Well, I don’t know about you, but I – for one – had a pretty sugary Easter.
I suppose it’s all relative – this year’s intake surely pales in comparison to previous pre-Paleo sugar-fuelled celebrations. But in comparison to what I now consider an “average” week? Pretty intense.
As you may recall from last year, I have a general rule of “no chocolate until Easter Sunday”. I stuck by that again this time around, and I think it works well for me. I guess I just feel it’s important to remember that any holiday, like Christmas, is a DAY, not a season, and certainly not a pass to go hog-wild for a month – no matter how many bowls of brightly-coloured shiny sugary morsels are paraded in front of you.
I kept it pretty Paleo-ish, for the most part. I had some store-bought gluten-free hot cross buns on Good Friday – I am under no illusions, these buns were not even remotely Paleo, and to save myself any anguish I refused to even glance at the ingredients list (God only knows what horrors awaited me there). The point wasn’t the buns themselves, but more the sharing of them with The Dude I Live With (who stuck with his standard choc-chip variety) and my family, who had come to visit. I figured I didn’t want to miss out, so I just took the best-of-a-bad-bunch approach. That way, I wasn’t feeling sooky and left out watching the others tuck in, but I wasn’t knowingly ingesting something horrible for me, when there was an (albeit imperfect) alternative available either.
Then came Easter Sunday. I have no doubt that all manner of nasties crept in with the chocolatey goodness, but I enjoyed it anyway. I had an assortment of truffles from one of my favourite chocolate cafes, some bunnies and eggs, and I even had a crack at adapting an Easter chocolate slice recipe I saw on Better Homes and Gardens (don’t judge me).
My version came out quite well, but so indulgently rich it made my teeth hurt. Delicious!
Then, of course, with the family in town, there was the eating out at restaurants and all of that – again, I kept it pretty Paleo (grain- and legume-free at least), but it still wasn’t ideal nonetheless (I’m sure I got a vat of vegetable oils with at least one meal).
So, needless to say, I’m not feeling exactly on top of my game right now. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but now I’m chomping at the bit to get back to “normal”.
I’ve decided, then, to have a crack at another program, similar to the Whole30 but a little different in focus and duration. I don’t want to name it, or describe it in too much detail, because it isn’t provided for free the way that the Whole30 program is, and I don’t want to be seen as promoting a specific product, or discrediting it (depending how things go, of course).
Suffice to say, I’m looking at minimising sources of sugar in my diet, taking a bit of a breather and getting myself “back on track” so to speak. I have no doubt that my insulin production and sensitivity has gone all haywire with the Easter craziness, my hormones are probably out of whack, I’m retaining water, and my energy levels are up and down like an Easter Show ride. The program I’m doing aims to get all of that back on an even keel.
A Primer on Sugar
Just quickly, I thought I might review why I might want to avoid sugar and what that actually means.
When people say that sugar is an “empty calorie”, what they mean is that, to process sugar, your body requires fuel in the form of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), but the sugar doesn’t actually give anything back. So, you get the calories, and your body has to digest them, but you don’t get any nutrients returned to your body along with them. This is why you may still feel hungry after a sugary meal; your body isn’t just hungry for bulk and energy (carbohydrates/fat/protein), it also wants micronutrients, and when it doesn’t get enough of them it will send you hunger signals to encourage you to keep searching.
All carbohydrates are ultimately recognised as sugar by your body. However, some carbohydrates do come packaged with the nutrients your bodies need. These carbohydrates are thus part of “whole” foods – and they’re not the sugars causing the problem. So it’s not really fair to demonise all carbohydrates or sugars; it’s the anti nutrient sugars, the ones that deplete your stores without giving anything back, that we need to get angry about.
To put it in more concrete terms, a tablespoon of refined sugar will give you calories, and absolutely nothing else. Energy in the form of carbohydrate, and that’s it. The sugar-slash-carbohydrates that come in whole foods (like vegetables), however, will give you both the calories and the B vitamins/magnesium/phosphorus/copper/etc. that you need to process them. These foods make both withdrawals and deposits, so they’re not a huge concern.
When you’re looking at processed foods (which, admittedly, I don’t do often anymore), any ingredients that end in “-ose” or “-tol” are sweeteners – as far as I know, at least. Think glucose, fructose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol… If you want to check for sugars, you can also have a look at the Nutritional Information Panel, which often lists “sugars” underneath the “carbohydrates”.
Xylitol, mannitol, and their friends, are actually “sugar alcohols” – funnily enough, these are actually neither sugars nor alcohols, but they are very sweet and very common in processed foods. Sugar alcohols are incompletely absorbed in the small intestine, so you get fewer calories than you would from sugar, but they can also cause some gnarly gastro symptoms and potentially a whole host of other metabolic issues. You know how sugar-free gum packets have warnings that overuse could cause diarrhoea? They contain xylitol, that’s why.
My Position on Sugar
There’s a lot of hype about “quitting sugar” at the moment, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m simply jumping on the bandwagon. I certainly don’t want to come across as some kind of Chicken Little, overstating the case, dramatising the facts and scaring everyone witless.
I am, however, totally on board with the proposition that sugar, especially in the quantities we’re consuming, is slowly killing us in a myriad of nasty ways. I’m not saying that all sugar is “evil”, or that it should all be avoided – indeed, doing so would be almost impossible and you’d probably miss out on some really good stuff in the process. But, we do need to be a lot more conscious and a lot more careful about our consumption. A doughnut and a pumpkin both contain sugar, but it’s pretty obvious which one is going to nourish your body the best.
Remember, sugar is a substance that can feed cancer cells, cause problems in the gastrointestinal tract, increase the risk of any number of autoimmune conditions (and increase the severity of symptoms), play a role in nutrient deficiencies, pile the weight on, encourage overconsumption… If I’d told you that was the list of side effects for a drug, would you be taking it all willy-nilly?
So What Am I Actually Doing, Here?
For a short period, I’ll be eliminating or minimising almost every source of sugar (particularly refined forms) in my day-to-day eating. I have a few goals in mind, nothing too big – I just want to get back to “base” functioning, regulate my blood sugar/insulin production, stops the spikes and troughs that occur when you start gorging on Easter chocolate (oops). That’s kind of the main idea.
This program entails avoiding all sweet things – xylitol and sweet potatoes get lumped into the same boat here. No fruit, no potatoes, no cashews, no honey, no molasses, no-anything-that-makes-you-giddy. That’s not to say that these aren’t nutritious foods – not even the slightest! I wouldn’t consider a lifelong commitment to eliminating any of these, and I think to do so would be detrimental to my health. However, I think cutting these things out for just a few weeks, while I let my body get settled, will ultimately be a good thing. As with the Whole30, the idea is not to do this forever, but simply until your body has kind of “reset” its relationship with sugar.
I’ll be focusing on meat and veggies – and I think I’ll be trying to incorporate some more raw veggies as well, just for fun. I’ll definitely be trying to keep a better balance than I did with my Whole45, where I was still finding my feet a little. During my Whole45, I identified nuts and fruits as my “trouble spots”, so I’ll be avoiding them this time around for the most part, which should make for a smoother ride.
Dairy’s also off the menu for just a little while once more (sob!), as the lactose still “counts” as sugar and won’t do me any favours here. Plus, it’s just a little too easy for me to overindulge in cream and cheese, which isn’t really in the spirit here.
This program is a little more lax on the Paleo-ified foods (so Paleo muffins, for instance, are a-OK as long as they’re not sweetened), but I found after my Whole45 that I didn’t really miss these Neolithic substitutes all that much anyway. I’ve occasionally made Paleo coconut pancakes, and I don’t mind the odd meatza, but that’s about it. I’ll probably just stick with meat and veg, nothing too fancy – that won’t break my heart.
I probably won’t be boring you every day with photos of my food and such (unless I get a special request) – I’ve got lots of other fun stuff to share with you all! Along the lines of quitting sugar, I’ve got reviews of a couple of books that I’ll be popping up here a.s.a.p., so keep an eye out!
The Take-Home Message
I went relatively hard at it on the sugar this Easter, so I want to give my system a bit of a break. As such, I’ll be dabbling in a new sugar-elimination-type program for a few weeks, which will hopefully get me back to baseline at least. Sugars that aren’t part of natural whole foods actually leech nutrients from our body without putting anything back, which is not only rude but also damaging to our health. I’ll be cutting out all sweeteners – sugars, sugar alcohols, and all of their friends – and focusing on getting good nutritious meat and veg in every meal.
Have you ever quit sugar? Permanently or temporarily? Where do you stand on the trend? And…
… can you guess which sugar-related tome I’ll be reviewing first?!