With obesity and diabetes on the rise, sugar has come under close scrutiny with new research also linking heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia with its consumption. Excessive dietary sugar can lead to insulin resistance, poor functioning/fatty liver, plaque changes in the brain and stress on the Adrenal glands. Not to mention the emotional changes that it can trigger, which is particularly visible with children as they have a surge of energy followed by a crash, which usually ends in tears or tantrums!
What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Eating Refined Sugars
Clinically I have seen dramatic changes in health and well-being when people remove refined sugars and high carbohydrates from their diet:
- Excess mucus production stopped
- Pain in joints and general body ache cease
- Memory improvement
- Energy level improvement
- Bodily temperature regulation, especially overheating is normalised
- Digestive function improvement
- Mood stabilisation
- Quality of menstrual cycles improved
The Problem With Refined Sugar
Ayurveda, has much insight into sugar – it is a key ingredient in many health preparations and in the right form at the right time is actually considered to have health benefits.
One major difficulty today is that refined sugar is the main sugar, has no health benefits and in fact can be considered as a drug.
Refined sugar simply contains high calories causing immediate spikes in blood glucose levels proceeded by a crash. It also has zero nutritional value. Added to this, it is also highly addictive and found in virtually every single pre-prepared food available, from drinks to cereals to bread.
Unless you cook all your food yourself from scratch, it can be very difficult to be sure that you are not exposed to many teaspoons of refined sugar daily. The NHS has stated that children are consuming three times more sugar than they should be, based on the maximum daily sugar recommendation. This means that some children could be consuming 32kg in added sugar every year, and according to Ayurveda the maximum daily recommendation for some children is still way too much, particularly as there is no distinction made regarding refined sugar, which is the crux of the problem. To help raise awareness, Public Health England have just released an app that allows you to scan a barcode and find the sugar content in an item. The exposure to refined sugar can start from a very early age – in developed countries many children have often been unwittingly weaned from milk onto a diet laden with refined sugar. This pattern is also growing in developing countries too.
Due to its addictive nature, cravings arise while trying to reduce it in one’s diet. These cravings can be quite intense. More on how to break sugar cravings later in this post.
The addictive nature comes from the interaction with the messenger centres in the brain that deal with being satiated (a feeling of fullness and satisfaction) as well as changes that occur in the intestinal flora (gut bacteria). Sugar feeds Candida (a yeast like fungi) and the Candida fights for survival if they start to be starved of sugar. The whole blood chemistry needs to change before the desire for sugar will totally vanish. Candida can take a long time to die back and while it is doing so it will continue to send messages through the blood stream for more sugar. Approximately it can take anywhere between 1 and 6 months to die back with effective treatment.
From an Ayurvedic viewpoint the addictive aspect is because the body has been consistently fed sugar for so many years it has adapted to it and is expecting it. When it is not received it starts to feel uncomfortable and begins to request it. This is the same as with any drug. So in treatment it is useful to look at the ancient strategies for dealing with addictions, in particular, alcoholism. Below an effective strategy for withdrawal is detailed. However, it is important to understand from an Ayurvedic perspective the need for sugar as well as the sweet taste.
What “Modern” Sugar Can Do To Your Body
Until the early 1900s, only sugar cane was used to manufacture refined sugar, after this time sugar beet became common as the raw ingredient. Originally sugar beet contained only 5% sucrose. Now it has been cultivated to contain 20% sucrose. The old type of sugar beet used to be boiled, and the syrup obtained from boiling was a useful addition to the diet. The syrup was rich in calcium and protein. In modern production methods, these are all stripped out during a lengthy chemical refining process. The fibre originally contained in the beet combined with these elements would all have helped the body to convert sugar beet correctly. But as none of these are present in modern sugar, this causes an overloading on the body, particularly on the pancreas and liver due to the very high quantity of pure glucose and fructose that the body has to break down. In fruits and vegetables the fibre content dilutes the overall amount of sucrose present and the intestines play a large role in effectively converting all the components of the fruit or vegetable, leaving less of a burden on the liver and pancreas.
In terms of sugar, Ayurveda only uses unrefined pure cane sugar which is known as Jaggery. Jaggery is rich in its minerals, electrolytes and energy content. It is however only recommended to be used for certain types of people and is not recommended for everyone. It is more suitable in certain seasons than in others, and can act as a remedy in very hot conditions, which is the climate in which it grows. It can be widely purchased, usually in the Indian cuisine section of shops.
Who Can Enjoy Jaggery?
Jaggery can be useful for people who are very slim, have dry skin and nails and who have a tendency towards nervousness. In these cases they can find Jaggery soothing and comforting.
Otherwise it is hard to digest and can produce excess fat as well as feeds intestinal parasites/candida (it is estimated that 50% of the population have parasites at any given time so already sugar is unsuitable in 50% of the population as it is simply feeds the parasites).
For individuals who have been working very hard, possibly in dry cold winds or hot, dry, sunny conditions unrefined sugar can help to balance out the effects of such climatic conditions.
The best way for all to consume Jaggery is to combine it with some fresh ginger. Doing this ensures proper digestion and assimilation of the sugar, ensuring correct fat metabolism. Combining with ginger also helps to combat parasites.
If you cannot get hold of Jaggery, then coconut sugar substitutes well.
What Are The Health Benefits Of The Sweet Taste?
In Ayurveda, broadly the sweet taste is nourishing and thirst quenching. However, excessive consumption leads to thyroid and lymphatic system imbalances.
The sweet taste is important in children during the summer months and this is the time they can enjoy sweet treats more liberally, as they counterbalance the disturbing effects of the heat.
Late winter and early spring time is when sweet tasting foods should be minimised. The sweet taste is the hardest to digest and therefore, the functioning of the digestive system needs to be understood before enjoying it.
Which Foods Are Classified As Being Sweet?
Foods that are classified as sweet are; sweet, soft and fleshy fruits such as berries, apricots, peaches etc, honey, jaggery in moderation, coconut palm sugar in moderation, sweet tasting root vegetables such as beetroots, carrots and sweet potatoes. Wheat and Oats are also classified as being sweet.
Do I Always Have To Avoid Sugar?
Day to day living can make it difficult to follow the above preferences. The reality is small amounts occasionally such as Birthday Cakes, specially made deserts at parties etc are there to be enjoyed and revered, especially for those who have managed to break an addiction. The multiple daily consumption is what is to be addressed.
How To Break Sugar Cravings
For most people the most successful way of breaking sugar addiction is to slowly reduce it in their diet, over the course of 4 weeks.
Step 1 – Assess Your Sugar Intake
Firstly, honestly calculate and understand how many teaspoons of sugar are present in your daily diet. Take a look at this link to see how many teaspoons of sugar are typically present in everyday food.
Assess any drinks, snacks, and meals you eat for hidden sugar quantities. It can be staggering how much this can equate to even in a ‘healthy’ diet. Make a note of how many teaspoons of sugar you are consuming on average, each week.
Step 2 – Gradually Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Having worked out approximately how many teaspoons of sugar you are consuming each week, try to reduce by 2 teaspoons per week, until you are not consuming any additional sugar.
For example, let’s say you have calculated that you consume a total quantity of 10 teaspoons of sugar every week. Try then to reduce by 2 teaspoons per week.
By week 5, you will have reduced your sugar consumption to zero.
Step 3 – Eliminating The Habit For Good
When you have reached the point of not consuming any added sugar, it is then useful to not consume any added sugar for 40 days. This 40 day period normally breaks the habit and the person can from then on occasionally enjoy sweet treats in moderation. Good levels of digestive capacity need to be present for proper metabolism of sweet substances and this should always be kept in mind.
Many people reach for sugary treats when they are feeling emotionally challenged in some form. It is important that the underlying cause is understood and dealt with as this will tremendously assist in breaking a sugar craving habit.