How much sugar is okay to eat?
How many cigarettes are okay?
This may sound like an unfair comparison but it’s not. You don’t get lung cancer a week after you start smoking or even the next year. It takes decades for the damage to happen. Same with sugar. It is estimated—from the amount of sugar that floods our marketplace—that the average American consumes at least 66 pounds of added sugar each year and probably more (the sugar industry actually creates enough for 114 pounds per year—we’re not sure where the rest goes). And that does not even count all the sugar we’re getting from fruits and other natural sources.
And there’s also the issue of addiction. Sugar activates the same “reward center” of the brain as heroin, cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol. Like these other substances, sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, the pleasure hormone. In experiments, rats addicted to cocaine switch overwhelmingly to sugar when given the opportunity. According to Gary Taubes, author of The Case for Sugar, sugar craving seems to be hard-wired into our brains; clinical trials have demonstrated sugar to be more effective at soothing an infant than nursing. And the sugar appetite keeps growing with exposure. According to neuroendocrinologist Robert Lustig, 20% of the American population is addicted to sugar. Do you want a little baby addict?
How to raise kids in a sugar culture
1) Withhold sugar absolutely as long as possible.
No sugar, nada. Do not sweeten their rich, nutrient-packed, full-fat Greek or Bulgarian yogurt. Do not give them fruit juice, ever. Do not buy a cake for their first birthday—they don’t know the difference—you could stick a candle in a piece of watermelon or into a hard-boiled egg and they would be just as happy.
2) Have a party plan.
When your kid is enrolled in school/preschool and going to 20 birthday parties a year, you have to have a strategy, because there will be an onslaught of cake and cupcakes. See what’s in most cakes— you may be shocked. Once they experience the euphoria of sugar, it’s a slippery slope. Eating sugar creates cravings and pretty soon they’re just looking for their next hit. If you want to allow them some indulgence, just make sure their slice is miniscule. Ever notice how big cake slices are for kids? It’s a monstrous amount of sugar for such a small body. I often bring a healthy treat for my kid (stay tuned for my next article), and as long as it’s yummy, he doesn’t care that his is different from theirs.
3) Start the sugar conversation.
Mine goes like this: We eat food that makes your body strong so that it can withstand the assault of sugar when you get treats. Or something like that. We have a 90/10 rule in the house. I want my kid to experience the joy of occasional treats and the social cameraderie around festivities so that he won’t go crazy when he’s let off the leash to make his own decisions. Which already happened: I wasn’t around, his dad sent him to sleep over at a new friend whose mom does not share my nutritional philosophy. She had a bowl of chocolate kisses out and my son helped himself till he felt sick. There’s an important lesson there, taught by the greatest teacher: natural consequences. So I’m okay with that happening every now and then. The “cleaner” your body, the less receptive it is to all that junk. And that’s what we want.
so there will be one decent dessert for you and your kids. Here are some ideas. Google “paleo desserts” for moe ideas. These use alternative, healthier flours and do not contain processed sugar.
5) Check all packaged foods for sugar.
Buy versions of tomato sauce and salad dressing without added sugars. Give dates and figs as treats. Hold off on polluting their precious, perfect little bodies as long as possible. Resist peer pressure! Protect your kids!
6) Consider organic non-GMO popcorn
as an alternative to sweets (but not for kids under 2= choking hazard). This is always a hit for playdates and outings. Pop it yourself using coconut oil, grassfed butter, himalayan salt. Making it is part of the fun—almost a lost art—and is not included with all those ridiculously expensive packaged popcorns. Most kids probably don’t even know what raw popcorn kernels look like anymore and they are so great for art projects…
7) Check out these great non-sugary snacks
How to get off sugar
Yes, you heard me right. Craving sugar is often the result of needing dietary fat. Eat animals and animal fat that is clean and wholesome, which means it was raised on a farm where animals live and graze on pasture. Eat raw cheese if you can find it, plain yogurt, kefir, only eggs that are pastured, chicken liver, lamb, and bison. Eat lots of wild fish, including sardines. Also eat a wide range of nuts and avocados. This is, obviously, in addition to tons of veggies—raw with guac, steamed and drizzled with olive oil, and cooked in butter.
What is your nutritional status? You may want to do some lab work to find out if you have low levels of important essential minerals. A functional medicine doctor can also evaluate your gut microbiome and look for imbalances in biochemistry. Certain minerals play a vital role in insulin production and glucose metabolism, so low levels can result in sugar cravings. Sugar actually makes it harder for your body to absorb minerals like calcium and magnesium so you’ll crave it even more.
- Chromium helps balance the levels of glucose in your blood and provides stable energy. It is found in broccoli, meat, organ meat, potatoes, brewer’s yeast, and cheese. Foods that are high in simple sugars are low in chromium.
- Vanadium is needed by your muscles to use glucose for energy. Sources are shellfish, mushrooms, eggs, parsley and wine.
- Magnesium is needed for metabolism and is used by every cell. Sources are lima beans, almonds, spinach and oat bran.
- Zinc is integral to synthesizing insulin and glucose. Being deficient can dull your sense of taste so that you compensate by using more sugar or salt. Oysters are the best source of zinc, followed by, beef, liver, lobster, yogurt, chickpeas, beans, and almonds.
Read labels carefully
Look for all the names that sugar hides under. Try to avoid all of them. Manufacturers deliberately make serving sizes very small to trick you into thinking you’re getting less sugar. For example, a 20 ounce bottle says it contains 2.5 servings but is almost always consumed as a single serving, so you are getting 69 grams of sugar all in one shot. Beware of healthy-sounding drinks like teas and honey-sweetened beverages which are often loaded with sugar.
Don’t buy processed food
Make things simple by eating less packaged food and more food that comes in a recognizable form, like broccoli. Stay to the perimeter of your grocery store and try not to venture into the middle.
Don’t eat artificial sugar
Don’t be tempted! Most artificial sweeteners—aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame-K have been linked to health ailments including cancer. The only ones that appear safe in certain forms and in moderation are xylitol and stevia.
Xylitol comes from xylose which is naturally found in birch bark. An industrial process turns it into a white powder: the xylose is hydrogenated, often using the compound nickel, a known toxin. There don’t appear to be long-term studies evaluating its safety in humans, so use sparingly. Because it’s a sugar alcohol, it can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people. Also, it raises blood glucose levels so is not good for diabetics. Xylitol seems to work best for baking. Interestingly, it naturally fights tooth decay so it’s the perfect sweetener for chewing gum. It is dangerous for dogs so keep it away from them.
The actual Stevia Rebaudiana plant is a wholesome food and you can grow it in your backyard and harvest its sweet leaves. You can also buy pure unprocessed stevia leaves and grind them yourself. The powder that is in most soft drinks and other stevia-sweetened foods is a highly refined chemical extraction that is 200-300 times as sweet as sugar and has no resemblance to the original plant and none of its nutrients. According to my research, the manufacturing giant Cargill, which owns Truvia and PureVia, produces it’s stevia in China. On the other hand, SweetLeaf Stevia, by Wisdom Natural Brands, is carefully sourced and produced using natural stevia. The company’s founder was the first to bring stevia to the US from Paraguay and he convinced the US government that it was safe to use in food. Mayan Sweet Stevia sells organic dried stevia leaves (which you can grind or smash up and add to food) and also green powder. Stevia is a good choice if you’re diabetic because it lowers blood sugar.
If you need sweets, eat things sweetened by these:
First, say that tongue twister twenty times fast. 😜
eat it local and raw so that it’s as unprocessed as possible. If it’s raw, it contains real pollen. According to the World Health Organization, the absence of pollen makes it impossible to determine if the honey came from legitimate and safe sources. Pollen is routinely removed by manufacturers in order to hide the country of origin, which is usually China or India where honey is often diluted, spiked with other sweeteners, and contaminated with antibiotics and heavy metals. The FDA requires honey to contain pollen and says that otherwise, it isn’t even considered honey. Nonetheless, most of the honey in big box stores and drugstores contain no pollen. Most commercial honey is also filtered or ultra-filtered, removing much of its nutrition. Good honey contains amino acids, electrolytes, antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds, all beneficial for your health. Local honey helps some people with allergy symptoms; this is because it contains local pollen which can help your body adapt to local allergens. Still, it’s sugar, so don’t overdo it. Read all about honey scandals in Food Safety News.
100% pure, unfiltered and from the source. Maple syrup is packed with antioxidants which can reduce damage from free radicals and inflammation. There’s also some evidence that certain kinds kill colon and breast cancer cells. Still, it’s sugar, so don’t overdo it.
Extracted from the water in coconuts, coconut sugar is full of potassium, electrolytes, and nutrients like zinc and iron. It also contains inulin, a type of dietary fiber that acts as a prebiotic, feeding your good bacteria. It’s easily digestible, and good for gut health. It’s low on the glycemic index (it scores half of what sugar does), naturally non-GMO, and great for baking. Find out more about it.
Packed with fiber and potassium, dates are extremely high in nutrients. The fiber slows down sugar absorption. Great for making power bars, pie crusts, and smoothies. Dates help relieve constipation and provide quick energy.
A Paleo alternative, chicory root is the sweetener in Dandy Blend, the coffee substitute that I drink. But you can get it on its own in a product called Just like Sugar. It has zero calories and won’t raise your blood sugar or cause an insulin response. It has a powdery consistency. Read the reviews to see if this might be for you.
monk fruit extract (Siraitia grosvenorii)
Although this fruit has been used as a medicine and sweetener for hundreds of years in China, it has only recently appeared on the American market. Monk fruit is known as the “fruit of longevity” and a superfood because it has so many antioxidants and is also an anti-inflammatory. Interestingly, its sugars are metabolized differently than natural sugars and so it has no impact on blood sugar. Monk fruit extract has 150-300 times the sweetness of cane sugar but, remarkably, has no calories. Whereas sugar and sugar substitutes have been implicated in cancer, monk fruit actually demonstrates anti-cancer properties. Swanson PureLo is a good product. Try it in your smoothies!
For more information on sugar alternatives, read what Dr. Mercola has to say.
Sugar Detox books, diets, and tools abound
If you feel like you would benefit from a book or a diet plan, these are people that I trust:
Rob Wolf’s Books
Mark Hyman’s 10-day detox diet
I don’t necessarily condone removing meat from your diet but if you’re vegetarian you will like this one.
Emotional Freedom Technique
If you believe that there is an emotional component to your sugar binging, there is a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) that may help you. EFT shares some similarities to traditional Chinese medicine like acupressure and acupuncture; it focuses on meridians throughout your body that carry energy. There is also a mental/psychological component to its success which is why conventional medicine general considers it unscientific. Here’s the advice of one coach but there are many out there.
Some good news
You can do it
The first few days will be hard. You may be in withdrawal and your body may be detoxing. If you are moving over to a keto diet, which I think is great way to kick sugar and cravings to the curb (do your research first), then your body will be in transition between burning sugar and burning fat. This doesn’t feel great but it’s temporary. Can you imagine a life of not craving sugar or carbs? That is what being in Ketosis feels like.
Nutrition Panels are more honest
In 2016, the FDA announced changes to Nutrition Panels that are in effect as of June 2018. Now sugar gets more prominent real estate on the label so that it will be hard to miss the fact that a small 10-ounce bottle of Naked Juice’s Green Machine contains 35 grams of sugar. (Pepsi has 34 grams).
Off sugar and healthier
This study showed that just nine days off sugar improved the metabolic markers (i.e. health) of kids with obesity and metabolic syndrome.
The Takeaway: Get off sugar! Take back your life, your health
The University of California San Francisco has a website dedicated to educating the public. There are many resources in for schools, children, community. Print out posters and informational booklets for free.
Delve into the Evil World of Sugar: look, but don’t taste
Big Sugar’s Sweet Lies: an exposé in Mother Jones magazine
Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Foods, Obesity and Disease, by Richard Lustig
The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes. This is like a courtroom drama where sugar gets convicted at the end.
Pure, White, and Deadly, by Alan Yudkin. Yudkin was one of the first ones to sound the alarm about the dangers of sugar in 1972, but his voice was drowned out by Alan Keys, Fred Stare, and the sugar industry.
Role of Fructose in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. This study is from the National Institutes of Health.
The Sugar Conspiracy tells the 5-year story in one well-written article of how politics and money influenced the American diet.
An Illustrated history of Heart Disease is a 200-year timeline showing all the important players whose opinions shaped the American diet.
Added Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Children. Statement by American Heart Association in conjunction with American Stroke Association on the link between added sugar intake and cardiovascular disease risk in children and adolescents.
Nutrition Facts Label becomes more honest. Finally we can see information that has been withheld or confusing regarding calories, added and total sugar, and realistic serving size. Now, a 20-ounce bottle of coke will show 65 grams of sugar, since these are usually consumed in a single serving.
We met in high school in Boston and our friendship endured over the years as we both moved in and out of the country and from one coast to another. I must have 1000 letters from him. He was the guest of honor at my wedding (pictured here—the last time I saw him) and he died less than a year later, at age 41, of a heart attack, a week after my son was born. He was one of millions of people who did not have health insurance and could not afford medication. His mother, who died a year later—probably from grief—believed he may have had (type 2) diabetes.
Note: all mentions in article of Diabetes refers to Type 2 Diabetes and not Type 1.