We all know our “health care” system isn’t working. That’s because it’s actually a highly profitable disease management system. The industry makes money when you are chronically ill. I know that sounds cynical but observe how darned easy it is, 24/7, to buy poor quality food made of fluffed up GMO corn, soy or refined wheat. GMO corn is everywhere in the form of corn syrup (HFCS). Kids are targeted in sophisticated advertising campaigns to pester their parents for horribly poor quality “food” choices. If you are a parent (or an adult dealing with your own inner kid) struggling to keep your kids off sugary, artificial ingredient laden breakfast cereals and other “food-like substances”, check out this youtube by the daughter of famous nutritionist Frances Moore Lappe (Diet for a Lonely Planet): www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWOcP-bXu08. We have a food industry which is not interested in your health, and a healthcare industry which is largely clueless about how to encourage healthy food choices. Because it’s just easier to prescribe drugs.
Luckily, farmers markets and awareness of heirloom seeds and recognition of health as our birthright are all concepts making a comeback. Here are a few ideas for kicking the sugar habit and really getting interested in taking the time to plan for, and eat, healthy, high-fiber, real, naturally colorful, nutritious food for the rest of your life. I heard someone say at a lecture recently: “If your grandmother would not recognize this food item (think Pringles) then don’t eat it.” Similarly, “only eat food that could rot – but eat it before it does.” Twinkies never rot.
Sweet is the most compelling and powerful taste sensation. You are not weak or craven or a bad person for enjoying the taste of sugar. However, we have been bamboozled into forgetting that in Nature, sugary food is hard to come by. As we start consuming it in large quantities, it becomes addictive. All energy in all life forms is derived from glucose. Remember the Krebs cycle? The mitochondria in every one of your cells pump out a steady stream of ATP (fuel for all living things). One glucose molecule makes about 38 molecules of ATP. All food you eat turns into glucose. But the sugary stuff hits your bloodstream in about 20 minutes. What happens if you don’t burn that burst of fuel quickly? It gets stored as fat. Triglycerides specifically; which have a predilection for your midsection. Proteins turn to glucose over 6-10 hours and fats turn into glucose over 12-16 hours. Good fats are essential for good health; please ignore the nonsense about cholesterol needing to be under 200 all the time for all people. Food that slowly turns into sugar is the way to go because then your blood glucose levels don’t get jerked around. When you eat sugary food and your blood sugar spikes, then what happens? It crashes. When your blood sugar crashes the only thing on your mind is… more sugar please. And so it goes with the crazy-making up and down yo-yo of unstable blood sugar. Sugar spikes and crashes eventually overtaxes your pancreas, which, among other functions, produces insulin to accompany the glucose molecule across your cells’ membrane into the cell where it can make ATP. Sugar floating around your bloodstream is no good at all – it literally rusts out your small blood vessels which is why diabetics go blind, have kidney failure and get their lower legs amputated. If your fasting blood sugar first thing in the morning with no food for 8 hours before is over 120 you are pre-diabetic. Please check this out. Because sweet used to be relatively difficult to find in Nature (think about bees getting flower nectar one tiny drop at a time) we develop a special sense to seek it out. We should still use sugar sparingly. Remember, all food turns to glucose. You never need it “straight up.”
To lose the sugar habit (step one in reclaiming your health) I recommend 3 easy interventions:
1) Stop buying it. Don’t keep any food in your house that comes in a box. Try to buy only food that fairly recently actually grew somewhere. Experiment with veggies you’ve never cooked with before. Check these websites for delicious vegetable meals: cookusinterruptus.com, heartofcooking.com, nourishingmeals.com, nowheatnodairynoproblem.com. Plan your meals ahead. Breakfast ideas: eggs – wonderful food unless you are sensitive/allergic. Unfortunately some folks are because of getting over-vaccinated as a child. Many vaccines are manufactured on an egg medium. But mostly eggs are wonderful, especially when laid by happy chickens. Another wonderful winter breakfast is steel cut oats with hemp or coconut milk and some almonds or walnuts and a dab of organic butter and maybe raisins (organic only – grapes are heavily sprayed) or cranberries. Yum! Forget about boxed cereal with hormone-laden commercial milk. Snack: a high fiber low glycemic fruit like a half cup of berries or an apple, with a handful of almonds or other favorite nuts. Nuts have a lot of calories, so go easy on quantities if you want to lose weight. Lunch should feature some lean clean protein, a big pile of veggies and a little starch such as ½-1 cup of rice, quinoa, barley or millet (the latter two only if you are OK with gluten). I never recommend wheat. American wheat is highly hybridized to have 5 times the gliadin (the offending protein in gluten) content of any other wheat in the world. It makes the bread “fluffy.” Try to avoid “fluffy” when it comes to food. Snack mid-afternoon could be more fruit with a little cheese if you’re OK with dairy, or a spoonful of nutbutter on celery. Dinner could be vegetarian or, if you need more protein, another serving of lean, clean animal plus a pile of steamed, stir-fried, or baked veggies plus more veggies in a raw salad. Make your salads fun: artichoke hearts, grated carrot, seeds, pickled beets, thin sliced red cabbage or red pepper, tiny tomatoes. Make your food visually appealing.
2) If you notice the beginning of drug-seeking behavior around sugar FIRST try to drink water. Make yourself do this. You need it. If still craving, try eating a mouthful of protein: egg, tuna fish, chicken, or organic tofu. If that doesn’t do it, try to eat apples or pickles or grated cabbage (Kim Chee is fine). You need to build abstinence from sugar binges. If you blow it, that’s OK. Analyze how you can do better tomorrow. You deserve it. Always reserve a little bit of dinner protein for snack attacks or lunch the next day.
3) The trace mineral chromium (I prefer the picolinate form) is amazing for helping to reduce sugar cravings. It doesn’t work for everyone – but it works for most. Just 200-300 mcg in the morning in water. I like a liquid form of chromium called Aquachrome. Chromium can make a noticeable difference in sugar cravings fairly quickly – within a week. It works because it helps insulin to get glucose into your cells where sugar can produce energy, not love handles. Most good health food stores now carry “sugar balancing” formulas, and these always feature chromium. They may also have Vanadium (another trace mineral) or the herbs Gymnemna or Cinnamon and these work well too. Don’t forget water when you are trying to change up your sugar habit because being well hydrated is key to not craving sugar.
One reader wondered if it’s important to “go cold turkey” when trying to get off sugar. Well, cold turkey for white sugar is definitely a good idea. Stop white sugar right now! I don’t just mean don’t put spoonfulls of table sugar in your coffee. I also mean stop buying and stop eating any food item that contains white sugar (sugar, glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose), especially if these items are listed in the top 5 ingredients. It’s OK to have about a tablespoon daily of some sweeteners with nutritional value, such as honey, maple syrup (the real Grade B stuff) or traditionally extracted agave (very difficult to find – mostly agave is just as bad as high fructose corn syrup, if not worse because it’s marketed as “healthy.”) Properly prepared agave cactus syrup, honey and maple syrup have a lot of nutritional value – mostly from mineral content. However, moderate quantities are key: visualize how bees sip on flower nectar and adjust your sweet intake with this image in mind. Food author Michael Pollan has a recommendation that I prefer to a daily sweet allotment: only eat sugar or sweets on days that begin with “S.” That sounds good to me. You do NOT “need” dessert after every meal. In fact you actually need to not have dessert after every meal. That’s one important way to take care of yourself. Fill up on clean protein, lots of yummy vegetables, water, crisp fruit and a little whole grain. Get enough sleep. Don’t keep “friends” who abuse you. Exercise a little every day and ramp it up 2-3 times a week. Find movement you enjoy. Try something new! If you are too tired to exercise then you either are not getting enough good quality sleep, or you have a thyroid problem, or you are crashing your energy with up and down sugar blues. Work with a nutritionally oriented healthcare provider to help you sort this out. To find a naturopathic physician in your neighborhood try the “Find an ND” tab at www.naturopathic.org.
Good health really feels good – it’s worth the effort required. The Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction towards leveling the playfield for access to real health care, but we still have an insurance-driven, pharmaceutically-driven, procedure-driven industry in place. The only way not to get trapped there is to be pro-active about managing your own health, which includes saying NO to all drugs unless there is an emergency need.