl of mint ice-cream or pecan pie, how about a big glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Gris? Admit it. We all get our sugar fix from somewhere. Some say, “Oh no, I’m a chip lover, I crave salt,” as they chug down their fish bowl of wine—same difference lady, sugar in the body, glucose, and it’s a fix. We poor saps are programmed from birth to love it, from the first taste of that highly nutritious sticky sweet breast milk, to mushed bananas, to a parade of sugar-coated cereals, and Halloween, my nemesis.
Sugar is the food nobody needs and everyone wants/craves. It has a long, sorted and even bloody past—including slavery and wars—and likely entered our diet by accident, as fodder feed for livestock. 3500 years ago it began to spread around the planet via Austronesian and Polynesian seafarers. The first chemically refined sugar was introduced 2500 years ago. Throughout much of history it was considered a rare and expensive spice, not an every day condiment. Brazil began the first slave-based plantation in the 15th/16th centuries. Once introduced to the Carribean in 1647, the industry spread through Europe, and the boom continues to feed humanity’s sugar craze!
Now, no other crop occupies so much of the world’s land for so little benefit to humanity. It’s compared to tobacco in terms of its slavery origins, explosive growth and market share—sugar cane is the third most valuable crop after cereals and rice. And, like tobacco, sugar is considered an industrial epidemic of a non-communicable disease driven by profit for mega corps! It’s main output, apart from huge commercial profits, has been nothing short of a global health crisis. Whoa!
To think I just thought it tasted good! How naïve! Most of you know me as a somewhat disciplined holistically minded health nut/nutritionist/food coach. But sugar my sugar has been my captain most my life. Hello my name is Shannon I’m a sugaholic. Why? Because it makes me feel good. So good.
And there it is. Sugar is a drug with no nutritional value, unless you are starving, then it provides energy. But nearly any other food you choose will have more value, unless it too is junk food. It provides a flood of dopamine in the brain, we feel pleasure—a little like cocaine—it’s a super-stimuli drug. You get way more dopamine from a cupcake then an apple. This body/brain reward cycle is an ancient survival mechanism, and now it’s our downfall. The more we eat the more we want, the more our health suffers. You’re driven to that dopamine/ opioid cycle like a drug addict.
Beyond the addiction, empty calories, expanding waste line, the blood sugar peak and trough that leaves you jilted, irritated and just plain sad, it drains your body of key nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Any time you eat junk food, denatured food, it uses the body’s nutrient stores: so valuable enzymes, vitamins and minerals we need for other more important tasks are used to digest and eliminate or store the sugar as fat. So you end up with a net loss. Refined pure white sugar has been stripped of any nutrients the sugar beet or sugar cane once had, such that it’s now simply a pure chemical extract, a simple carbohydrate which contains 50% glucose, 50% fructose and that is all, no beneficial micronutrients, not a vitamin, not a mineral not a one. Same with brown sugar, it too has been bleached and stripped and then had caramel colour added back but none of the nutrients. That 50% fructose is a scary number as high doses plague the liver which turns it to fat and increases triglycerides and bad cholesterol. Too much of this can give you non-alcoholic fatty liver disease—increasingly an issue in children, thanks to refined sugar.
Hence why I thought – brilliant when organic coconut sugar hit the scene – it’s even at Costco. It’s not denatured, it has only 3 to 9% fructose instead of 50, and can have zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, and inulin an important prebiotic. I wouldn’t call it healthy, but it’s certainly a healthy alternative to white sugar, as is maple syrup and honey for similar reasons. These sweeteners, in their raw, unprocessed forms, actually have micro-nutrients.
However, my late night coconut sugar cookies, my chocolate honey hemp bars – no matter how many chia seeds and almond slivers and goji berries I put in them – still keep me knee deep in sweet cravings, and we all know sweet-stuff (whether maple syrup or refined sugar) feeds bad bacteria in our critically important gut biome, it’s the yeast talking, it’s the yeast that’s craving. I’ve never been able to solve my yeast issues. It’s come and gone and shown up as a really attractive skin fungal rash—every body is different, some women get yeast infections, some get canker sores, I get leopard spots. I have made many ultimatums with sweets, “Never again!” And even gone as long as two months with nothing sweet, not even fruit. But –as you can see– it hasn’t stuck. So I ended up using what I thought were the new Holy Grail of sweeteners: Monk Fruit Extract and sugar alcohols like Xylitol and Erythritol – what, no calories? No glycemic index? Won’t raise blood sugar? Passes through the body unchanged? How could this possibly be bad?
Only to take a big long look at the bright white refined nature of these new fangled sweeteners and say this can’t be good. Eyrthritol is usually made from corn, if not organic, assume GM. Plus it’s toxic to flies—like an insecticide—this makes me leary. More studies please. Of course these aren’t in the league of old school zero calorie sweeteners: Nutrasweet, Equal Splenda. I’d never touch the known carcinogen aspartame (which Nutrasweet is made from)—and you shouldn’t either. Do I need to explain their health dangers? Read any study about phenylalanine, aspartic acid and brain damage/brain tumors in rats—there is no denying this science. So please, if you’re looking for a sugar substitute then do use xylitol or erythritol or monk fruit—they’re safer for sure.
So what to make of all this? Here’s where I’m at:
I believe that coconut sugar, maple syrup and raw (local) honey are all fine in moderation – and by moderation I mean not every day, small doses here and there. Get your sweet fix from fruit and smoothies. Beyond that, I believe that if you have issues that would indicate the beginnings of a chronic disease like insulin resistance, or inflammation or leopard spots—you need a deep cleanse, likely greater then two weeks. If you have a spectrum disorder or suffer from leaky gut or Celiac Disease or thyroid issues, that too requires a deep cleanse, possibly in the realm of months. I know. Difficult.
The GAPS diet is something that is making its way mainstream and I will be talking more about it here. This diet resolves leaky gut and restores the gut biome—thus quashing sugar cravings and all its downstream negative effects. But it requires a pretty big commitment, months. Seek out a specialist or email me if you think this might be you. In the meantime, start with a good cleanse—no sugar or refined foods—see my cleanse episode on Youtube: called Love your Liver, Spring Clean. And feel free to email me if you’d like one-on-one consultation. Coming soon I will be working with the Gut Girl to create an online cleanse that keeps you accountable, so keep checking back for news. Happy healthy eating, happy healthy life!