Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sugar, its not that sweet...

The average sugar consumption of an American has been steadily rising; the average American consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugar EVERY DAY and 120 pounds of sugar a year, approximately 25% of total calories consumed.

Going Paleo means changing your food and eliminating processed foods as well as other food categories primarily grains, legumes, and dairy from your diet - which to a person eating the typical American diet can seem pretty extreme. I didn't change my diet overnight to Paleo, and actually started with a No Sugar challenge. I'm urging you to try a No Sugar challenge on your own and by excluding sugar from your diet I'm not just talking about sugar that you add into things like coffee and rice crispy cereal or switching from Coke to Diet Coke, I'm talking about cutting out ALL added sugar that isn't found naturally in food. So don't worry about the sugar that occurs naturally in the apple that you're eating, as long as you're eating the whole apple or the lactose content of the glass of whole milk you just drank - the sugars in those foods are not the sugars that I'm worried about you over consuming since its hard to eat 15 apples in one sitting or to drink an entire gallon of whole milk in a day (Warnek excluded).

Sugar is pretty sneaky, especially added sugar. It goes by many names like our friend High Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Agave, Cane Sugar, Cane Syrup, Tapioca Syrup, Maple Syrup, Brown Sugar, and Sugar Alcohols: sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol, and mannitol.

Take a look at some of the foods you probably have in your cabinets or fridge right now, almost anything that has a label on it has added sugar, take a look. Salad Dressing? Added Sugar. BBQ Sauce? Yup, it has added sugar too. Tomato Sauce? Check. Granola bars? Check. Bread? Check. Canned Soup? Likely. I think you're getting the point, a lot of things which you eat where you wouldn't except there to be 'added sugar' actually have quite a bit of sugar in them. Sauces and condiments are particular place where people forget to look and you don't expect sugar to be added. Dried fruit almost always contains added sugar, so do most baked goods and not just the sweet kind like cakes and cookies - most packaged sliced breads have sugar in them and more than you would expect!

Why did I cut the added sugar from my diet? Because sugar and sugar substitutes (sweet'n'low, equal, stevia, etc) cause an insulin response in your body. The insulin response can lead to inflammation in addition to decreasing your level of insulin sensitivity. Sugar in your diet causes your body to release insulin, the more sugar you eat, the more insulin is released. Insulin is a storage hormone, and its job is to take the energy found in the sugars (the carbohydrate molecules of fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc) and stores them for later use. Ironically do you know how your body does that? It converts the carbohydrate molecule into fat! As I referenced in an earlier post, eating fat doesn't make you fat, but eating sugar does. Its not a matter of the amount of calories that you just consumed, eating or drinking anything sweet triggers your body's insulin response - so when you drink a Diet Coke or a Skinny Water your body still releases insulin and the insulin looks for carbohydrates and takes them to store as fat the same way it would if you were to be consuming real sugar. For example, Type II Diabetes is essentially extreme insulin resistance so in order to prevent Type II diabetes you need to get better control of your insulin sensitivity, and a great way to do that is by managing the amount of sugar and carbohydrate you put into your body since carbohydrates create a large insulin response.

In addition to interfering with your insulin sensitivity, an increased insulin response also leads to increased inflammation in your body. Increased inflammation leads to disease - typically the diseases referred to as Syndrome X diseases: coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. In order to control my insulin sensitivity and limit inflammation in my body I've chosen to remove added sugars from my diet. I've learned how to look for them, where they typically hide, and most often if there is label on the food it has some added sugar in it. I know it sounds crazy, but I primarily drink water and black coffee and occasionally green tea with no added sweetener. In the past 2 decades soda somehow became a staple of everyone's diet instead of a sometimes treat, and all the added sugar, particularly the high fructose corn syrup, is really taking a toll on the health of Americans. I will be doing a future blog post with more information on HFC and Fructose in a future blog post.

You'll find when you remove sugar and sugar substitutes from your diet that you will notice that you look, feel, and perform better and you should also see improvement in your biomarkers like lower triglycerides. Use this as your measuring stick to see how things are working for you, do things that make your body look, feel, and perform better. Keep in mind that just like anything else you may not feel great right away when you cut out added sugars, but that may be because you're going into sugar withdrawal. Sugar is a VERY addictive thing, and depending on how dependent you are on sugar you may feel the effects of not eating for a few weeks. Give it the 30 days and you'll feel fine since that will be enough time to get your body to re-adjust, to repair some of your metabolic derangement and insulin sensitivity.

Now you know why I've chosen to remove sugar from my diet, what are you going to do with yours?  Hungry for more information on sugar, check out this blog post by Balanced Bites on Sugar: The Dish on Sugar and Sweeteners  She has a great PDF chart that you can download too! 

In my diet I try to avoid all added sugars; however, when I do have sugar I try to make it from a natural source preferably honey.  I do eat dark chocolate usually around 85% which has a small amount of regular sugar in it.  See what works for you and how you feel, you will notice that things start to taste much sweeter once you've eliminated most added sugars from your diet.


  1. I'm curious why you included stevia. It's an herb that has a very 'sweet' taste, but has no impact on blood sugar since it contains no sugar. Though most forms of it are rather processed it is the only allowable sweetener when doing a candida cleanse which is stricter than what you've even described here.

    Just curious! :)

  2. @Jennifer - from what I've read/listened to through podcasts I believe that even though Stevia is an herb that your body reacts to the sweetness the same way as it does to sugar and alternative sweeteners (which I believe do not contain any sugar in them either). I'll have to do some more research and let you know what I find more concretely. If anyone reading this has a source that explains your bodies chemical reaction to Stevia please post to comments. Thanks for the question, and I hope to have an answer for you soon.

  3. Hi Laura,
    I've been doing some internet searches for info regarding this and the only places I can find where there seems to be a question of safety raised is within crossfit blogs. However, there are conflicting studies demonstrating that stevia can have to potential to interfere with fertility (which I knew about already), that it was help control high blood pressure, and that it can help in the secretion of insulin which is a huge plus for those whose pancreas isn't producing enough. Perhaps this is where this idea is coming from??? I don't know for sure.

    I think one reason people get irked out by stevia is b/c of how sweet it tastes. Because we are so used to the sweet taste coming from sugar, we think that sweet only equal sugar. However, it doesn't. There are five different tastes- sweet, pungent, salty, astringent and sour. The actual leaves of stevia are just sweet can actually buy your own plants at places like Lowes in the summertime.