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Get the Sugar Out for a Healthy Holiday


Sugar has been blamed for nearly every known disease and even for the fall of several empires. Those accusations may sound like exaggerations, but they are probably closer to the truth than you realize. Saying sugar is bad for you is the ultimate understatement.

Sugar has been blamed for nearly every known disease and even for the fall of several empires. Those accusations may sound like exaggerations, but they are probably closer to the truth than you realize.

Saying sugar is bad for you is the ultimate understatement. The far-reaching problems sugar can cause are well documented in medical journals throughout the world, and new sugar-disease connections are made each year.

Even as far back as the late 1960s and early 1970s before I received my master's degree in nutrition nutritional pioneers were already warning the public about the dangers of eating too much refined sugar. This information, a basic part of my training, never found its way to the public. It got lost in the 1980s amidst the outcries that all fat was bad. North Americans ended up blaming fat for their health problems instead of sugar, and since then, our country's health problems have not lessened. They have, in fact, worsened.

Take, for example, heart disease, cancer and diabetes the three leading killers in North America today. Although the media have presented dietary fat as the villain in the development of these diseases, sugar appears to be the real culprit.

How Much Do We Need?

Sugar is pervasive in our society, not only in obvious forms such as cookies, cakes and candy, but also in just about any other food you can think of. From packaged meats and soups to commercial salt, sugar is there. It's even hidden in such nonfood items as vitamin and mineral supplements, aspirin, prescription and over-the-counter drugs and various cosmetics.

Our bodies do not need simple sugars at all. Here are the facts: The human body needs about two teaspoons of sugar in the bloodstream at any one time. That small amount can easily be met through the digestion of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat. And those complex carbohydrates don't even need to include fruit. We can meet our sugar requirements quite adequately from vegetables, legumes and grains.

Cutting down on sugar has to involve a multifaceted approach. It requires developing a "sugar savvy" knowing where to watch out for sugar and how to creatively and healthfully live without it.

Top 10 Tips to a Sugar-Free Life

  1. The easiest way to cut sugar is to stop adding it to cereals, fruits and to drinks such as herbal tea, coffee and coffee substitutes. Simply eliminating nutrient-empty processed sugars from your kitchen is a good way to start, including table sugar, granulated sugar, dextrose, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar and powdered sugar.

  2. Eliminate processed carbohydrates. Although many people don't realize it, refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and white pasta are quickly converted to sugars in the body and disrupt the body's blood-sugar and fat-control systems. Keeping them out of your home is a simple yet effective way to maintain a better-balanced blood sugar level.

  3. Stick with unprocessed whole foods. That's the only way to be sure you're greatly reducing your sugar intake. Legumes, grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits, which may have some naturally occurring sugars, are full of nutrients and fibre, two ingredients that help balance blood sugar.

  4. Eliminate sweeteners or sweet foods, even natural ones, whenever you can. The idea isn't to substitute one sugar addiction for another, but to gradually and permanently cut down on all forms of sugar in your diet. Dilute concentrated sweeteners like honey with water and mix sweet foods like granola with non-sweet foods such as plain cereals and nuts to reduce the total amount of sugar consumed.

  5. Beware of fat-free foods, those new creations that seem as if they'd be so helpful to us but are actually contributing to North America's increasing weight and health problems. "Fat-free" may be in bold letters on the label, but what the manufacturers don't tell you is that the products are sugar-rich, sometimes containing two or three more times the sugar found in the regular version of that product. High amounts of sugar not balanced with protein and fat cause the pancreas to release insulin, the body's main fat-storage hormone.

  6. The more natural the food, the better. It's now well established that the more processed a food is, the more it will tend to raise your blood sugar. Since balanced blood sugar levels are the goal, opt for foods as close to their natural state as possible. Choose an orange in place of orange juice, an apple over applesauce and brown rice instead of white rice.

  7. Become a food detective. To reduce sugar, first you have to know where it is. To do that, you must be alert, ask questions and pay attention to the information you receive about food. Learn to recognize important clues such as how many grams of sugar are listed on a food label, the ingredients in a food and how sweet a food tastes to you.

  8. Eat for both taste and good nutrition, not just taste alone. Your tastes can and do change, but your fundamental nutrient requirements have to be met each and every day. It's far better to have your taste buds rebel for a short while than to have your body break down from nutritional deficiencies.

  9. Listen to your body. Your body gives powerful signals about what's right for you, even when your taste buds don't want to listen. For example, if you get an initial high after eating a piece of chocolate but two hours later feel lethargic, irritable and depressed, your body sending you a strong message. Pay attention!

  10. Eat regular, balanced meals. This may sound like the old-fashioned advice your mother may have given you, but scientific research is proving its wisdom. Some research indicates that the body operates more efficiently when each meal or snack you eat contains approximately 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat. This formula keeps your blood sugar in the optimal zone for as long as four or five hours. Balanced blood sugar levels mean better mood, greater energy and stamina (and therefore less temptation to grab something sweet for quick energy).

Excerpted and edited with permission from Get the Sugar Out (Crown, 1996) by Ann Louise Gittleman, MS, CNS.



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