If you’ve ever tried to give up sugar and other unhealthy refined carbs, you know that a sugar free diet isn’t easy.
It seems like it should be easy to give up sugar — after all, what’s so hard about giving up the morning muffin at Starbucks, or staying away from the candy machine during your break at work?
And it should definitely be easy to keep your kids away from sugar. Just don’t bring any sugary treats home with you, and they won’t have any choice but to eat a sugar free diet.
A sugar free diet should be easy, but it’s not.
Getting the sugar out of your own diet is a sensible, healthy choice; and getting the sugar out of your kid’s diets is the responsible choice. It ain’t easy, but it’s definitely worth the struggle.
Sugar and other highly-refined carbohydrates, like the kind found in white flour and almost all processed foods, have been linked to a number of chronic, debilitating illnesses — including obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, gum disease, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Even if that list doesn’t scare you, you will be happy to note that you can begin losing weight almost immediately just by going on a sugar free diet, even if you don’t make any other changes to the way you eat. (One of the reasons why gastric bypass patients lose weight so fast is that they have to eat a sugar free diet after their surgery to avoid getting miserably sick).
Sugar doesn’t just pack on the calories – research has shown that binging on high-calorie foods makes your body put on special fat cells that are highly resistant to your weight loss efforts, even years after you ate that bag of chocolate chip cookies all by yourself. And even if you don’t eat enough sugary foods at one time to constitute a “binge,” the insulin resistance caused by sugar almost forces your body to store fat.
OK, so you already know that sugar isn’t good for you (who doesn’t know that?) but you can’t seem to give it up. Why not?
There are several reasons why a sugar free diet isn’t as easy as one would like:
- Sugar is everywhere, and it’s often hidden.
If you eat any packaged foods at all, you’re probably eating sugar without knowing it. Read the labels on the packages, and you’ll often find sugar, corn syrup, or a word ending in “ose.” These are all forms of sugar, and they’ll start to be drawn into your bloodstream almost as soon as you take the first bite.
If it comes in a can, a bottle, or a box, there’s a good chance it has some form of sugar. And while we’re on the subject of healthy eating, remember that white flour affects the blood sugar almost as quickly as sugar does, and is implicated in all the same illnesses. That means that you should also be looking for “wheat” on the label – and it’s amazing how often you’ll find it.
Non-fat and low-fat products like salad dressings usually make up for the lack of fat by adding sugar. That healthy salad you buy at the local restaurant may be loaded with sugar, without you knowing it.
And if you eat out, either at fast food joints or a nice restaurant, many of the breads and sauces (and even meats) will be flavored by sugar or corn syrup.
If you have a small child (or a teenager, for that matter), keeping them on a sugar free diet is especially hard. My daughter has a 3-year old son who already knows that supermarkets keep the candy at toddler-eye level right next to the cash register. Kid’s snacks are made in cute little shapes, like stars or fish, and nice bright colors that appeal to a child’s natural tastes. Kid’s cereals are filled with sugar.
And soft drinks are now sold in the hallways of public school buildings. Soft drinks are one of the world’s most profitable inventions — cheap sugar or corn syrup plus a little bit of flavoring in a bottle or can of water, sold at many times it’s cost. No wonder the soft drink manufacturers can afford to share some of their profits with cash-strapped school systems.
- Sugar is addictive.
The manufacturers of packaged foods, and the managers of restaurants all know that sugar is addictive, and addictive products sell. (That’s why coffee shops and coffee huts have popped up everywhere in the last decade – you can get two addictive fixes in one – both caffeine and sugar – in a nice, expensive latte. It’s a marketer’s dream come true).
When we feel the effects of low blood sugar, (something that naturally happens shortly after the blood sugar spike caused by eating sugar or most kinds of bread), we instinctively know that we can “fix” the way we feel by eating something sweet.
If we stay strong and stay on a sugar free diet for a day or so, the real withdrawal symptoms start to kick in – headache, fatigue, and all the rest. We feel bad, and the only way to make ourselves better is to go back to our old way of eating — or stick it out for a few more days until our body can recover. Most people opt for the fast fix, and give up the idea of eating a sugar free diet.
I overheard a conversation the other day between a grocery store checkout clerk and the customer in the line ahead of me. The customer was telling the clerk, (obviously a friend of hers), that she gave up on the diet she started because it made her feel sick. I looked at the foods in her cart, and there were the chips and white bread and muffins that were guaranteed to make her feel better – for a while. She didn’t know that she would have felt fine – possibly even better than she had in years – if she’d just stuck to her sugar free diet for a few more days.
So what’s the answer? How can we stay on a sugar free diet in spite of all the obstacles?
The best answer is to go back to the old-fashioned way of eating. If it was invented in a lab, and if it comes in a box, there’s almost always a home-cooked version of the same food that would taste better and be much better for you.
Make a commitment to give up sugar, in all its forms, and give your body a few days to get over the withdrawal symptoms. Start filling up on the high-nutrient veggies that will help you body start to heal from years of sugar consumption. Get acquainted with the farmers at your local farmer’s market.
A sugar free diet isn’t just about the meals you eat – it’s a new way of living that can open up your life to a whole new vision of health.