Have you ever been told your blood sugar is high or you might have an insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes? Or, you simply notice those awful blood sugar highs and lows after eating and want to feel better?
You are not alone. Over half the population of the United States experiences some form of blood sugar (glucose) problem, and many go undiagnosed.
The first step is to get proper medical care, and, if a change in diet is recommended, removing refined sugars from our food choices is usually the first step.
Related: How I Learned to Run at Middle Age.
The Problem with Sugar
Years ago, I was taking a human biology course at university, and, at the opening of the very first class of the year, the professor said something that has always stuck with me.
Refined sugar is the number one health threat to our society.
As a healthy, young sugar-addict, I was understandably torn. Those are serious words, but, as the term went on, the evidence presented was quite compelling.
We studied all of the body’s systems, the essential role that our blood glucose plays, and saw what happens when the ability to process sugars becomes impaired.
It is not good.
Some people manage to avoid the fallout of our high sugar diets, but a majority eventually experience unhealthy, persistent high blood glucose levels on an ongoing basis, resulting in the gradual destruction of healthy bodily functions. When glucose can’t get where it’s needed in the body, those systems cannot continue working right.
Heart. Eyes. Circulation. Kidneys. Nervous system…. In other words, everything that keeps us alive. And often we do not even know how serious the problem is until there is a health crisis.
It’s very scary, but, if you’re fortunate, you get the message, take it seriously, and make changes while you can. Our health is not entirely in our control and that’s why it’s so important to steer the stuff we can.
Stop Celebrating with the Enemy
Sugar is so engrained in our diets, our rituals, our celebrations, our rewards, that it is seemingly impossible to navigate life without it. But, once you have done the homework and know the damage it does, or, start feeling the symptoms and realize how terrible it can make you feel, change becomes desirable.
Again, this is not medical advice and I am not an expert of any kind. You have to see your doctor for that. If sugar is a problem or you want to prevent future problems, perhaps it’s time to go sugar-free? Get yourself tested. Seek professional advice. Consider what you’re eating and how it plays a role.
Also, even without a known threat of diabetes, a sugar-free diet is arguably the healthiest choice anyone can make.
Tips for Living Sugar-Free
- Understand that every body is different and no two people will process sugars the exact same way. You need to learn what does and does not work for your body.
A complete physical including ongoing monitoring of blood sugar and insulin levels can provide helpful feedback.
- Learn everything you can about sugar, blood glucose, and glucose impairment (prediabetes and diabetes) and use this knowledge to steer your lifestyle choices. Prevention is hard to measure but a healthy fear of the risks can be motivating.
- Find a reliable, fact-based, lifelong eating plan designed to balance blood glucose.
This will include meals that combine protein, non-starchy vegetables, fruit (optional), and good fats.
Look for plans that measure glycemic load (GL), not just the glycemic index (GI). It’s the foods that spike blood glucose over long periods of time that are the biggest problem. The Paleo Diabetes Diet Solution is a book I like for recipes and more information.
- Know all of the harmful sugars and the foods they are hidden in. Most prepared and processed foods have sugar added (or some other weird junk you do not want to be eating). I’ve listed some of these sneaky foods below.
- Trust nothing. Read labels and find out about ingredients first. And don’t expect a server at a restaurant to rhyme off every ingredient in a dish. When in doubt, stick with whole foods.
- Plan ahead so you always know the right foods are available when you need them.
- Own it. If you want to really steer your health however you can, there isn’t room for ‘good days’ and ‘cheat days’. Play the long game. Getting enough sleep and de-stressing play a big role too. It’s all a choice.
So How Do I Quit Sugar?
Have you heard the expression, how we live our days is how we live our lives? This is not a dress rehearsal. Eating sugar-free is a powerful, preventative choice.
Personally, I went cold turkey a few years ago. The process may make you miserable for a few days—just as it is when you give up any long-term habit—but then you start to feel better. A whole lot better. It’s up to you how you tackle this. It’s no crime if it takes a few tries.
- Imagine your life depends on it.
- Consult your physician first to come up with a plan.
- Find out your blood sugar and insulin levels and what they mean.
- Get a food plan for maintaining healthy blood sugar and start cooking.
- Give and get support however you need it. There are plenty of sugar-free forums and support groups out there.
- Always be prepared with the right foods available.
- Know that it’s going to suck for a while until you get adjusted. Giving up is not an option.
- Create new habits for cooking, exercise, sleep, entertainment, socializing, hobbies.
- Surround yourself with healthy influences and be one yourself.
- Continue monitoring your blood sugar levels and adjust your food plan as needed.
- After a few weeks, notice how much better you look and feel and let that continue to motivate you.If weight loss has been a struggle, you may well discover that going sugar-free will be the key to losing the extra pounds.
What Are the Foods to Avoid?
The body needs carbohydrates but the trick is to find the ones provided by healthy, whole foods that work for your body.
The problem is many refined foods.
Again, it will depend on what your body tolerates. This is a very generalized list of foods to avoid:
- Sugars and sweeteners
- Refined and whole grains
- Vegetable and seed oils
- Dairy products
Hidden Sugars and Sugars to Avoid
I encourage you to always read food labels and learn all of the different ways added sugar can be listed. It’s mind-boggling.
It does not matter what the source is. Whether it’s ‘natural’, organic, or processed, added sugar is added sugar in your body.
These are just a few to avoid:
- sugar – refined, brown, white, invert, organic…
- syrups (corn, maple, cane, rice…)
- cane sugar
- juices or fruit juices
- dextrose, glucose, lactose, high-fructose
- artificial sweeteners
Some added sugars are obvious like those in baked goods, soda pop, fruit juices, and other sugary drinks.
But here’s a few surprises. There is often added sugar in:
- tomato sauce
- refried beans
- bacon (yes! Check the label. Most bacon is processed with sugar.)
And, the problem is, refined and whole grains convert to sugar in your body.
This is a very general overview and is somewhat misleading without the specific details because besides choosing whole foods, how they are prepared is important. I follow a plan similar to the one in The Paleo Diabetes Diet Solution.
- Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Fruits (in moderation, when tolerated)
- Nuts and seeds
- Fats and oils (coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil…)
The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes
“Among Americans, diabetes is more prevalent today than ever; obesity is at epidemic proportions; nearly 10% of children are thought to have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. And sugar is at the root of these, and other, critical society-wide, health-related problems. With his signature command of both science and straight talk, Gary Taubes delves into Americans’ history with sugar: its uses as a preservative, as an additive in cigarettes, the contemporary overuse of high-fructose corn syrup. He explains what research has shown about our addiction to sweets. He clarifies the arguments against sugar, corrects misconceptions about the relationship between sugar and weight loss; and provides the perspective necessary to make informed decisions about sugar as individuals and as a society.”
Will You Go Sugar-Free?
I know this sounds miserable to most people. Personally, I have always struggled with an addiction to sugar so I felt it was smart to just give it up all together.
No matter what you choose, put your health first.
If you are interested in a guided plan, Summer Rayne Oakes has a sugar detox course which you can find here. I am not affiliate nor have I read or followed her paid plan, since I went sugar-free on my own, but I have read her articles about living sugar-free and they all align with my own understanding of this lifestyle choice, so I’m confident you should find additional helpful info there.
- American Diabetes Association | Statistics about diabetes
- The Paleo Diabetes Diet Solution (book) | See it here on Amazon.com