While many of you love sugar, we don’t take it seriously as a food. Sugary things are usually considered a treat or a reward – no dessert if you don’t finish your vegetables! Even as adults we have a curiously ambivalent attitude toward sugar. We think of it as a childish food, but we can’t resist it. The seriousness with which restaurant-goers consider their entree orders dissolves in the face of the dessert cart. There’s usually at least one smirk or guilty giggle as the waiter tries to tempt us into breaking down and trying the “Sinful Chocolate Surprise”. Just notice how often adjectives like “sinful”, “wicked”, and “decadent” are used to describe a dessert.
If sweets are really so sinful, wicked, and decadent, why do we eat so many of them? For one thing, like caffeine, sugar is an acceptable addiction. It’s socially acceptable to talk about your chocolate addiction, or your occasional Twinkie binge, or your uncontrollable lust for ice cream.
Does sugar have any value in the diet? Not really. Not in its most popular form of common table sugar.
Our bodies derive energy from three sources: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Carbohydrates are our bodies’ main source of energy. They provide calories for energy by producing heat in the body, and they help to regulate the metabolism of fats and proteins. The three principal carbohydrates in foods are sugars, starches, and cellulose. Cellulose, which we commonly think of as fiber, doesn’t contribute much energy value, but it does provide bulk. Starches give us a steady source of energy as our bodies break them down into simple sugars, some to be used immediately and some to be stored for future use. Sugars, like those present in table sugars or honey, are quickly digested and give an immediate boost of energy. But that boost takes its toll on the body in other ways; in fact, we can get all the energy we need, and far more efficiently, from the steady burning of starch.
The body does need glucose – one of the components of sugar – to function. The brain in particular depends on a steady supply of glucose. But the body can readily obtain all the glucose it needs from the breakdown of complex carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. We need about 75 grams of glucose daily, and can readily obtain this amount from just one meal that includes pasta, broccoli, bread, and a naturally sweetened dessert.
While the excess calories in sugar are definitely a health hazard, they are not the most serious effect of excess sugar consumption. The sugar in your diet, in addition to contributing to overweight, has a range of short and long-term adverse effects on your health that are much more subtle and pervasive. We’ve found that excess sugar consumption is a major factor in many of the health problems that bring people to take this Course. It contributes to their headaches, fatigue, irritability, inability to concentrate, and it makes dieting more difficult. Sugar also does damage beyond the effect it alone has on your body. It reinforces your other bad health habits and amplifies their adverse effects.
In this, the third week of the Makeover, your goal is to eliminate sugar from your diet. Because you’ve already given up caffeine, you probably noticed that you’re not feeling the extreme highs and lows that you may have experienced before. But because sugar has such a powerful effect on your metabolism, it won’t be until the end of this third week that the benefits of your Makeover begin to become dramatically apparent.
Giving up sugar isn’t just a matter of willpower; if you’ve got a sweet tooth, its not because you’re a weak person. More likely it’s a manifestation of your particular biochemistry. With the proper supplements – especially one called Chromium, or Glucose Tolerance Factor, that people have found enormously helpful – you’ll discover that your sweet tooth can be conquered.
The biggest challenge of the third week will be to learn to recognize the hidden sources of sugar in your diet so that you can eliminate them. For example, if you put a tablespoon of ketchup on your hamburger, you’re adding a teaspoon of sugar. Even your low-fat fruit yogurt has about seven and a half teaspoons of sugar in it. Most Americans consume between 100 and 128 pounds per year – approximately 20-30 times more than the average American diet just 100 years ago!
In addition to making you fat, encouraging you to overeat, stressing your body on a secret, daily basis, and giving you vague nagging symptoms, sugar is contributing to future chronic disease.
Sugar has been implicated in the development of heart disease, the leading cause of death and disability in this country. Studies by Dr. John Yudkin, professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of London, indicate that someone who eats four ounces of sugar daily has more than five times the chance of developing heart disease than someone eating only half as much sugar.
The Stress of Sugar
Just as caffeine is an addiction, so is a craving for sugar. Folks who tell us they have a sweet tooth report symptoms common to all addictions: increased consumption of the substance over a period of time, withdrawal symptoms when it is denied, and intense cravings for it. But with this program that has worked for so many people who said they could never give up their sweets – you won’t experience withdrawal and you won’t crave sugar anymore. And you will feel better – that’s a promise.
Sugar does give you a temporary lift, but over the long haul it puts the body under major stress. When you eat too much of it, refined or otherwise, the blood sugar level rises to abnormal heights. The body tries to get everything to return to normal by having the pancreas produce insulin, the hormone which regulates sugar levels in the blood. If you’re not a sugar addict, your pancreas can easily handle isolated doses of sugar. But many of us, whether we know it or not, have become sugar addicts. So when you eat that candy bar – which contains more sugar than you need for a week – up goes your blood sugar level, your pancreas kicks on, and what does it do? Paradoxically, it overreacts and produces too much insulin. Its no longer a good regulatory organ. This flood of insulin in the bloodstream makes your blood sugar level take a nose dive. In response, the adrenal glands release anti-stress hormones which in turn release the sugar that is stored in the liver for emergencies. The net result? Everything gets worn out – the pancreas, the adrenal glands, and the liver. And you don’t feel so good. It’s as if you’re on a sort of yo-yo.
First, you get a spurt of energy from the candy bar. But that doesn’t last very long. Your insulin level rises and your spirits fall. Suddenly you feel tired, irritable, moody, depressed, and you don’t know why. But then the adrenal glands start working and you experience feelings associated with anxiety: nervousness, palpitations, butterflies in the stomach.
Most people don’t attribute these feelings to the candy bar they had an hour ago; they think that its the cranky child, the checks that didn’t come, a tough day at the office, a flat tire that causes them. But when your blood sugar level remains on a more even keel, you’re better able to weather the stress storms that come your way.
The Step-by-Step Approach
As with coffee, if you try to stop eating sugar without help, you will usually fail. If you have been consuming large amounts of sugar, your body has become dependent on it. You find it difficult to cope without sugar. But, as with coffee, we won’t let you go cold turkey without biochemical help.
There are three things that will help you give up sugar no matter how powerful your sweet tooth. All three have to do with changing your body chemistry so that your blood sugar is kept on a more even keel. Not only will this help you fight the urge to binge, it will generally improve your energy level, your moods, and your sense of well-being. The three things are:
1. The supplement Chromium (which you should already be taking in your multi-mineral formula).
2. Being aware of hidden sugars in different foods and avoiding them.
3. Regular meals at regular times.
Many people have come to think of Chromium as a “wonder pill” – the reason, you ask? They see that it has a very dramatic effect on their ability to metabolize sugar efficiently – in other words, to avoid the energy highs and lows associated with sugar assimilation by the body.
Those who are under a great deal of stress, pregnant or breast-feeding women, and people who are regular, heavy exercisers – runners, for example – are often deficient in chromium. Moreover, people who drink coffee or tea or eat a lot of sugar often have depleted stores of chromium. This means that people who have a sweet tooth are often the least able to metabolize sugar effectively because of insufficient chromium stores. This may be why some people who have a strong sweet craving seem to receive the most benefit from the chromium supplement.
Brewers’ yeast is the best source of chromium from foods. It contains between 6 and 60 micrograms, per tablespoon. There is now on the market an enriched yeast that has more available chromium in it; it’s a better source than regular brewers’ yeast. If you can find this kind of yeast and the taste is agreeable to you, fine. But in our experience, a Chromium supplement in pill form is simpler and more palatable. The trivalent form of chromium in dosages of 100 micrograms taken three times a day before meals, is most effective for controlling sweet cravings, reducing appetite, and keeping energy levels up between meals. (This should be in addition to the Multi-Mineral you should already be taking).
Now we don’t claim that a chromium imbalance or efficiency per se is the sole cause of a blood sugar problem. But we know from experience that a Chromium supplement can make a significant difference. We believe that with the right diet – no sugar and eating regular meals at regular times – you can control your sweet tooth and the vague symptoms of blood sugar problems. But with right diet plus the Chromium supplement, you can almost cure those symptoms. (Since we’ve already gone over meal regularity in the New Nutrition lesson you know how important this is – especially so for keeping your appetite down and your blood sugar up.)
What About “Natural” Sugars?
While there are over one hundred sweet substances that could be legitimately called sugar, sucrose, or table sugar, is the one we’re most familiar with and the one most readily connected with the health hazard we’ve been discussing. But what about raw sugar? Or honey? Aren’t they less “processed” and more nutritional? The answer is no. While some raw honeys may have more vitamins than table sugar, most honey has been heat-processed and is devoid of nutrients. Raw sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, maple syrup, or blackstrap molasses offer no real advantages over regular white sugar, and are not acceptable on the Miracle Makeover. They cause all the blood sugar and nutrition-and-health-related problems we’re trying to avoid.
Hidden Sugars: Learn to Read Labels
Even if you don’t own a sugar bowl, half of your carbohydrate intake is probably in the form of sugar. Most of it is hidden in the foods you buy. No doubt you can name a number of products that contain sugar simply because they taste sweet. Canned fruits, sweet cereals, candy bars, and cookies obviously contain sugar. But if you rely solely on your taste buds to detect sugar in your food, you’ll still be eating large quantities of it unawares. Sugar is used not only to sweeten food, but to preserve it, help prevent microbial deterioration, enhance yeast action, and aid in curing. The sugar in tomato products counteracts the acidity, the sugar in frozen desserts lowers the freezing point, and there’s even sugar in some iodized salt to stabilize the added iodide. If you’re going to cut sugar out of you diet, obviously you’re going to have to become an informed consumer. Learn to read labels! Here are the most common sugar additives in your food:
corn syrup glucose lactose (ALL OF THESE ARE KNOWN AS SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES)
sucrose maltose molasses
dextrose maple syrup sorghum
When you see sugar, or any of the forms of sugar additives listed above, on a label, don’t buy that food.
Don’t depend on common sense when shopping for sugar-free foods. Many foods that you’d never guess have sugar in them, do. Soups, spaghetti sauces, ketchups, mayonnaises, cranberry sauces, and peanut butter are all examples of items that contain sugar. Remember that you don’t have to eliminate all these items from your diet. It’s possible for example, to buy peanut butter without sugar: You can get it at a health food store. There are also one or two popular national brands that don’t have sugar in them. The same goes for spaghetti sauces. You can find brands that don’t contain sugar, but you have to search for them.
The Cold Turkey Approach
There’s a psychological aspect to this method: As with giving up caffeine, if you have just a little bit, it makes it difficult to justify complete abstention. Perhaps you have just a teaspoon of sugar on some cereal and you don’t think it affects you very much. That experience tempts you to have just a bit more sugar on another occasion. Before you know it, you’re right back where you started. It’s much easier to make an iron-clad rule for yourself in the beginning and, at least during the Makeover, stick with it. That way you’re eliminating as many decisions as possible, and making decisions when you’re tired or stressed or fatigued is how willpower becomes eroded.
There’s another reason to give up sugar completely. After a period of time without it, you’ll find that the strength of your sweet tooth diminishes. Many things that you enjoyed in the past will begin to taste overly sweet to you.
What About Sugar Substitutes?
Both Aspartame and Saccharin have several major health problems associated with them, (bladder cancer, depression and seizures – to name a few) and it would be far better for you to avoid them altogether. In short, we think that the data on artificial sweeteners indicate consumers should be cautious. Also, they encourage you to yearn for the sweet taste that ties you to sugar. Obviously, for our purposes, the use of artificial sweeteners is counterproductive.
Tips for Success
It’s not difficult to give up sugar, but it takes more planning than giving up caffeine because sugar is hiding everywhere and sometimes in the most unlikely places. You must plan ahead. You have to shop with care before you even begin the week and you have to anticipate your meals and snacks. You can’t prepare a salad only to realize there’s only Russian dressing in the house and it’s loaded with sugar. Here are some tips – some my own and others gleaned from Makeover veterans – that will help you through the week and the rest of your sugar-free Miracle Makeover:
—The best Breakfast Foods are cereals like oatmeal, Wheaten, or plain shredded wheat. They’ll fill you up and have no added sugar. Fresh fruit will give some sweetness and texture. Some who think that they’ll never be able to live without sugar find that adding some raisins or other dried fruit gives them all the sweetness they want. (Fruit and other completely natural forms of sugar are known as complex carbohydrates, which are released slowly into the bloodstream.)
—Yogurt makes a good breakfast if you have with it some whole wheat toast or perhaps a bran muffin for fiber. But don’t buy the kind with fruit. Buy low-fat plain yogurt and add fresh fruit yourself.
—Plan Your Lunch. Don’t just run to the deli unless you know in advance what sugar-free foods they have. If you go hungry its too easy to settle for quick deli-style sandwiches, coleslaw and packaged desserts – all loaded with hidden sugars. Eat these and you’ll find yourself with the “sugar sweats”, afternoon slump and ravenous for dinner – just when you don’t want to overeat.
—If you like to bake, you can cut down on a lot of sugar by Making Things From Scratch. I always used to think that if you were going to eat a muffin or some bread, it didn’t really make much difference whether you made it or bought it. That was until I learned what is contained in most commercially baked items. Corn syrup is often used as a sweetener in commercially baked products. Corn syrup is cheap, plentiful and easy to use, but the only problem is its not as sweet as table sugar. So large amounts of corn syrup are added to get the desired sweetness. When you eat these corn-syrup-sweetened items, you’re getting even more “sugar” than if you had made them yourself using a standard recipe. By the way, most standard recipes call for more sugar than necessary. You can usually cut the recommended amount by one third to one half.
—Ban Diet Sodas from your house. Instead, stock up on mineral water or seltzer water. Three or four parts of seltzer water to one part fruit juice makes a refreshing drink. Or drink the water plain with a slice of lemon, lime or orange.
—If you can’t find commercial sugar-free products, try to Make Your own without sugar. If you use a lot of mayonnaise and can’t find a sugar-free kind, make your own. It’s not difficult to do, and you can make it in a blender if you have one. You can also make salad dressings by mixing yogurt, buttermilk, garlic, and herbs in the blender.
—Fresh Fruits are best, but you can buy canned fruit packed in its own juices. In the winter, this fruit over homemade, sugar-free biscuits with a yogurt topping makes a nice shortcake.
—Check Pickle Labels. Many pickles, though not all, contain sugar.
—Unbuttered Popcorn makes a good substitute for a sweet snack in the evening or any time of day for that matter. There are even hot air machines available that allow you to make it at home without any oil, (or you can put on just a touch of olive oil after it is popped).
Analyze Your Triggers
Social situations can be your downfall if you’re not prepared. It can be tough to be the only one at a dinner party not eating the specially prepared dessert. Hostesses have been known to become overbearing in such situations. One of those who completed the Makeover told me that he simply tells people he’s “prediabetic”. In fact, he does have a family history of the disease, and what “prediabetic” means is that if he doesn’t watch his sugar intake, he’s likely to develop diabetes. But his wife, who has no family history of diabetes, tells people that she’s prediabetic, too, when she doesn’t want to eat sweets. Somehow an actual “diagnosis” sounds more serious than just that you’re cutting out sugar.
One of the Makeover veterans told me that the hardest time for her to avoid sweets was in a restaurant when everyone was Ordering Dessert. She has come up with an excellent delaying tactic. When the waiter takes the dessert order, she says, “I’ll just have some tea for now and see if I feel like something later.” (She always carries herbal tea bags with her in case the restaurant has none.) This assertive statement deflects the comments from fellow diners that used to encourage her to order dessert too. And of course by the time she has finished the tea, everyone else has finished dessert and forgotten she never ordered one
If you must, absolutely must, have something SWEET- then be sure to have it after a meal and not on an empty stomach. Sugar eaten after a meal takes longer to enter your bloodstream and begin the high/low effect that can wreak havoc with your metabolism.
As in all the weeks of the Miracle Makeover, you’re going to need the SUPPORT OF YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Giving up sugar is so important that you should try to convert your family at the same time. If you have children or teenagers, you may have a challenge on your hands, but in fact they can probably use a reduction in sugar even more than you. Among young people excess sugar consumption has been linked to everything from hyperactivity to malnutrition. Make the sugar-free week a challenge for them and explain how important it is for you. Not having sweet snacks around the house will help your children in the long run and make things a lot easier for you.
Dealing with Relapse
As we said in the previous lesson on caffeine, it’s important not to castigate yourself too severely if you break down and have a sweet. Don’t decide you’ll never succeed with the Makeover, that you are a failure, that everything you do ends in failure, so you might as well have another piece of chocolate. See your slip for what it is: a small step backward, nothing more. Say to yourself, “So, OK, I did it, but it’s not the end of the world, and now I’ll go right back to my plan of avoiding sweets. I can do it, with the help of the Lord.” And you will, because He will help you as you sincerely ask for His help; believing that it is His will to forgive us, cleanse and purify us from all unrighteousness. See 1 John 1: 8-10.