The truths of sugar consumption and its effect on sickness. How we as Americans can take back control of our sugar intake, re-train our taste buds and enjoy the natural taste of foods again.
Who can guess what yeast’s favorite food is?
(Hint: it’s probably yours too…)
You got it: sugar. Yeast feeds on sugar like a ravenous sorority girl after her Pressed Juicery juice cleanse. (Or let’s be honest, even just after a night at the bar.)
Sugar is yeast’s powerhouse; cut the sweet stuff out and it weakens and withers. No sugar = no food for yeast = yeast stops growing. Ok Jess - we get it. The biggest step of healing my gut would be to cut out sugar (in addition to all the other food allergens). Easy enough. I mean, it seems challenging, but not the worst of all things... right? Well, at least that’s what my idealistic mind thought at first. That pipe dream was soon shattered during my first trip to Whole Foods as I was forced to look at the ingredients like I was a sugar detective for the first time in my life.
Did you know that there is added sugar (as in, sugar that is not naturally occurring in a food product) in 60% of the food products in your local grocery store in America?
Because I didn't know that.
To give ya a little eye opener, here are a few every day items many of you eat that contain added sugar cane (for no freaking reason): Jiff peanut butter, Smucker’s jelly, Almond Breeze Original almond milk, salad dressings, sliced deli meats, ketchup, granola bars, flavored yogurts, marinara sauce, and protein powders.
And get this: that's ONLY SUGAR CANE! There are so many other added sugars food companies can use to sweeten up their product to make them taste "yummier," (things like agave juice, brown rice syrup, clintose, corn syrup, date sugar, hi-fructose syrup and more. To see a full list check out this website and/or this study).
And don’t get me wrong, sugar cane gets a bad wrap because of its sneaky and deceiving ways, making its way into our soups and milks, but let us not forget that it is a plant. Sugar cane is a naturally occurring, naturally sweet, fibrous plant. But the amounts in which we consume it have gone WAAAAY out of proportion.
How are we just now realizing this? Well – it could be that we were never taught.
The only thing health class taught us in high school was vegetables = good, soda = bad (and of course, just a touch of putting the fear of God into us regarding STDs and unplanned pregnancies). I mean, c'mon. What healthy teenager/young adult with no allergies ever actually looks at the ingredients? Sure, I look at the carbs, proteins and fat proportions when we're spring break preppin' for Cabo Wabo, but never the ingredients.
Today, we care more about the caloric content of a food than what the food is made out of! Consider this: when I was calorie counting and training six days a week, sometimes twice a day - yikes, I looked at my favorite protein bar (Clif Builder’s Mint Chip – duh) and thought “20 grams of protein and 270 calories … What a perfect way to rebuild muscle and keep my macros in check!” Years later I look now, and the first four ingredients of that bar? Soy protein, beet syrup, brown rice syrup and dried cane syrup. Check the nutrition content: THERE ARE 21 GRAMS OF SUGAR IN THE BAR!
THAT’S MORE SUGAR THAN PROTEIN, PEOPLE.
I can’t believe I called myself an athlete for years and never checked the most important part of the foods I was eating: THE INGREDIENTS.
You might be asking: what's the big deal? If adding sugar makes things taste better, then why do I care? Well, for starters: let's talk about why humans love sweet things so much. Humans are naturally drawn to sweet tasting foods due to evolutionary purposes. Typically, the sweeter something is, the more energy it will provide. Just think: our ancestors knew that eating a ripened, sweeter fruit would provide them with more energy for a longer period of time than an unripe, bitter fruit.
We already know this. We know there's a reason for why parents refrain from giving kids candy at night, or why we can't sleep well after a big dessert. Our blood sugar spikes and we're pretty much ready to run a marathon instead of lay our wee little heads down to rest. However, in addition to giving us more energy, sugar turns into fat, which, unlike the typical Angelino, is desirable for someone in survival mode or when someone's next meal is not promised. Make sense?
But for many of Americans (unfortunately not all), there is no longer a fear of going hungry or a need for excess fat. Regardless, our primal instincts take over our taste buds and tell us, “WE WANT SUGAR – NOW”.
IT'S A TASTEBUD TAKEOVER.
So why care that there are added sugars in 60% of the foods in our fridge/pantry? Well, sugar leads to excess fat and weight gain. Did you know that 1/3 of Americans are obese? And that 30% of children in America are overweight? There's no doubt that the added sugar in our every day foods, in addition to the sugar content in cheap fast foods and sodas, is attributing to massive weight gain all across the country. (Check out this study.)
We clearly have a food problem... But even deeper than that, America has a sugar problem.
Personally, I think added sugar actually takes away from the natural flavor of foods. Believe it or not, peanut butter actually tastes more ~peanut buttery~ when the only ingredients are ground peanuts. Imagine: ketchup being only tomatoes, vinegar and salt so that you can really taste the fullness of the tomato.
Are you picking up what I'm putting down here? When you start cutting out sugar, your natural palette for different flavors becomes refined and you are able to experience more of the diverse ingredients when they’re not masked by excessive sweetness. If all we are tasting is sugared up versions of the original, pure food - what's the point of it? Don't you want to taste a food for what it truly is at its core?
Maybe that’s just me.
If that’s not you, here’s another reason: sugar is highly addictive. Sugar, like many highly addictive drugs, releases opioids and dopamine. If you don't know what these two chemicals are, here's a quick look. Opioids are chemicals that are known for blocking pain and releasing a calming and anti-depression effect, while dopamine is a neurotransmitter that releases a sort of pleasurable "high" feeling and often times is linked to the sensation of being rewarded after a certain action. After this happens, the brain remembers the link of the action and feeling, and thus is inclined to perform the action again.
How guilty are we of this in our lives? All I can think about after reading that is how often we tell kids, "eat your veggies and then you can have dessert!"... Or how about to my fellow females, when it's that time of the month and the only thing that can calm us down is ice cream or chocolate. No wonder that was such a safe antidote! The effects of sugar on our body are similar to those of cocaine and codeine. Damn right we’d be feeling better in a few short minutes.
Again I will say, America has a sugar problem. (And probably a caffeine problem too. Ever heard of the slogan America runs on Dunkin? I just hear that and cringe every time.) The fact that 60% of grocery aisles are filled with products that contain added sugars is no joke.
But its effect on us is even more of a problem. Doctor Alan Greene from Princeton University and University of San Francisco comments on this issue when he admits, "I’m serious when I say that evidence is mounting that too much added sugar could lead to true addiction” (Healthline).
Don’t believe me? Try cutting sugar completely out of your diet for a week and I promise, you’ll experience intense withdrawals. Headaches, aches and pains, intense cravings – the whole nine yards. Don’t worry – it goes away with some water and a brisk walk. If you have the stamina, try going a month. I would bet you will feel a significant increase in your energy levels throughout the day without the sugar crash we often feel around 3-4pm....
Do you find yourself crashing every single day at 3-4pm? Forced to make another cup of coffee, take a nap or eat more just to wake up and finish out your day? You can thank sugar for that. Consuming highly sugared meals and caffeinated drinks during breakfast and lunch make your blood sugar spike… only to drop and allow your energy levels to plummet in a few short hours. Personally, after the first month no sugar and no coffee, I stopped having to nap every day. I actually had constant energy throughout the day. I even had trouble getting tired enough to go to bed at night some times…
Imagine that. No crash. And 2 years into a strict low sugar diet, I still find no real need to nap. Sugar addiction and its effects are real.
I’m not going to lie. Having a sugar allergy is quite literally one of the hardest allergies in the world. (Except for peanuts. My heart goes out to all of those poor souls who have never experienced the pure ecstasy that is eating a pb&j. A moment of silence for them.)
But here’s the cool part about the human body: we have the power to train our food preferences and physiologically change our taste buds. It’s freaking legit.
Get this: a taste bud cell’s life cycle is roughly 10-14 days long. Our taste buds are constantly regenerating and changing.This means that within two weeks of cutting something completely out of your diet, you have completely new taste buds and a fresh palette. We’ve all experienced the awesomeness of the human body in this way. What you didn’t like at one point in life, you might enjoy now. For example – babies don’t really like lemons or really anything bitter tasting. Twenty years later, those same babies probably love lemons and limes (either to help with the sting of a tequila shot or to boost their salad dressing – both equally as important).
Another example? Most kids hate broccoli and kale. Yuck. I don’t know about you, but the only way my mom could get me to eat broccoli when I was little was to smother it in parmesan cheese. (Moment of pure laughter at the fact I’ve been allergic to dairy my entire life and didn’t find out until 20 years old hahahahhhaha.) But now? I’ll eat some steamed kale any hour of the day, and broccoli has become one of my favorite dinner sides. Yum.
Another cool part about this is that your tongue can become your best detective at ingredient testing. For example, one time during my new diet, I went to Denny’s with a few friends. What the hell could a girl with a million food allergies get at a Denny’s? Pretty much nothing. EXCEPT, however, the $1.99 side of hash browns.
And dammit, I got them. (Would you believe me if I told you I brought my kombucha with me from my Whole Foods run the night before? HAHA – I hate me, too.)
They were the sweetest hash browns I had eaten in years. I immediately stopped after the first bite and said, “Something is in these that I can’t have"... Sure enough, the shredded potatoes, as beautiful as they were, had been cooked with butter instead of vegetable oil. (Not that vegetable oil is that much better for you – but you get my point.) I knew the taste of dairy like it was poison on my plate. Within one bite, my taste buds knew “DON’T EAT THIS.”
Within a few short months, my tongue and taste buds became my trusted side kick. I found that cutting sugar out of my diet helped relieve me of the constant 3pm crash. Lastly, I have come to enjoy the taste of sugar free foods more than those with sugar (not to mention the added bonus that comes in knowing I'm taking care of my body long term, healing my yeast overgrowth and shedding fat).
For your journey..
So what’s the point of me telling you all of this?
1. Well first of all, to encourage you to look at the ingredients of what you’re eating, dammit. If you didn’t know, ingredients are listed in proportion levels. (i.e. whatever is the first listed ingredient means that is the largest used ingredient in the product, down to the smallest). Knowing this, if “sugar cane” or any of the other things I listed above as "added sugars" are listed first, second, third, fourth, even fifth honestly – don’t eat it. It’s not worth the sugar crash and effect on your body.
2. If you crash at 3pm every day, seriously. Try cutting out sugar. Believe it or not, your body is trying to tell you something...
3. Sugar is everywhere and in everything. Don't be discouraged if this is the hardest thing you've cut out of your diet thus far. But man - it is worth it. Using other sweeteners can be your friend as your taste buds adjust to more bitter tasting foods! If you're not fighting a yeast overgrowth or cancer, raw honey is super sweet and has lots of health benefits! Coconut sugar or coconut nectar are also great alternatives. Unfortunately, if you are battling Candida or have been recommended to avoid all sugar, Stevia is your best bet. Stevia is one of my best friends (literally - I keep five packets in my purse at all times). It's naturally occurring and zero calorie, and it's used a lot for diabetics because of its incredibly low glycemic index! Plus, it is 300x sweeter than sugar cane... That means you can use less for the same sweetness, and buy less! #savinglivessavingmoney ayyyyy.
4. This is a long journey. There are moments that I totally miss normal ice cream or having cookies, brownies, pancakes, or even just Jiffy peanut butter. And you know what? Sometimes I cheat and have a bite of pazookie - that's life. If you want to have a brownie on your birthday or your favorite Reeses on Halloween, DO IT! Life is not black and white, not matter how much us perfectionists want it to be. It's quite gray - and nothing needs to be perfect to a T. Even though all of these things are true about sugar consumption and its effects on our bodies - don't fret. All I'm asking is for you to be CONSCIOUS and AWARE of what you're eating, and if you're willing, make an effort to lower your sugar intake if you want to see a tangible change in your life. :)
“Food Memory: Discovery Shows How We Remember Taste Experiences.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 22 Sept. 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140922110149.htm.
GIPHY. “Ice Cream GIF.” GIPHY, GIPHY, 14 Dec. 2016, giphy.com/gifs/ice-cream-Xe0BdkKih1vy0.
GIPHY. “Psychedelic Cotton Candy .” GIPHY, GIPHY, 8 Feb. 2017, giphy.com/gifs/girl-psychedelic-sugar-rush-oiGCnybFPh6Q8.
GIPHY. “Secret Latoya Jackson.” GIPHY, GIPHY, 22 Mar. 2018, giphy.com/gifs/Yiw4aLjpxldhC.
Greger, Michael. “Want to Be Healthier? Change Your Taste Buds.” NutritionFacts.org, nutritionfacts.org/2014/06/24/want-to-be-healthier-change-your-taste-buds/.
“Is Sugar an Addictive Drug?” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/experts-is-sugar-addictive-drug#1.
Olsen, Christopher M. “Natural Rewards, Neuroplasticity, and Non-Drug Addictions.”Neuropharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139704/.
Spector, Dina. “An Evolutionary Explanation For Why We Crave Sugar.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 25 Apr. 2014, www.businessinsider.com/evolutionary-reason-we-love-sugar-2014-4.