How Giving Up Sugar Changed My Life

How Giving Up Sugar Changed My Life

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I first gave up eating sugar the summer between sophomore and junior year in high school. It was 1976, and healthy eating was still reserved for hippies and weirdos. But I didn’t need to worry about school, gym class or track practice, so I took the summer off from sugar. I didn’t give up meat, poultry, or even McDonalds – just sugar.

My diet consisted of home-cooked meals, grilled cheese sandwiches, and McDonald’s burgers minus sugary soda. So I still ate bad stuff in the form of junk food burgers and fries, but for some reason I was only concerned about getting rid of sugar. I probably got the idea from some weird, underground health food book I bought at the mall.

I gave up the obvious sugary foods like cookies, cakes, candy, regular soda and sweet tea. The only real sugar I got may have been in Dannon yogurt. In these days, yogurt came in a large container, with fruit at the bottom and little or no added sugar (not sure which) and no artificial flavoring or coloring. As the years went by, there was less plain yogurt in the mix and more sweeteners.

Diet soda became my go-to drink instead of regular soda. In the 1970s, no one really knew how harmful artificial sweeteners could be. (The focus was on saving calories.)

I lost weight, my face full of acne turned into an occasional pimple, and instead of lazing around the house I wrote my first novel, which has now been lost to history (and that’s probably a good thing!)

One day, I ordered a regular Coke and almost gagged from the sweetness of it. Unfortunately, when I went back to school for junior year, I got back into my bad habits.

 

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Three years ago, I restricted my sugar consumption to practically nil for good. Well, better later than never. I would eat healthier during certain times of my life than others. (When I was happy at my job, I ate decently. When I had stress on the job, I resorted to emotional eating and lots of Ben and Jerry’s while watching TV.) I’ve given up fast-food this time, too.

Once or twice a week, I’ll have a Danish or blueberry muffin with my morning coffee. I’ll drink a homemade smoothie, Ovaltine, cocoa, water, green tea and fruit juice – alcohol and soda are only for special occasions.

A few times a year I’ll splurge on ice cream or Mexican coke (Coca Cola, not the other stuff).  And I don’t give up pumpkin pie at Christmas or Thanksgiving. Otherwise, I have little desire to eat sugary treats. When I see fancy frosted cupcakes or cookies at my favorite childhood bakery back home and buy one for old time’s sake, I eat one and I’m done. Normal, everyday cake and cookies are way too sweet for me to splurge on them like I used to, but an occasional indulgence is fine.

So it’s not about staying away from sugar forever; it’s about restricting intake to a bare minimum.

I think more clearly since I’ve given up sugar, and am less prone to depression and anxiety. I make better decisions, and can concentrate better despite having more work. Physically, I sleep better and have more energy. Some of this may have to do with the fact that I’m older and wiser, but I think the lack of sugar in my diet has a lot do with it.

Tips for a (Mostly) Sugar-Free Diet

Restrict cookies, candy, pies, cakes to an occasional treat. Read ingredient labels on canned fruits, chicken nuggets, baked beans and other processed foods for added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Learn about healthy food brands.

Every day, eat a combination of low and high sugar fruits. Figs, pomegranates, and mangoes contain the most natural sugar. But it’s highly unlikely you’ll be snacking on those all day. Watch out for grapes, bananas, and apples instead, and that includes overusing them as smoothie ingredients.  You need to eat some natural sugar every day, and it’s best to get it from fruits, dairy products, whole-wheat or multi-grain bread, sweet potatoes, and beets.

Don’t rely on counting calories to lose or maintain your weight. If you eat 1200 calories a day worth of cookies and potato chips, you won’t get all the nutrients you need and be more tempted to overeat. Concentrate on the proper mix of food groups and nutrients protein, healthy fats, carbs, and important vitamins and minerals – B vitamins, magnesium Vitamin C, etc. You don’t have to get a master’s degree in nutrition, but become familiar with what you need and what healthy foods contain those nutrients.

Some people need of more of a particular vitamin more than other nutrients. When I was a kid I got B-12 shots every week and had to take iron pills, or horse pills as I called ‘em. They were hard to swallow, and if I spit them out and tried swallowing them again, the coating came off and I felt like I was swallowing a bullet. Just be glad you live in the world of advanced pharmaceuticals. I bet what you buy at Walgreen’s in 2017 is five times as strong as the prescription pills I took in 1973.

So when you decide to eat a healthier, sugar-free diet, look at a few things.

Substitutes for table sugar (spices, honey, stevia)
Healthy snacks (seeds, nuts, fruits, multi-grain crackers)
Replacing soda with sugar and sweetener-free beverages
Quick recipes  made with whole foods

You will need to spend more time shopping, planning and preparing meals. It won’t be as easy to grab a meal at a restaurant unless you go to an eatery with healthy choices, but it will be worth it in the long-term.

(If you’re really strapped for time consider a healthy meal delivery service.)

How Much Sugar Do You Really Need?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults consume no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day, which includes table sugar and natural sugar from fruits and other foods.

Sticking to that recommendation can be tough if you eat a normal American diet

A small bottle of flavored seltzer water has seven teaspoons of sugar! Seven teaspoons in that small bottle! If you drink two bottles of seltzer, eat processed food for dinner (which may have sugar hidden in the ingredient list) and dessert, you could easily have four times the recommended daily amount.

Learning how to minimize sugar is easy. Avoid soda (both sugar and diet). Studies have shown drinking diet soda can lead to increased body mass index and higher risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Drink coffee black or with a bit of milk or creamer. Avoid using aspartame in coffee or tea – use honey or stevia. (Stevia is generally considered safe in leaf or tincture form only.)

Here are some of the benefits of a reduced-sugar diet:

Better Dental Health

It’s much easier to brush and floss when there are healthy foods from between your teeth, too. Caramels, milk chocolate, and sugar-laden drinks rot your teeth and discolor them quicker than other foods.

Reduced Cravings

Candies and similar foods don’t contain protein, water or vitamins needed for a healthy body, and have no nutritional value. When you eat sugary foods, the body has to metabolize them by using B vitamins, potassium, and other nutrients.

When you eat lots of sugar, it depletes the nutrients you already have in your body and doesn’t add any new ones. You can develop a sugar addiction and crave more and more. We often joke about chocoholics, but when it happens in real-life, it’s not quite as funny.

Balanced meals help keep blood sugar steady and reduce cravings for sugar and other junk food. Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Write a master grocery list filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, spices, whole grains, organic beef and poultry, seafood and dairy products. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, double up on the fruits, veggies and whole grains.

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Better Brainpower

Studies show that eating too much sugar can impair memory and even reduce brain volume. These problems can increase the chance of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. More than two sugary drinks per day can age the brain by two years, according to one study. Limit sugar consumption to preserve your mental clarity and reduce your chance of dementia.

Renewed Energy

Sugar gives you a temporary energy rush, but the crash is imminent. Eating sugar makes your body release insulin, which produces tryptophan (the same substance you get after eating turkey.) Tryptophan, an amino acid, is then converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin calms you down, but it also leaves you sleepy, which can cause problems if you have a busy day or a long drive ahead of you.

To stay energetic, eat refined sugar sparingly, but remember you need to eat a variety of healthy foods as well. Stock up on spinach, kale, bananas, and other magnesium-rich foods to keep muscles working properly. Beef, chicken, turkey, milk, cheese, and soy are full of Vitamin B12.  Get Vitamin D from going out in the sunshine at least 10 minutes a day and eat fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, etc.) or egg yolks.

Other common vitamin deficiencies include iodine, iron, calcium, and Vitamin A. It’s much better to eat real food containing these nutrients than make up for a poor diet by taking supplements. Taking too much of some supplements, like iron, can be dangerous.

Reduced Risk of Depression, ADHD and Other Diseases

Consuming too much sugar has been linked with depression, hyperactivity and inability to concentrate. A study on depression and sugar consumption showed that men who consumed 67 grams or more of sugar a day were more likely to be depressed than men who consumed 40 grams or less.  Why does excess sugar consumption cause depression?  Scientists think it may be due to inflammation or increased dopamine in the body. Sugary foods may be as addictive as cocaine and lead to mood disorders in individuals who overindulge.

Have you reduced your sugar intake? If so, what health changes have you noticed? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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Don’t Count Calories – Use a Master Grocery List Instead

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If trying to lose weight the conventional way hasn’t worked for you, stop counting calories and put your calculator away. Create a healthy master grocery list instead. Using a master grocery list makes shopping easier – and more fun. You don’t have to write a new grocery list every week unless you want to do it. Pick and choose the foods you want for the week from an abundance of healthy choices.

 

Even after you’ve kept the weight off, choose foods from your master list and even throw in a treat once in awhile. How often is up to you- but it’s better to keep sugary treats and processed foods out permanently or eat them once a month or a few times a year. That’s what I do. I’ll have ice cream once a month, and an occasional Dunkin’ Donut or pastry.

I have memories of visiting Albertson’s Bakery, buying and eating a pack of cherry turnovers in one day. It added a tummy bulge and ruined my teeth. If I ate one turnover a month, I wouldn’t have had those repercussions.

Sweets aren’t the only foods you should have once in awhile. You might love getting salads and meats from the deli, but even though they’re freshly made and not packaged, they may still contain too much sugar, salt and other forbidden ingredients and be packed with empty calories. You can eat anything you want as a treat now and then, unless you have a medical condition or prefer to stay a 100% clean eater at all times.

 

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Cocoa and Dark Chocolate

Here’s some good news. You can eat healthy without giving up chocolate. Now the bad news – you’ll still need to give up milk chocolate and other high-sugar, processed confections. Snack on dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. We’re talking about those fancy chocolate bars for sale at the checkout of Trader Joe’s and other good-for-you grocery stores.

Replace artificial, microwavable drinks like Instant Hot Chocolate Mix with Hershey’s 100% cacao powder instead. It’s all natural, has no sugar or preservatives, and boasts plenty of polyphenol antioxidants.  Natural cocoa is an excellent source of:

 

  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Protein
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B9

If you’re used to milk chocolate, unsweetened cocoa will taste bitter the first time you drink it, but it won’t take long to get used to it.

 Vegetables

If you tend to put fresh veggies in the fridge and forget about them, frozen or canned vegetables keep longer and are still good for you. (Just check ingredients before buying.) Frozen vegetables are better than canned when it comes to additives. Fresh vegetables are the healthiest choice, but if they’re too expensive for you or they go bad before you have time to eat them, frozen and canned vegetables are better than no veggies.

Good veggies include:

  • Cauliflower
  • Spinach
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Green Peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Lettuce
  • White Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Garlic

 

Vary your side dishes and salads by sampling exotic veggies. Oriental eggplant, tomatillo, baby pak choy, Spanish poblanos (peppers) and aji dulce are a few of the in-demand ethic vegetables you can find today. Include more yams and sweet potatoes in your diet – they contain lots of Vitamin A, biotin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, potassium and Vitamin B5!

 

 

 

 

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Fruits

 Choose from the usual suspects (and there are a lot more of them than you realize).

 

  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Bananas
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Lemons and Limes
  • Grapes
  • Melons
  • Blackberries

 

You can also look into a wide selection of out of the ordinary fruits and vegetables to keep things interesting. Try mangos, papaya, tangerines, persimmons, avocados, plantains, lemongrass, guava and yucca. If you live in New York, Los Angeles or another large city, you’ll have no problem finding these and many other unusual goodies. You can even buy them online through Amazon.com.

 Grains and Breads

 

For grains and breads, there’s a whole world out there once you move past Wonder Bread. Choose from whole wheat and multigrain bread, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, steel cut oats, groat, brown rice, millet, teff and bulgur. Check health food stores and online retailers for groat, teff and other lesser-publicized grains, and brush up on your baking skills.

Make more sandwiches with sourdough bead. It’s a probiotic food containing beneficial live bacteria. Other probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup, sour pickles and kefir.  Probiotics aid your digestion, and studies have shown they have natural anti-depressant qualities.

 

Dairy

Buy organic unsalted butter, lowfat milk, organic eggs, plain, unflavored yogurt (add your own fruit), and real cheese (not the packaged, sliced kind). If you’re lactose-intolerant or have other issues drinking cow’s milk, try almond, coconut, soy or rice milk. Coconut milk is the closest to cow’s milk in texture and fat content.

Spices

 Get rid of all the salt and sugar in your kitchen, except for a small amount you may need for recipes. It will be easy to develop a taste for these vitamin and antioxidant-packed alternatives –

 

  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Black Pepper
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Pure Vanilla
  • Cinnamon
  • Honey
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Apple Cider Vinegar

 

Nuts

Add nuts to plain yogurt, main dishes and salad for more crunch and more nutrients. Nuts are high in fiber, Vitamin E, polyphenol antioxidants and magnesium.

Stock up on unsalted peanuts, pecans, pistachio nuts, Macadamia nuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds and cashews.

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Seeds

Keep pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds on hand to add to salads, main dishes and desserts. Bring some with you to work to snack on instead of candy and chips.

Beans

Save money and get more protein by buying beans, in bulk or canned.  There are dozens of beans you can buy to fix burritos, tacos, soups, side dishes and main dishes. They include:

 

  • Kidney Beans
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Split Peas
  • White Beans
  • Lima Beans
  • Black-eyed Peas
  • Pinto Beans
  • Black Beans
  • Yellow Beans

 

Baked beans and peanut butter aren’t as protein-packed as the beans listed above, but they’re healthier than lots of other foods. Always keep a jar of organic, non-GMO peanut butter in your cabinet to make sandwiches or spread on bagels or crackers. Read more about the health benefits of beans at The Bean Institute. 

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Lean Meat, Poultry and Fish

Choose organic meats and buy fresh from the butcher when possible. Avoid cheap “priced to sell” packaged meats, hot dogs (unless they’re turkey or chicken franks) and cured luncheon meats like pimento loaf. (Although you probably avoid pimento loaf already.)

 

  • Lean red meat with little marbling
  • Wild caught salmon
  • Skinless turkey and chicken breast
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Fresh or water-packed tuna
  • Pork chops (plenty of Vitamin B12)

 

 

Condiments

Instead of mayonnaise or butter, add one or more of the following to dishes, salads or sandwiches. Use extra virgin olive oil when cooking.

  • Salsa
  • Olive Oil
  • Cholula Hot Sauce – Made with arbol and piquin peppers and spices
  • Sriracha Chili Sauce – Made with red chili and garlic
  • Hummus – a traditional Middle Eastern paste made of ground chickpeas, sesame seeds, olive oil, lemon, and garlic
  • Pesto – an Italian topping made of crushed garlic, pine nuts, coarse salt, basil leaves, Parmesan cheese and sheep’s milk cheese , blended with olive oil.

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Beverages

 Replace soda (diet and regular) with healthier choices, including that zero-calorie, hydrating stand-by, water.  Use a pitcher with a filter to store cleaned-up tap water at home, and pour the water into reusable plastic bottles. You don’t need to waste money buying bottled water at the store several times a day.

If you like coffee, you can still drink a few cups a day. Cut down on sugar and elaborate coffee drinks from Starbucks and other chains for a healthier java fix. Coffee, when consumed in moderation, protects against liver disease and reduces the risk of diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Choose from the following beverages to increase Vitamin C, antioxidants and other nutrients in your diet while quenching your thirst.

 

  • Green Tea
  • Black Tea
  • Herbal Tea
  • Fruit Juice
  • Smoothies
  • Vegetable Juice
  • Kombucha

 

How to Cook

Steam, boil, broil, sauté, stir-fry, roast, pressure cook or microwave meat and produce – or put them in a crockpot. Most cooking methods are fine except for regular frying.

Fried foods clog arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. They inflame joints, leading to arthritis. Regular consumption of fried foods causes weight gain that contributes to diabetes and high blood pressure. Instead of high-calorie, artery-clogging fried chicken, eat roast chicken with garlic sauce.

About 95 percent of your diet should consist of whole, fresh foods, the kind your grandparents and great-grandparents ate. You don’t need to be a vegan or vegetarian to be healthy, but if that’s what you prefer, you’ll need to take supplements to make up for lack of Vitamin B12, which is only available naturally through animal products.

A note – Not all packaged foods are bad. Read ingredient lists on boxes, bags and cartons. Choose products made with natural, non-GMO ingredients.

 

Stay Active to Make the Most of Clean Eating

You’ll achieve better results from eating healthy if you have an active lifestyle and try to reduce (or at least control) daily stress. Exercise, positive thinking, meditation, fresh air and sunshine are necessary to keep your energy flowing. You don’t need to run a marathon or even go to the gym everyday to fulfill your activity quota. Walk more, do yoga, do stretches at your desk during break and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stay active consistently and it will add up

Kids in the 1960s-1980s were a lot skinnier than kids today, even though they ate McDonald’s and junk food. Why was that? They played outside after school, ate home cooked dinners at night, and spent Sundays at Grandma’s for an even bigger, home-cooked meal, featuring lots of food, but no additives or preservatives. They brought packed lunches to school and drank milk or juice with it, not soda. There wasn’t time to eat too much junk food. Mom and Grandma had other plans.

Avoid the temptation to get back into old eating habits by keeping only whole, fresh foods in your kitchen.  This makes it harder to go back to old eating habits and overindulge in processed or sugary foods. When you do eat processed or sugary foods again, you’ll really taste the difference and won’t eat as much. Eating clean foods makes you feel (and look) better.

What are some foods on your master grocery list? Let us know in the comments.

 

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