Yes, you heard me right. I am cutting down all added sugars in my life. You can call me crazy but I went on a wild ride last month trying out the Whole30 challenge.
Why I haven’t blogged about it yet is because…
- It contradicted all the types of eating I share on my blog, and
- I wasn’t sure if I liked it. But I have been having some issues in mood, weight gain and fatigue in the past year and needed to try something drastic.
If you haven’t heard of the Whole30 challenge – it was developed as a tool to understand your relationship to food. You are meant to cut out all types of possible allergens/inflammatories for 30 days. You then reintroduce them once your body has given everything a decent rest. Similar to a cleanse, however unlike other I have tried in the past, I couldn’t eat any grains or legumes. As a vegetarian, that meant eggs, eggs and more eggs (you weren’t allowed to eat dairy either). The biggest one of them all though was sugar.
Along with cutting out these foods, Melissa also suggests limiting snacks unless you were truly hungry or post-workout, and to only eat foods in their natural forms. Smoothies weren’t recommended as you usually chug them back and load them with fruit. Make shift breads, muffins, pancakes were also out.
What I found through the challenge was astounding. It reaffirmed my desire to eat less animal products, unless free range and organic. Also, I was having a mad addiction to sugar. Even though I always felt I was pretty good with eating less sugar, I would still crave something sweet after every meal. And when I got something sweet, I devoured it. This challenge really showed me how addicted I was to sugar. When I cut it out, I noticed other flavours and textures and no longer craved it!
Is sugar bad for you?
It depends how you look at it, and now I am going to geek out on you a bit. There are numerous studies that show the negative effects of sugars on your body. For instance, excessive consumption of sugar can promote overweight and obesity. This can contribute to non-communicable diseases and many types of cancer. Furthermore, high amounts of fructose in the body can place huge strain on the liver, which in turn can result in Type 2 Diabetes and other metabolic disorders. There is also research to show that sugar can lower plaque and increase tooth decay.
You might be wondering though, what about sugars found naturally in fruits and vegetables? Research says ‘it depends’ as most sugar found naturally in foods tend to be foods higher in fibre, which slows the rate of digestion and absorption. That being said, the problem arises mostly from added sugars to the diet.
The grey area
Sugars are a type of carbohydrate, along with fibre and starch. Sugar in small to moderate amounts is okay for the body to process. However, try to limit the amount of added sugars in the foods you eat. Although no upper limit has been set by Food Agencies such as Health Canada on the amount of sugar you should have in a day, they recommend a maximum of 25% of your total energy (calories) per day be from added sugars (For example, if you were to eat 2000 calories in a day, 625 calories from sugar is the maximum).
Why is sugar in everything?
There are some functional properties of sugar besides adding that sweet taste. For instance, it can heighten and depress certain flavors, as well as adding texture to foods. But so what… We have so many amazing blogs and cookbooks out there now to guide us through alternatives. I really don’t think we need to put sugar in everything.
As well, there are so many names for sugars, which makes it very overwhelming. The main trick is to look at the end of the name, most end in ‘ose’. Some common sugars are: dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose and sucrose. Manufacturers tend to add different types of sugars to food so that they can hide the real amount present. There are other names for sugars without ‘ose’ as the ending such as cane juice, syrups and honey.
How to cut the habit…
My biggest piece of advice to you, is this. If you are feeling like you are overdoing it in sugar, cut it out. Even if it’s for a week. This way you can cleanse the system and really see it’s effects on you. You may be more susceptible to eating sugar based on the type of meal, your mood or mental health status and external environments. Understanding when you are triggered most is important.
Here are five suggestions on how to change your behaviours so that you are less likely to eat added sugars:
- Fill your fridge, pantry and work environment with items low in sugar – that way, when you are hungry you aren’t tempted by what you already have at arm’s reach.
- Do not be tempted when buying food – grocery and convenience stores are known for placing high sodium and sugar items close to the till and at the front of the aisles. Michael Pollan suggests shopping in the perimeters of grocery stores so that you are eating as much fresh, whole foods as possible.
- Switch your social activities – at this time of year when the weather is colder, it is easier to meet a friend or colleague for drinks, coffee or food. Attempt to suggest other activities that are not ‘sugar’ related, like going for a walk or seeing a play. Or pick a spot that has sugar free options.
- Lay off the condiments – you may have noticed that condiments are one of the most common places to increase sugar consumption. Avoid excess amounts mayonnaise, ketchup and salad dressings or make your own. Herbs, vegetable broth and spices can add wonderful flavours to foods without adding sugar.
- Get a good night’s sleep – this may seem simple but research shows that sugar consumption increases when a person is tired.
I hope these tips are helpful! Next week, I will start sharing some of the different recipes I used throughout the month when I cut out sugar. I would love to hear if you have tried cutting down sugar and what you have done to make it easier!