So much for Mary Poppins. All those spoonful’s of sugar are contributing to arguably the biggest health threat facing humanity – diabetes. November being World Diabetes Awareness Month, is the perfect month to say no to diabetes, and to get to the heart of the problem – quitting sugar.
Diabetes, known as the “silent killer” is a serious disease that causes your blood glucose to be too high. Although glucose is needed by the body for energy, an excess can create health risks, and diabetics are more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or other complications, including blindness, kidney disease, gum infections and amputation.
But it is not all doom and gloom. The good news, according to psychologist and nutrition expert Patrick Holford, is that type-2 diabetes (the common kind that accounts for at least 90% of diabetes) is not only preventable, it’s reversible.
Both child-onset diabetes and adult-onset diabetes (type-2) are conditions caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels. Adult-onset diabetes is usually a consequence of poor eating habits (too much sugar and stimulants), often preceded by hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar levels.
For many people the first taste of sugar addiction comes from seeking something that will increase energy levels or decrease stress, depression and anxiety – all of which are most often caused by sub-optimum nutrition, a lack of sleep and working (or playing) too hard. The bottom line is that sugar is bad for you. Although a valuable fuel for our cells, it can be toxic when consumed often and in excess, causing damage to the arteries, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
Unfortunately though, the act of coming off sugar has been likened to going cold turkey on a heroin habit. This seems rather extreme, but even those who don’t add three spoonful’s of sugar to their tea or coffee every morning, are probably overloading on sugar with cereals, fruits and other high-GL carbohydrates.
Patrick Holford on how to quit sugar, without feeling sh**t
- Choose low-GL instead of high-GL foods. The sugars and starches in foods with a low-GL (complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, beans and lentils) take a longer time to digest than refined carbohydrates, allowing the glucose to trickle into your blood slowly, keeping blood glucose levels even and giving you sustained energy for longer.
- Eat protein with carbohydrates. The more fibre and protein you include with any meal or snack, the slower the release of the carbohydrates, which is good for your blood-glucose balance.
- Graze, don’t gorge – eat little and often. By spreading your meals throughout the day and eating 5 or 6 small meals instead of 3 larger ones, you won’t get hungry or have blood sugar dips that cause uncontrollable cravings.
- Never go without breakfast. The biggest mistake you can make is not to eat breakfast. This is when your blood sugar is at its lowest. This is the time to eat a healthy, low-GL breakfast that will level your blood sugar. A strong coffee, with a piece of toast with jam (carb plus sugar), will set you up for a blood sugar level that yo-yos the whole day.
- Replace sugar with xylitol. Xylitol is the most natural alternative to sugar, found in small amounts in fruits such as plums, cherries and most berries – and unlike sugar, does not affect blood sugar levels and contains 40% less calories.
- Make your own cereals, replacing any sugar with xylitol, if necessary. Most “healthy” granolas are packed with sugar and therefore not a good option for breakfast.
- Minimise caffeine and alcohol, as these both affect your blood sugar. Especially during the Christmas silly season, try to limit the amount of times a week you have an alcoholic drink. Limit what you drink. Stick to wine and champagne instead of beer and spirits as these are lower in calories.
- Change the way you react to stress. Whatever your thoughts on stress, the reality is that body chemistry fundamentally changes every time a person reacts to it. When a person feels stressed, they inevitably turn to sugar or other stimulants for energy and control. Spend time documenting how you react to stress and replace those behaviour patterns with healthier ones (e.g. eating fruit instead of sweets or chocolates)
- Drink water at every craving. Each time you have a craving, rather than jumping at the first snack that comes to mind, first have a large glass of water, then a piece of fruit with some nuts or seeds (eating protein with carbohydrate keeps your blood sugar level even).
- Rebalance your brain with amino acids and chromium– Take optimum amounts of amino acids as they, especially Tryptophan, help restore a possible underlying serotonin deficiency that leads to carbohydrate cravings. Chromium helps to support blood sugar balance.