Baby steps

Baby Step #7 | Cure the sugar blues

This is the seventh of a 12-part series titled “Baby Steps.” On the first of each month, I post 1 tiny step toward better health that you can take every day for that month – practically without trying. Soon, that tiny step will be part of your daily routine, and you won’t even remember you never did it before. The next month, add the next baby step. By the end of 2016, you’ll have accumulated 12 new healthy habits, and you’ll notice a difference – not day to day, perhaps, but definitely between any before and after photos you might take and any journal entries you might make. Check in during each month with a comment below and/or on Facebook – I’d love to hear about your progress!

If you’re new to the Baby Step series, you can catch up on the first half of the year by following the links to the first 6 steps:

  1. starting your day with lemon water
  2. pausing to breathe
  3. eating your greens daily,
  4. turning off all screens at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime
  5. switching to sea salt in your kitchen.
  6. asking yourself, “Why is this happening for me (as opposed to to me)?”

If you’ve been following along all year, how’s that all going? We’re half way through the year and the series: what’s been easy? what’s been more difficult?

This month’s baby step may just be the most difficult one, so I’m going to give you three levels to choose from: beginner, next-level, and ninja. (And honestly, I hover somewhere between ninja and next-level myself, so go easy – but not too easy! – on yourself.) Any baby step this way is in the right direction.

Ready? This month you’re going to drastically reduce the amount of added, processed sugar in your diet.Wait! Before you throw up your “I’m out!” hands, I’m not saying you don’t get to eat anything sweet!

lump-sugar-548647_640What exactly does that mean, “added, processed?” A lot of foods naturally taste sweet (fruits, milk, some vegetables) and that’s because they naturally contain sugar. Cakes, cookies, breads, cereals, many beverages, and a host of other processed foods contain added sugar, and most of that sugar is highly processed. Processing sugar, whether it’s from beets, sugar cane, or another whole food, removes the other nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber) and leaves only the refined carbohydrate we call “sugar.” The whiter the sugar, the more refined it is.

And how much is “too much?” In 2011, the American Heart Association made the following recommendation for the maximum intake of ADDED sugars per day:

  • 9 tsp for men
  • 5 tsp for women
  • 3 tsp for kids

Guess how many teaspoons are in one 12-ounce can of soda? TEN teaspoons! Did you just buy a Big Gulp? Do the math, and next time you’re at the movie theater, wonder at the size (and price) of the soft drinks….

So if you are a full-grown adult male and you had a Coke today, you’re already beyond the maximum recommended for the day! Sugar has been shown to be many times more addictive than cocaine, and yet it’s completely legal and widely available.

What happens if we ingest too much sugar:

  • brown-sugar-1048255_640Excess sugar can replace other, more nutritious food in our diet – few of us will choose to eat an apple (which has naturally occurring sugar) when there’s a piece of cake (which is full of refined sugar) available. What are the chances you’ll eat the apple first? What are the chances you’ll have room or the desire for the apple once you’ve eaten the cake?
  • Excess sugar consumption can also set us up for some serious medical conditions, such as obesity and the onset of chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis, and apparently even cancer.
  • Robert Lustig, an MD and professor of pediatrics, has written: “There is nothing empty about these calories. A growing body of scientific evidence is showing that [excess sugars] can trigger processes that lead to liver toxicity and a host of other chronic diseases. A little is not a problem, but a lot kills — slowly.” You can check out a TED talk by him here:

Other resources on the dangers of excess sugar:

honey-823614_640Remember the discussion in Baby Step #5  about cravings and how our “lizard brain” creates them when we are missing the micronutrients we need to function properly? Very often, we crave sugar because sugar used to come as part of a complete, whole food package that came with a lot of nutrition, not just sugar. So we just keep eating sugar because “that’s what my body wants,” when what it really wants you to do is send down some other nutrients! This is one of the major reasons that using artificial sweeteners doesn’t satisfy our craving for sweet either…and adds a bunch of synthetic chemicals into our bodies.

And don’t forget that other aspects of our lives can influence our cravings: if your relationships, career/job, spiritual practice, etc. lack “sweetness,” that will show up in what you crave at the table and from the refrigerator.

I occasionally give entire workshops on reducing/eliminating added, processed sugars in our lives, and there’s definitely too much information to cover in a single blog post. If you’re still unconvinced that it’s vital to our health that we get rid of it, follow my Events page for the next time the workshop will be offered.

For now, here are the challenges for the month:

  • Beginner: At this level, focus on substituting more whole forms of sugar for refined ones. Try sweetening your food (tea, coffee, oatmeal – whatever you add sugar to) with raw honey (don’t feed this to the very young, elderly, or immune-compromised) or maple syrup. These two sweeteners are considered the least processed and have a lot of nutrients in them. Gradually reduce the amount you use – your palate will adjust, and eventually, you will come to feel that soft drinks, sugared cereals, etc. are unappealingly sweet. Laugh if you want – it does happen! If you are a baker, you will find some good substitutions here: Beat the Sugar Blues Handout.
  • Next level: At this level, gradually replace added sugar with naturally occurring sugar. Try to “crowd out” your desire for something sweet by having a glass of soda water with a twist of lemon or some berries in it in place of a sweetened soft drink. Add lots of sweet vegetables to your diet: carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, beets…. Eat a small portion of fresh or dried fruit in place of dessert.
  • Ninja: At this level, reduce or eliminate as much processed food as possible. Sugar lurks under many names in everything from crackers to canned vegetables to frozen prepared meals! For a list of these names, check out Beat the Sugar Blues Handout.

For tips on beating sugar addiction, check out the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s Ten Tips for Dealing with Sugar Addiction. At any level, if you rely on a lot of processed food and see the value in cooking from scratch but don’t feel you can do it, you might want to check out my book and/or online course, Fl!p Your K!tchen™

Let me know how it goes!

All photos from