Just to be clear from the start: I am not a nutritionist or dietary expert. I am in love with food from the preparation stage to the joy of eating and everything that comes in between. Also, over the last couple of years, I have tried various diets out of health and conscious reasons like Vegetarianism, Veganism and the Ketogenic Diet. Due to those experiences, I still try to use the least amount of animal products possible. My meat, eggs and fish come from local producers I know personally. Surely the biggest impact on my life was made by the Ketogenic Diet – low carb, goodbye sugar.
What were the reasons to try the keto diet in the first place? Since I was a teenager, I have had the worst migraines you can imagine. Every month, there was one day, during which I would lie in bed at around 3pm, in the dark, windows closed and just try to pass out since the pain would increase to unbearable level. The next day wasn’t the best either, as my mind and body were still exhausted. A Canadian doctor friends recommended me, advised me to try the Keto Diet. Here I am, 1 year later, still on the diet and migraine free! and I am loving it !
Due to the success of eating low carb and sugar free, I wanted to know more about sugar, the facts, the impact on our body and our mind. In this blog post, I summarize what I have read in books, articles or listen to in podcasts and on YouTube over the last year. Maybe it is going to convince you to consume less sugar. Every bit counts!
Only 100 years ago, humans ate around 1 kilo of added sugar per year. Today, the average human eats about 60 kilos of added sugar a year. This statistic varies from country to country and also from source to source. But they all point to a dramatically increased sugar consumption in a more or less recent period. 100 years is arguably a very small period in the evolutionary point of view. Only a few generations would not have been enough to adapt properly to such a great change in alimentation such as a 60 fold increase in sugar consumption.
An increase of sugar intake of that magnitude in such a short span of time brought many questions in my mind: What is sugar exactly? Is it good or bad for me? What exactly does it do to my body? How much is too much? Is it possible to still genuinely enjoy eating while taking sugar out of my life?
So many questions but maybe we should first define the word sugar in a more scientific way before answering the questions above. All sugars are made from glucose, fructose and galactose. Those three building blocks are monosaccharides (one-molecule sugars) and make up all forms of carbohydrates. For example, 1 molecule of our famous table sugar (sucrose) is made of 1 molecule fructose and 1 molecule glucose linked together. This simple carbohydrate we know and love is produced naturally in all plants, including fruits, vegetables and even nuts. Of all plants, sugar beets and sugar cane have the greatest quantities of it, which is why they are used in the industrial sugar production. That means the sugar we keep in our pastry is exactly the same as the sugar naturally found in strawberries, cashews and carrots.
So if it is found in nature, what is the problem? Does that mean you shouldn’t eat fruits anymore? No, not at all! An apple for example contains about 10g of sugar, but is combined with fibre and other nutrients, so your body digests it more slowly. The added sugar in sweetened beverages and packaged food is what causes the trouble. Sweetened beverages (including fruit juices) for example, have huge amounts of added sugar and are partly responsible for the 60 fold increase of sugar consumption.
Why is sugar bad for you? And what exactly does it do to your body? As I have never been an expert in chemistry, quite the contrary, I will try to explain what I know the best I can. In the next paragraph I am going to simplify what I have read and understood. Also I am going to put a lot of links for you so you can read up the more scientific explanations on your own.
Over the last years scientists, especially Dr. Robert Lustig, discovered that the molecule fructose is responsible for today’s epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol. As explained on top, fructose makes up 50% of table sugar and 55% of corn syrup which is found in sodas, candy, sweetened yoghurt, salad dressings, frozen junk food, breads, canned fruits, juices, granola bars, breakfast cereals, sauces and condiments, snack foods, energy drinks, jam and jelly, ice cream etc.!
So why is fructose responsible for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol? First, fructose is the only food molecule that is not processed in our cells; instead fructose is broken down in the liver, where it transforms into visceral fat around the main organs. Dr. Robert H. Lustig explains the impact of fructose more in detail in “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” , a YouTube video with over 8 million views. If you are a lot on the road like I am, you can also listen to the Diet Doctor Podcast #14 – Dr. Robert Lustig.
Second, studies show that drugs and sugar both activate the same reward system in the brain, causing release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and becomes activated when something good happens unexpectedly. If the brain is exposed to fructose over and over again it changes the dopamine receptors. The result is that you tend to want to take in more food even though you don’t need it for energy, just to feel satisfied. That leads to sugar addiction, weight gain and obesity.
Furthermore, the results of too much added sugar consumption leads to reduced insulin sensitivity, sugar lows and caries. So the question is, how much added sugar is actually good for you? The WHO (World Health Organization) published a sugar guideline recommending a sugar consumption between 5-10% of the total energy intake per person per day. That equals an amount of 6-10 teaspoons per day or 24-40g. 1 teaspoon of sugar is about 4g of sugar. That includes the sugar in honey, syrups, fruit juices, sweetened beverages, packaged food, pastry, bread but not the natural sources of sugar like fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese and nuts.
A lot of my friends tell me “Oh I wouldn’t want to eat like you! You miss out on all the good stuff!”. The problem is that I honestly feel like I don’t! On the contrary! I enjoy everything about food even more. After the sugar withdrawal, I realized not eating sugar changed my taste buds. Fruits taste sweeter, my morning tea tastes fresher (before there were at least 2 teaspoons of honey in it) and I actually enjoy drinking wine. That’s new for me. Before I was more the cocktail kind of girl.
Today I experiment with new spices, new tastes and new recipes. My universe of cooking and eating has expended. My body feels healthy and strong. My mind is awake. I am as fit as ever. Saying goodbye to sugar, and in my case, heavy carbohydrates, changed my health and my approach toward food in general. The food, I will serve you at Blu Hour Retreat, will be of course sugar free as well.
That’s it for today! Even though my knowledge of sugars and their effects is most likely incomplete, I hope I clarified some informations! I am not done learning and will keep doing so!