Sugar in our food sources
Americans consume 152 pounds of sugar a year, on average.1 Although this is excessive, it remains difficult for those consuming a Standard American Diet to avoid sugar because added sugar is everywhere. It is found in processed foods, yoghurts, cakes, candy, salad dressings, cooking sauces, fancy coffees and commercial drinks. Drinks promoted as sports drink, such as Gatorade contain added sucrose.
Dried fruits and fresh fruits contain fructose, a form of sugar, and should be consumed in moderation. Reducing fruit in favour of vegetables may be beneficial. In the functional medicine arena, commercial fruit juice is categorized as junk food. It is stripped of fibre and behaves like pure sugar, immediately causing blood glucose levels to rise. This results in an unwanted insulin response which can make blood glucose levels plummet, followed by hunger and possibly mood swings and hunger tremors.
The goal of this post is to provide tips on how to overcome sugar addiction However, it is important to understand the dangers of sugar and therefore I am providing some awareness of this in the first section. If you wish to skip this information, head over to the next section where I share my story on how I overcame the addiction and provide you with insights on how to overcome yours.
How sugar damages our health
Studies suggest that the reward and craving induced after consuming sugar can be even greater than that experienced after using addictive drugs such as cocaine.2,3
Most peoples’ concerns about sugar are centred around obesity or diabetes, both of which are morbific and affect millions of people worldwide, due to modern lifestyle choices. This may largely be blamed on a lack of information provided by mainstream medicine which appears in many ways to be in the dark ages when it comes to diet and lifestyle education. Below is an outline of some other major concerns around the over consumption of sugar.
Sugar causes inflammation in the gut, in our joints, and throughout the body. Once we give up sugar we may notice pain reduction, and improvements in our energy levels and general well-being.
Fatty Liver Disease
Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is when visceral fat affects the liver, causing it to slowly lose its function. The liver is considered in some cultures as the life centre of the body, and has hundreds of functions, including the filtering of toxins. Fatty liver disease, impedes the liver from efficiently performing its work, causing the body to become toxic and sick. In Canada NAFLD is the leading liver disease and affects about 20% of Canadians.4 The main cause is diet and although obesity is a major symptom, thin people can also have it. It can go undetected and is known as a silent disease, and if left untreated it can lead to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) which affects 1.5 million Canadians. NASH patients are at a greater risk of liver cancer and may be liver transplant candidates, due to liver failure.
Immune System Suppression
It has been known for decades that sugar suppresses the immune system for up to ten minutes after consumption and can reduce the immune system’s white blood cells’ activity for up to 5 hours.5
In the US those reaching 85 years or older have a 50% chance of developing Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), a disease that is becoming more prevalent in the modern world. Although there are many contributing factors including hormone imbalance, vitamin D deficiency and toxins, it is becoming more apparent that diet has a huge role to play and AD is sometimes referred to as type 3 diabetes.
The cells of the body can develop insulin resistance, which is the the leading cause of type 2 diabetes. This problem has been identified in the brain cells of some patients with AD, in who functional neurons were identified, yet they were not functioning6, and it was shown to be caused by their inability to use glucose as fuel, which may be due to insulin resistance.
When the insulin receptors, in the cells of the body, are over stimulated over long periods of time, which may amount to years or decades, insulin resistance may develop. Insulin receptors are the mediators that allow the right amount of blood glucose into the cells to provide energy. When a diet consists of excessive amounts of processed sugars in the form of white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined grains, fruit juices and other culprits, they can overwork the insulin receptors causing them eventually to close down or fail completely. The cells are no longer able to receive the energy they need and the glucose remains in the blood until it is is either transported to other destinations in the body, including the fat cells, or excreted. If the cells are no longer receiving the energy they need, they become fatigued. This affects the different organs of the body, including the brain.
Candida is another problem associated with too much sugar. Candida is a yeast that naturally lives in your intestines, and a certain amount of candida contributes to a healthy gut microbiome. You may have heard a lot in the health media lately about the microbiome, and how important its diversity is to health and longevity. Yeasts thrive on sugary foods so when you include excessive sugar in your diet you promote candida overgrowth which causes an imbalance in your gut microbes. The Candida can dominate and cause havoc in your body. It actually causes you to crave more sugar, and a vicious cycle evolves where the more sugar you eat, the more you feed the candida which then multiply. As the candida multiplies the intensity of your sugar cravings increase. Candida can become systemic and cause many diseases.
Some studies suggest that candida is a precursor to cancer, which isn’t surprising because cancer also thrives on sugar. If you remove sugar from your diet completely, it makes it very difficult for cancerous tumours to survive.7
Are you a sugar addict?
Are you one of these people who has 3 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, drinks sodas, eats candy, loves baked goods made with refined flour, or other nutrient free “foods” at mealtimes, between meals and whenever you can get your hands on them? You probably wonder how the heck you are going to go for one day without these sugars, let alone several days ….. or a lifetime.
Overcoming sugar addiction is a process. We have now explored how toxic sugar is to your body, and how responsible it is for disease – even if you’re not over weight, but eliminating it from your diet seems overwhelming.
I can truly empathize, because I used to be a sugar addict too. I was one of those sugar addicts that never put on weight, which in some ways can be worse because without the knowledge of the long list of assaults that sugar has on the body, and without the motivation of needing to lose weight, one can continue to enjoy sugar for decades until they come to a point where they are sick and don’t understand why.
A few years ago I met a woman who stated that she never ate sugar. She had given it up completely when her mum was diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis made her acutely aware of the reality that sugar causes disease. At the time I thought it would be impossible for me to give up sugar to that extent. However, my turn came when I described some symptoms to a naturopath, such as cold extremities, ugly toenails and bloating, and he suggested I might have systemic candida. I learned that giving up sugar, including healthy sugars found in fruit, was a part of the process of eliminating candida overgrowth. Probiotics are the other component. My journey began and eventually led me to a state where I could quite easily walk away from sugary treats.
Now I’m not saying that I no longer eat sugar at all. I allow myself some reprieve at times. I do eat dark chocolate – as low as 70% at times, but my favourite is Green and Black’s 85%, and I now use honey or maple syrup to lightly sweeten my gluten free baked desserts. However, I no longer crave sugar, and I am no longer able to tolerate the taste of anything that is overly sweet – even things I used to love!
So how did I do it?
I put myself on a 6 week program – which started out as 4 weeks, but I was enjoying it so much that I upped to 6 weeks, stopping when I went on vacation.
Besides removing obvious sugar items from my diet, such as regular desserts, and candy, I removed all fruit and starchy vegetables such as potatoes carrots and beets. Some of these had previously formed the basis of my morning smoothie, but instead of a smoothie I switched to things like eggs with veggies such as kale, cabbage, onions, and avocado. I found a bread replacement recipe8 which wasn’t like bread at all, but psychologically it worked, and tasted really good. It mostly consisted of buckwheat and coconut flours, and lots of eggs.
I also eliminated fruit juice, breads, pasta, and anything with gluten in it. I consumed food as natural as possible, meaning virtually no processed foods.
If I needed a treat I would allow myself some sprouted nuts blended with a few small pieces of 90% chocolate. The bitter taste of the chocolate was a great way to divert my taste buds away from sweet craving. Sprouted nuts and seeds are raw nuts or seeds that have been soaked for several hours or overnight. Sprouting activates their enzymes making them more bioavailable and easier to digest.
As mentioned I did this for about 6 weeks. I was told I looked “gaunt” at times, but low energy might be expected during a transition from burning large amounts of sugar constantly, for energy.
I discovered a new relationship with food. I went to a wedding in Europe and ate cake and I went to the French patisseries, but after I was done eating, I found I no longer craved the sweetness, and I could go for days without even thinking about sweet treats.
If candida is the root of your problem, the probiotic component of this protocol is imperative. Candida makes you crave sugar and if it dominates your gut microbiome, it can hang out there and pretty much be in charge, doing what the heck it wants. The over population of candida prevents those important friendly gut bacteria from thriving and doing their job. Starving the candida of sugar is only a temporary fix. Candida has a unique survival mechanism which it taps into when sugary and starchy foods are scarce. Protective spores are formed and candida goes into hibernation. The spores hook into your gut lining, and this can also be one of the causes of leaky gut, which will be discussed elsewhere. As soon as sugars and starches become abundant again, the candida comes back out to play. This is why so many people who go on a candida diet, must remain on the diet forever if they want to succeed. Candida is very resilient and under the right conditions it can reestablish itself in the gut. If you don’t wish to be on a candida diet forever, this is the other important piece you need to know. My naturopath instructed me to take a hefty course of probiotics. At the time, I was advised to use HMF Replete, by Genestra. I took half a sachet per day, with a meal, for 14 days. I would still recommend this course today. However, I want you to know that the probiotic arena is constantly being developed and I consider Kiran Krishnan9 to be one of the most forward thinking experts in the field. He has developed his own line of products which could be worth exploring. If you would like to listen to one of his educational talks see the link at the end of this article for a short informative video.
Taking a course of probiotics promotes a more diverse microbiome, adding strength and resilience, ready for the awakening of the candida. Why is this important? Because, just like an army besieging a city, when the candida arises from its dormant state, the other bacteria are now ready to fight it off. Correct diet, along with probiotics is the key to overcoming candida, and the associated sugar cravings.
Removing sugar from your diet is not an act of willpower. It is about changing your mindset. Start slow, and follow some of the steps below, but please don’t be hard on yourself. If you slip up and eat something that’s off the radar remember it’s human to fall off the wagon sometimes, and you have a plan, so get back to it. Adopting the new lifestyle should be viewed as a process. Take small steps. If you are a sugar addict, as I was, you may need more treats – healthy ones of course – when you start out, and over time, move towards a stricter regime, possibly even a strict candida diet. After you have removed your addiction, you will be able to enjoy sweet treats again, without feeling the urge to splurge! In fact, if you are anything like me, it will even become difficult to tolerate some of the sweet things you are tolerating right now. And that’s a good thing. Below are my top tips for eliminating processed sugar from your life.
Cheryl’s Top Sugar Eliminating Tips:
- Learning about and believing the dangers of sugar will help develop motivation.
- Take a look at your pantry and decide what you can definitely do without, and get rid of it NOW. Take it to the food bank or put it in the garbage. I’ll be honest, the thought of dropping junk off at the food bank, doesn’t sit well with me personally, but you decide. Note, if you’re worried about the cost of the stuff you are disposing of, think about the cost of the damage it’s doing to your health. That should hopefully be enough motivation to do it NOW.
- There may be some less junky foods in your pantry that you can eat once the new you emerges, but that are best not eaten while you are removing your addiction. Consider either sending them to the food bank, or packaging them away, out of reach so they don’t become a distraction.
- From now on you are eating foods as close to unprocessed as possible. However, you will still likely use some convenience foods such as nut butters, healthy oils, coconut milk etc. Make sure you check the labels. Peanut butter is less desirable. Try to shoot for an alternative such as almond or hazelnut butter.
- Think about some things you do enjoy that could serve as treats when you feel the urge, and stock up. This could range from healthy snacks such as carrot or celery sticks with nut butter, or sprouted nuts, or even some small pieces of dried apricots, figs or dates with nuts and ultra dark chocolate. In my early days of sugar elimination, outside of the candida diet, I made up a trail mix of sprouted nuts with a date, a fig and an apricot, cut into small pieces, and about 10 to 15g dark chocolate (70 percent or above), also cut into small pieces. I would snack on these whenever I felt the craving. Nowadays I use sprouted nuts and seeds which have then been either dehydrated or lightly roasted at 100 degrees C. I add Himalayan salt, and sometimes a touch of cayenne pepper. Occasionally, as an extra treat I include a few small pieces of 85% Green and Black’s chocolate or Camino’s Nightfall (92%). Salt is great for satisfying cravings and if you’re eating a healthy diet of unprocessed foods, Himalayan or real sea salt are important dietary inclusions, and contain much needed minerals. The bitterness of the dark chocolate can instantly stop cravings.
- Drink some herbal tea. A naturally sweetened tea may help with the craving. Try cinnamon spice or fruity teas. A green tea with lemon juice is also delicious and cleansing, but know that green tea contains caffeine.
- Including healthy fats in your diet can curb hunger and cravings. You can try to set your day up accordingly by including these fats with each meal. It may help to get you past a certain hunger / craving point of the day. My Bullet Proof Style Green Tea is an example of this which I based on Dave Asprey’s Bullet Proof Coffee and includes his Brain Octane Oil.
- Diverting your mind is a great way to get you away from thinking about food. Could you go for a short walk, or if you’re at work, maybe go outside for 5 minutes and breath some fresh air or do some stretches? Writing away the craving is another useful tool. Either in a journal or on a piece of paper that you throw away afterwards, explore why you are craving something to eat right now. What was the trigger? It might be as simple as you’ve always had a dessert after lunch, or a cookie with your coffee. Or perhaps the food hasn’t hit the full spot yet. Understanding your mindset, triggers, and body, can help you to manage things better. Also it’s useful to remember the old wive’s tale “you should always leave the table wanting”. This alines really well with modern functional medicine thinking that we should eat to 80% full, or the Okinwan adage: “hara hachi bu”, meaning stop eating when you’re 80% full. Okinawa, in Japan is one of the “blue zone” regions of the world where people live longer than average. It may be that eating until 80% full allows time for the food to settle in your stomach and trigger the fullness sensation, preventing overeating. Diverting your mind for just a few minutes can provide sufficient time for you to feel the sensation of fullness and the craving may go away.
- If you’re trying all of the above and nothing is helping, you may have a candida problem. The best thing to do in this case is to follow a candida diet and supplement with probiotics as discussed above. There is a lot of information about the candida diet on the internet, and I found www.thecandidadiet.com to be very helpful. In fact if you opt in on their website they will send you a free and very useful 8 part guide to beating candida. This is where I received numerous recipes.
- Try some of the recipes included at the end of this article.
- Refer to my table below which summarizes my tips, and categorizes them into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of commitment
If this is the first time you have considered removing sugar from your diet, you will head in the right direction by paying attention to the list above, but feel free to peruse what intermediates and advanced are up to. Remove healthy crackers and other relatively healthy, but processed products.
- Make up a healthy trail mix.
- Alternatively Lara bars are a great product that boast between 3 and 5 ingredients, and can be used (hopefully in small amounts through the day) to stave off cravings.
- Sprouted nuts and seeds with a sprinkling of Himalayan salt and / or cayenne pepper is a great option also.
- Savoury snacks such as celery or a few slices of apple with almond butter.
- Coconut and berry ice cream.
- Coconut Flour Bread.
- Bullet Proof Style Matcha.
If you are hardcore, or if you are fighting off a disease or candida, you will need to shoot for this section as much as possible.
No sweet treats are allowed for at least 4 weeks. You will need to give up chocolate and most fruit and focus on other ways to reduce cravings. This is difficult to do if you’ve never tried it before, so please start the process with the beginner or intermediate stage. You will be glad you did as this will prepare you well for the advanced stage.
Treats include things like:
- Celery and cucumber with almond butter; sprouted nuts and seeds with a sprinkling of Himalayan salt and / or cayenne pepper; or Bullet Proof Style Matcha
- Meals will consist of whole foods and will be low in starches and higher in natural fats.
- No bread, commercial crackers or pasta is allowed.
- Coconut Flour Bread is a great substitute for bread.
- If you need a pick me up, allow yourself a small amount of fruit: a few slices of apple or pear, with nut butter, or Coconut and berry ice cream.
- If you absolutely can’t get past the craving, try dousing your tastebuds with the bitterest chocolate of all: Camino Nightfall at 92%. This should do the trick!
Enjoy herbal teas that are naturally sweet: fruit teas, cinnamon blends or teas with a squirt of lemon juice can all help curb the cravings. In the warmer months consider enjoying refrigerated versions of these teas, for a refreshing beverage.
Including healthy fats in your diet can help reduce sugar cravings while satiating for long periods. Consider making healthy dressings with olive, sesame or MCT oils, and lemon juice or unpasteurized vinegars; eat avocados, and include some grass fed butter or ghee, or coconut oil when serving your hot meals. The Bullet Proof Style Matcha tea is a great way to start your day, or could be used to get you through between meals.
Find ways to divert your mind when the cravings arise: meditation, journalling or going for a walk. Remember slow down when you are eating, and to say: “ hara nacho bu” – stop eating when you are 80% full!
Use probiotics to help balance the gut bacteria and fight off candida overgrowth.
Try some of the recipes below.
Coconut Flour Bread (taken from thecandidadiet.com)
I’ve used this recipe so many times in the past. This is quite dense and therefore filling. Laden with grass fed butter it makes a delightful treat, and is delicious with soup. The anti fungal properties of coconut flour, coconut oil and coconut milk will help to fight off the candida.
- 1/2 cup coconut flour
- 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
- 1/2 cup coconut cream (the creamy part on top of the can of coconut milk)
- 5 eggs
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
- Stevia to taste (optional)
- Blend together the eggs, coconut oil, stevia and salt.
- Add the coconut flour, buckwheat flour and baking powder
- Whisk until you don’t see any lumps
- Pour into a loaf pan greased with coconut oil and bake at 175C (350F) for 30 minutes
- The top of the loaf should be firm and a light golden colour, and you can remove from the oven and allow it to cool.
- To liven up the taste a little, try adding some lemon zest
Tip: Speed things up by mixing the dry ingredients in the correct proportions. Make a double batch by following these steps: scoop out 1 good cup of dry ingredients and add 1 can of coconut cream, 4 tbs coconut oil and 10 eggs, to make a double batch. Slice it up and freeze.
Bullet proof Style Matcha (inspired by Dave Asprey’s Bullet Proof Coffee)
- 1/8 tsp matcha powder
- 1 cup brewed organic green tea
- 1-2 tbsp coconut butter (or grass fed butter, or grass fed ghee)
- 1-2 tbsp Brain Octane MCT
- 1 tbsp grass fed collagen (optional)
Place all the ingredients in the blender and blend for 15 to 20 seconds
This is a healthy morning elixir and will help to suppress appetite which is useful when intermittent fasting.
Coconut and Berry Ice Cream
- 1 cup frozen blueberries or raspberries
- 1 cup coconut cream*
- 5 g ultra dark organic chocolate, grated (optional)
- Pinch of stevia (optional)
*keeping the can of coconut milk in the fridge separates the liquid from the solids. Drain off the liquid and use the cream for this recipe. The remaining liquid may be used for baking.
- Blend the coconut cream with the berries.
- Use a little of the coconut liquid if needed, to get the mixture to blend.
- Add a pinch of stevia if desired.
- Grate in some 92% dark chocolate for extra punch (optional)
Trail Mix (1 serving)
- 1/2 cup raw walnuts, almonds, and / or hazelnuts
- 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds and / or sunflower seeds
- 1 dried fig
- 1 dried apricot
- 1 medjool date, pitted
- 15g dark organic chocolate (above 70%2 pinches Himalayan salt (optional)
- Soak the nuts for at least 8 hours
- Soak the seeds for at least 2 hours
- Cut the dried fruit, and the chocolate into small pieces and place in jar
- Dehydrate* the nuts and seeds for 8 hours on 117 F or 47 C OR
- Roast the nuts and seeds for 30 minutes at 100C or 200F, stirring occasionally.
- Once cooled, place the nuts and seeds in the jar and shake
- Add 2 pinches Himalayan salt if desired
- This will provide a suggested allowable amount of trail mix to be eaten through one day. Make quantities accordingly and portion them up into daily amounts.
- If you are following an advanced protocol, do not use the chocolate or dried fruit, but add salt and or cayenne pepper to the nuts, if desired. This will help curb cravings.
- * Dehydrating is the preferred method if available to you, as it will preserve the live enzymes in the nuts and seeds, making the nutrients more available.
- New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, How much sugar do you eat? You may be surprised; [retrieved March 2021], https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf
- Mysels, David J, and Maria A Sullivan. “The relationship between opioid and sugar intake: review of evidence and clinical applications.” Journal of opioid management vol. 6,6 (2010): 445-52. doi:10.5055/jom.2010.0043
- Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 Jul;16(4):434-9. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8. PMID: 23719144.
- Canadian Liver Foundation: What is Fatty Liver Disease [retrieved Mar 2021], https://www.liver.ca/patients-caregivers/liver-diseases/fatty-liver-disease/?gclid=CjwKCAjw9MuCBhBUEiwAbDZ-7m8JF2Av0oyQTuRskmJUdFebwIjrhnk9ADdGwkMETc3SvCKy8CD9eRoCJwgQAvD_BwE
- Sanchez, A, Reeser, J.L. et al. Role of Sugars in Neutrphilic phagocytosis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 26: NOVEMBER 1973, pp. 1180-1184. P http://www.beauty-review.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Role-of-sugars-in-human-neutrophilic-phagocytosis.pdf
- Perlmutter, D., Reversing Alzheimers Disease (2018) https://www.drperlmutter.com/yes-alzheimers-can-be-reversed/
- Ramirez-Garcia A, Rementeria A, et al. Candida albicans and cancer: Can this yeast induce cancer development or progression? Crit Rev Microbiol. 2016;42(2):181-93. doi: 10.3109/1040841X.2014.913004. Epub 2014 Jun 25. PMID: 24963692.
- Microbiome Labs. Kiran Krishnan explains how leaky gut happens (2020) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vKk7eDLte8