This week was a taste of my own medicine, so to speak. Among my group of friends, it has become a running a joke that at a minimum, I mention the words “blood sugar balance” at least once a day, if not more! And yeah, I feel a bit lame whenever I do (and I see the eye rolls from my friends) but if you really break it down, blood sugar management is pretty much at the core of many of our health problems, from physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and weight gain to emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression. It’s all connected.
We all know sugar is not healthy, but avoiding it can be easier said than done. For one thing, there’s pretty much sugar in everything (either added or natural) and if you’re not eating sugar, then what the heck are you eating instead? I think one of the biggest misconceptions in health nowadays is that if we’re avoiding table sugar in our morning coffee, and not reaching for that piece of birthday cake, then we’re not eating sugar, and that’s healthy. The other common misconception is that diabetes can be prevented by simply cutting out sugar.
I’m a Holistic Nutritionist, and this is exactly what comes up in my practice pretty much every single day. “My doctor told me I need to stop eating sugar and I’m starving because I don’t know what to eat instead”. I love it when I hear this from clients because this really is my favorite topic!
This week, I tried giving up ALL sugar, which is a little taste of my own medicine I guess! Now I’m going to share with you the ups, the downs, the tips, and the recipes that made this week so much better!
Blood sugar is literally the sugar in the bloodstream. But how did it get there? Without getting too scientific, pretty much every time we eat food, that food gets broken down into sugar (glucose) and enters our cells to give us energy. Each little bit of sugar pairs up with insulin, and hand in hand, they go into the cells. We need insulin to drive that sugar into the cells, otherwise, it’s not doing us much good when it’s just in the bloodstream. And we need that sugar to give us the energy that we need each day.
Unfortunately, because so many of our food choices nowadays have sugar or break down into sugar, it can all be a bit too much for this process to handle at one time, which results in spikes of sugar and insulin throughout the day, and then a crash. That crash is often called “hangry”(among the “young kids these days”) basically a combination of angry and hungry, to the point where the body doesn’t know which one to pay attention to first. And we’ve all been there, right?
Pretty much all foods turn into sugar or glucose after we digest them. Everything besides a piece of plain chicken, and a teaspoon of oil (ie. pure protein or pure fat) will convert into sugar. This isn’t all bad though, because we ultimately need some sugar to get into our cells and provide us with energy right?
But in a given day, we’re eating lots and lots of these foods: bread, grains, dairy products such as milk and cheeses, chickpeas, beans and legumes, potatoes, squashes, fruit, and then actual sugar and sweeteners like white and brown sugar, maple syrup, honey…GAAHH! It’s just too much for our poor bodies to process every single day!
Yes, avoiding sugar is one (very large) piece of the puzzle, but what we’re adding to our plates can be just as important! For years, we thought that fat is what makes us fat, and protein? Well, that’s what bodybuilders load up on after a good sweat at the gym, right? But nowadays, we know better! Pure fats (like olive oil or coconut oil) do not break down into sugar. Pure protein (ie. A piece of chicken or fish) does not break down into sugar. By adding more proteins and fats to our meals, it not only helps to avoid that spike in sugar, but it also helps reduce cravings and helps us to feel full longer, and those are all good things!
So if fruit & bread break down into sugar, how exactly do you get your fiber? So yes, fruit has fiber, but most fruit has a lot of sugar too. Green veggies have little to no sugar and are also loaded with fiber. I get it though, you don’t make friends with salad, right? And fruit just tastes so much better! But there are ways to make veggies more fun, and I’m going to share those with you later from my sugar-free week, stay tuned! So bring on the fiber with the lettuce, kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, broccoli, asparagus, etc!
Now, I haven’t been consuming regular white sugar for a long time, and I rarely eat processed or packaged foods, but I decided to take on this challenge to see how I would do without any sugar, natural ones included. So, what was I avoiding this past week? Basically, any and all things that eventually break down into sugar: cookies, cakes, pastries (of course!), grains, beans and
legumes, dairy products (milk and cheeses), and natural sugars from fruit, honey, and maple syrup.
Moment of truth: this is actually my second attempt at doing a sugar-free week. Why? Because the last time I tried, I made it through about 12 hours on the first day, and then was staving, but had no prepared foods. Going to the grocery store at 5:00 pm when I was hungry was not the smartest idea. So I learned my lesson and tried starting again fresh the next week. This time, I bought all my groceries over the weekend: varieties of green veggies for salads, oils, and spices, chicken thighs, salmon, avocados and more! Planning is key!
I said it before, but I’ll say it again: fat is not what makes us fat. Nowadays we’re learning that it’s actually the excess in sugar that’s contributing to our weight gain(and many other health issues). And remember the science lesson from before? Fat doesn’t break down into sugar and it’s actually what helps to keep us full and satisfied for longer, ie. fewer cravings. This week, I tried
avocado fries for the first time from a vegan restaurant in the area. They were baked and covered with crushed flaxseeds. It was supposed to be just a snack, but it was so filling! High fat, no sugar, and super yummy!
I also throw fats into my morning smoothies, to help keep me full for longer! Here’s what was in
my green smoothie earlier this week:
3 Tbsp pumpkin seeds (protein and fats)
1Tbsp sunflower seeds (protein and fats)
2 handfuls of spinach (fiber)
½ avocado (fat)
unsweetened coconut milk (or any other non-dairy liquid, even water)
Blend it all for about 1 minute
Note: normally, I would add a scoop of protein powder to give it flavor. But a lot of protein powders contain some sugar(good ones contain natural sugars only), but I was committed to avoiding all sugars this week, so I skipped out on the protein powder and used seeds as my sugar-free protein source instead. I also often add a little bit of honey or some fruit. This one wasn’t so bad without it though!
Something I learned when I went to school for Holistic Nutrition is that the most common reason why we feel hungry is because WE ARE hungry! Okay, I’m being partly sarcastic here, but serious too. So many clients come to me complaining of feeling hungry all the time. This is a signal from the body letting us know that we’re likely not getting the nutrients we need to make
us feel satisfied.
When I started my sugar-free week, I felt like I was a bottomless pit for the first 2-3 days. And it makes sense, right? I had taken out a full food group, and bread and grains are often a way we fill in the gaps in our meals. Without those extra sugars, I was filling my plates with loads of leafy greens, a protein source and lots of fats. But most days, especially at the beginning of the week, I was still feeling so hungry about 1 hour after my meals. So I took the advice I always give my clients: when you’re feeling hungry, eat. But consider what nutrients were maybe missing or lacking from your most recent meal. Did it have lots of fiber, to help move things slowly through the digestive process? Did it have enough protein to give me stable energy? And most importantly, was there enough fat to keep me full for longer? For me, usually, it came down to not enough fat. But I played around with how much my body needed in each meal, and by the end of the week, I was feeling full 3-4 hours after each meal.
I had someone tell me recently “I just can’t eat that many veggies…it’s so boring to munch of plain lettuce or spinach”! I agree. No one should be snacking on plain lettuce (unless, of course, you like it!). Me, on the other hand, I like to drench my veggies in lots and lots of salad dressing. I always make my own, because often store bought ones have sugar, or they use oils that aren’t very good for us. And just like how fats and oils don’t break down into sugar, neither do real salts and spices. So that’s another thing I like to add to my salad dressings, and in my cooking in general. Here’s my favorite super simple salad dressing, with a little secret
I like to use to make it nice and creamy:
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup flax or hemp oil
3-5 tbsp real lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1 glove garlic
a sprinkle of pink Himalayan salt(or sea salt)
Add any other spices you like: black pepper, cayenne pepper, parsley flakes, oregano,
basil(fresh or dried), etc.
Secret tip: place all ingredients in a blender and blend for 30 seconds. When you blend
oils, it emulsifies them and makes it all so creamy!
Okay, kudos to you if you do actually drink your coffee black, but if you’re only doing it because it’s “healthier’ and you’re choking it down, I have good news for you! Again, we come back to the fact that oil doesn’t break down into sugar, so if we add it to our coffee, it’s all good! Sounds gross, I know, but hear me out: take 1 teaspoon of coconut oil(or MCT oil, which is a liquid form of coconut oil), and add it to your regularly brewed hot coffee. THEN put it all in a blender and blend it for 30 seconds (watch my video to see what happens next). Same as the salad dressing concept, you can add any of your favorite spices as well too: cinnamon, nutmeg, cacao powder (chocolate in its pure form doesn’t contain sugar), etc. I swear, the blending turns it all into a creamy sugar-free, dairy-free latte! Try it out!
BONUS TIP: if you’re heading to Starbucks and need a fun sugar-free way to enjoy your coffee, you can ask the barista for “heavy cream” from the back. This is actually whipping cream and has 35% fat and zero sugar. That way, you get the same high-fat effect, without having to bring your own coconut oil out with you!! And if you’re not a coffee drinker, try getting an iced tea, with no “classic syrup” and no lemonade base. Sounds kind of boring, right? But anything iced is more fun, and it makes the Starbucks visit a little less daunting.
Well, it didn’t totally suck. I mean, it was a little bit tough if I was eating out, but when I planned ahead and cooked for myself, it was great! People always tell me they could never eat “healthy” because it’s just no fun and veggies and salads could never beat a good cheeseburger or decadent piece of black forest chocolate cake. I get it, because I love those foods too. But remember at the beginning, when I said blood sugar balance is at the center of a lot of our issues? One of the big things(and most awesome things!) I noticed this week was how I truly wasn’t ever craving sugar. Yes, I felt hungry initially, but I was feeling hungry for fatty, creamy
and satisfying things. To me, that goes to show you that when our bodies are in balance blood sugar wise, and it’s not spiking up and crashing down all day from excess sugar, we don’t get that same craving for sugar anymore.
Earlier in the week, I even went to Kelly’s Bake Shop in Burlington On., and I thought FOR SURE I would need a treat, especially when I was surrounded by all of it. But I turned to my friend and said “you know what? I’m actually not craving anything” and I had a peppermint tea instead. And that felt pretty cool. I don’t know if it’s necessarily sustainable to go completely sugar-free from now on, but this definitely opened up my eyes to how much sugar is everywhere, and how much we consume unknowingly every day…and we really don’t need so much either! I actually had a great week energy-wise, with no crashes, and the best part: my skin was just glowing after! That in itself makes it all worth giving it a try!