I receive a number of emails about why (and how) I cut sugar out of my diet and why refined carbohydrates are bad for you. I have cut refined carbs, but still eat and cook foods made with natural sweeteners.
When you eliminate sugar from your diet, your body no longer craves it. Being sugar-free does not mean free from just baked goods and desserts. Sugar is in almost everything - alcoholic beverages, soda, fruit, chips, jelly, salad dressing, fruit and sports drinks, ketchup, mayonnaise, spaghetti sauce, crackers, vegetables, yogurt...everything! In my experience, after cleansing first and then going for approximately 2-3 weeks of being completely "sugar-free" I could drink a cup of hot tea or eat a sweet potato without adding anything and not even miss the sugar.
One of the biggest problems I had from eating sugar was toxins, toxins, toxins! I was sluggish, had insomnia, eczema, frequent headaches, allergies and a bloated belly 24/7. Improper diet and antibiotics weakened my immune system until one day it landed me in the hospital. I decided then I'd had enough. I have spent the last 15 months researching and learning about the effect toxins, sugar, dairy and yeast have on the body. And that knowledge drove me to change my lifestyle.
Not to take anything away from the medical doctors out there...but doctors don't know a lot about toxins and natural medicine. They work in concert with pharmaceutical companies to prescribe your pain away. From 2003-2010, I went through a period of feeling short of breath, having ongoing chest pains and waking up feeling like my breathing had been shut off; and spent thousands of dollars going back and forth to the doctor. Eventually I was sent to a cardiologist for further testing and was told I had a cardiomyopathy, which is deterioration of the heart muscle. For years I dealt with rapid heartbeats (sometimes over 115 bpm at rest), taking prescription meds and using the heating pad for temporary relief. More recently, I was seen by some of the top cardiologists for tachycardia, a disorder of the heart rate/rhythm. I exercise regularly and was fairly healthy looking so no one could figure out how this young lady had a abnormalities with her heart. But even with the abnormal EKGs and tests, there was still no specific evidence to suggest that I had a heart condition; only that there was something going on with my body that was affecting my heart. So I was told to go back to my normal doctor to submit to further testing, which was always inconclusive.
Similar to that, from 2005-2011, I frequented specialists for allergies and recurrent ear infections. I tried every medicine, neti pot/saline rinse and nasal spray on the market but still would suffer from chronic sinusitis year round. After a point, I started to feel like they had a notation on my chart that I was a hypochondriac because they soon began to brush off my complaints about feeling poorly. I was told by one EENT specialist to, "Stop watching so much Oprah - she and Dr. Oz are telling you to use the neti pot, correct?" And a cardiologist told me, "There is nothing wrong with your heart. Do you drink? Do you have man? If not, get a glass of wine and a man and that should relieve your stress. Cause you must just be stressed out." So the docs began to listen less and less, would write me a prescription and send me out the door. Yet, I would still lie in bed at night with a racing heart, earache, headache and sinus congestion. Whether the doctors found anything wrong or not, I knew something was not right with my body.
A friend suggested that I detox, look into natural remedies and change my diet, household products and skin products. I thought she was crazy - having her children eat hummus and tofu, buying natural detergents and making her deodorant out of baking soda. But in reading about natural medicine and toxins and the effects of sugar and dairy on the body, I learned that the toxins in my bloodstream could be causing stress on my immune system and organs; and the sugar and dairy were most certainly contributing to the mucus build-up and stress with my sinuses.
I am not a doctor. I can only share my experience. But once I eliminated the sugar, dairy and yeast I have not been to the doctor or hospital once. I have reduced my sinus and ear infections by 98% and when I feel something coming on, natural remedies help me feel better, not western medicine. I still am not 100% all the time, as there are some things I still eat that are not always the best food choices. And now that I have eliminated them, if I sneak them back in, my body lets me know it is not happy with my choice! I have not graduated to the point of changing all the things in my environment, such as household products, etc. But feeling the way I do now, compared to how I did then...eating another dessert or slice of bread is just not worth going back through those head and heartaches, literally. My skin is clearer, my mind is clearer, my sinuses are clearer, my heart rate is no longer elevated...it was the best choice I ever made.
You hear me speak often about not eating anything "white", refined carbs and sugars, etc. So what are refined and natural sugars/sweeteners anyway? Dr. William Coda Martin classified refined sugar as a poison because it has been depleted of its life forces, vitamins and minerals. "What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates. The body cannot utilize this refined starch and carbohydrate unless the depleted proteins, vitamins and minerals are present." Refined sugar is lethal when ingested by humans because it provides only that which nutritionists describe as "empty" or "naked" calories. It lacks the natural minerals which are present in the sugar beet or cane. (extracted from the book, Sugar Blues)
When you review snack and drink labels, be on the lookout for the following:
- White sugar
- Corn syrup
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Processed Fructose
- Maple Syrup
- Carob Powder
Natural sweeteners are derived from plant materials or sugars naturally present in plant products. Here is a list of some natural sweeteners that you can try if you are interested in reducing the refined sugars in your diet.
Stevia - Stevia is a South American herb that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. The leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant can be 30 times sweeter than sugar...so a little goes a long way. Stevia is believed to have anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-glycemic, and anti-hypertensive properties which may help with hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, fatigue, indigestion, upset stomach, heartburn, weight loss, cold and flu, gingivitis, tooth decay, candidiasis, bacterial infections and skin conditions. It may also improve energy levels, strengthen the immune system, and stimulate mental activity. Stevia was my lifesaver! This is the best sugar substitute for me personally. Stevia is made in many different forms and it is sometimes challenging to find reliable measurements when looking to substitute it for granulated sugar. So it does take some experimenting to get the right one for your taste buds. Depending on the maker, some stevia products leave a very bitter aftertaste. I have found success with the Vitamin Shoppe's version of Stevia extract (powder form). And I have heard positive reviews about NuNaturals Stevia products. Negatives: Stevia crystallizes differently than granulated sugar and does not perform well when making homemade ice creams and things like caramel sauce.
My second favorite is Xylitol - A sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. Xylitol is in many ingredients you use on a daily basis such as dental hygiene products, candy, chewing gum, and some medicines. If you choose to use xylitol, use it sparingly, and try to find a source that comes from the birch tree, rather than from Chinese corn. Negatives: Xylitol does not crystallize nor does it provide the needed food for yeast, so you cannot use it in bread baking or candy making recipes. Xylitol, when used in excess, can cause severe diarrhea. And never feed your pet any food made with xylitol as there is evidence that it is toxic to animals.
Yacon syrup - Yacon Syrup is relatively new on the market, although it's been around a while in South America. It tastes like molasses, is glucose free and the sugar is composed mainly of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) that cannot be absorbed by the body. FOS is a prebiotic that helps your digestion and the intestines to eliminate waste products.
Brown rice syrup - A traditional Asian sweetener, brown rice syrup is made from rice starch converted into maltose, a complex sugar. Rice syrup contains trace amounts of B vitamins and minerals. It can be used in cooking and baking, or to sweeten hot or cold beverages and cereals.
Agave nectar - The agave plant comes from Mexico. It has a low glycemic level and is a safe alternative to table sugar. It is useful for people who are diabetic or are simply watching their carb intake. Agave nectar comes in three grades: Light, medium and amber and is sweeter than table sugar.
Honey (Raw, unfiltered) - Raw, unfiltered honey is packed with natural enzymes, phytonutrients, and minerals. It is a natural antibiotic and antifungal. Honey is best used raw and not in baking. High heat destroys the enzymes and phytonutrients. If you can find raw honey that’s locally grown, with trace amounts of the pollens in your area, it will help to build up your immunity to allergens in your environment.
Vegetable Glycerine - Vegetable Glycerine is safe to use as a natural sweetener, and actually metabolizes slower than regular table sugar. Glycerine is commonly found in protein bars so that they stay moist and chewy. Although glycerine is a carbohydrate, it has a different metabolic effect on the body; glycerine reportedly has minimal impact on blood sugar levels.
It is important to note that all sugar, natural or otherwise, should be used in moderation. And as with any lifestyle change, if you have questions or if you have some health conditions, speak with a doctor or nutritionist first, as every person responds differently.
If you decide to cut out the refined carbs I would definitely suggest a detox first, to cleanse your system. There are a ton of products out there and I don't get paid to endorse any one of them. But I particularly liked the 7-day cleanse from Renew Life Total Body Rapid Cleanse. It is gentle on the system and the capsules are easy to swallow. With any cleanse, make sure you are eating properly, taking plenty of fiber and drinking lots of purified water to refrain from having constipation, bloating and toxic residue. Don’t be surprised if you feel worse for a couple of days before you start to feel better. This is especially likely if you are eliminating foods to which you are dependent, such as...you got it folks, sugar. As the body detoxifies, it is not uncommon to experience flu-like symptoms including headache, joint and muscle pain, body aches, sore throat, general malaise, sweating, chills, nausea or other symptoms. This is a normal reaction that indicates that parasites, fungus, viruses, and bacteria are being effectively killed off (Herxheimer Reaction).
Clean eating is not a choice for every one and requires a great deal of discipline. But if you desire to live a healthier lifestyle, start working on your body today. This is my "dessert" for the evening. Of course I could not do this lengthy blog without posting a recipe somewhere in here. Let's eat healthy together!
4-5 large apples, diced
1 tsp lemon juice
3/4 c water
1 dash brandy, optional
1/4 c granulated sugar (or 2 tsp xylitol)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Place the diced apples in a saucepan with the lemon juice, water and brandy. Cover the apples and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Add sugar, more or less, depending on the desired sweetness of your apples, and cinnamon. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook uncovered until water evaporates and and apples are tender, about 15 additional minutes. Serve warm.
All photographs are actual pictures of the recipe listed, prepared by Sweet Treats 'n Good Eats, and cannot be used without the owner’s consent.