Kick the sugar habit and take one giant leap for health
Robert Lustig, a childhood obesity specialist argues that beyond causing obesity, sugar is toxic and causes problems including heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers.
I HAVE CUT a lot of foods out of my diet in the name of health. Cheese, bread and popcorn come and go, depending on how motivated I feel. But the one that tortures me most is sugar. When it's out, it's totally out. When it's in, it shows up with a vengeance. The aftermath of one party with a sundae bar was ugly.
Every time I cut out sugar — it likes to creep back in — I notice how much is out there in all forms, from high-fructose corn syrup to natural sweeteners like honey. Some of it is obvious: soda, cookies, candy. A lot of it is not: granola bars, potato chips, fruity yogurt.
It's not like anyone thinks sugar is good for us. But we love it. Most people gasp when I mention I'm off sugar, then encourage me to eat a cookie anyway.
But more than ever, there is a steady drumbeat of research plus health officials and nutritionists telling us just how bad sugar is for us. Fructose in particular — also found in table sugar and fruit — is bad for our liver, which when coping with enough fructose, will turn it directly to fat, experts say.
Dr. Robert Lustig, a childhood obesity specialist at the University of California San Francisco's medical school, has become famous for a 2009 video in which he argues that beyond causing obesity, sugar is toxic and causes problems including heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers.
There is also the issue of sugar addiction.
"We recognize there is an addiction to alcohol and to tobacco and to drugs," says Edmonds nutritional therapist Birgitte Antonsen. "We don't recognize there's an addiction to carbohydrates." And sugar "is truly an addiction."
To sum up, what all these experts are telling us is if you want to spruce up your diet and eating habits, sugar is a good place to start. Antonsen, who teaches a class at PCC Natural Markets called "Tame Your Sugar Beast," says your body wants sugar when your diet is out of balance.
When you don't get enough fat and proteins, "it's like you're starving on a cellular level," she says. If she can get someone onto a balanced diet that includes fats and proteins, she has seen sugar cravings dissipate in about two weeks.
I've gone cold turkey for three-week cleanses, but as soon as I sneak a holiday cookie out of the freezer, it's all over. I've limited my sugar intake to fruit only, but I still craved sugar. More effective was replacing sugar with healthy fats like whole-milk yogurt and avocado, a strategy recommended by Australian lifestyle guru Sarah Wilson. (Don't ask me how I ended up taking the advice of an Australian lifestyle guru. It worked.)
Overall, if I eat healthy, with lots of vegetables and lean protein, my cravings are far less intense. If I want something sweet, I eat a few pieces of good dark chocolate. Most days.
Antonsen recommends a few strategies to start balancing your diet and limiting sugar:
• Change your breakfast: Cereal, skim milk and a banana is a terrible nutritional choice, she says. Eat whole foods like eggs or whole-milk yogurt. Try protein and vegetables if you are so inclined.
• Eat every three hours: Snacks prevent your blood sugar from dropping. Too many spikes in your blood sugar damage the body. Keep it moderate with smaller meals throughout the day.
• Read labels: Don't eat anything you can't pronounce.