5 Amazing Reasons to Cut Down on Sugar

Sugar, in its many forms, is everywhere and letting it creep back into your diet can be an easy thing for even the staunchest anti-sugar peeps.

Also winter is around the corner and the change of season often means that we spend more time indoors and, as a result, are less active. And being less active can lead to, well, putting on our “winter coat”.

A great way to reduce the chance of this happening is by drastically reducing your sugar intake. Reducing refined sugar intake isn’t necessarily easy as it’s found in virtually all packaged foods, drinks and food at fast food restaurants are laden with it (a large Big Mac meal deal has 85 grams of sugar–236% of your daily allowance). Although it takes a little effort and planning to avoid sugar, it is very worth it in health and wellness rewards.

Here are 5 pretty amazing benefits of eating less sugar:

1. Improved sleep

Insulin levels are regulated when our blood sugar is balanced and one of the benefits of this is deep, restful sleep. Regulated insulin also has a balancing effect on the rest of our hormones as they all work together. This balance helps to improve our energy levels, brain function and, again, the quality of our sleep. A restful sleep gives us consistent and lasting energy throughout the day, increases our ability to focus and makes us less susceptible to sugary afternoon treats to get through the day, helping us to naturally cut down our sugar consumption.

2. Weight Loss 

Did you know that you can lose weight by cutting down on sugar without even reducing calories? This often happens because sugar spikes our blood sugar levels and insulin levels, as well as disrupting neurotransmitters in our brain. All of this increases fat storage. Eating more protein, fiber, fruit, and vegetables increases our metabolism, which then helps our bodies burn calories more efficiently. Losing or maintaining weight isn’t just about the daily calories consumed, but about the quality of foods we eat and the way our bodies process them.

3. Mental Clarity

Expect to feel more focused and clear-headed when giving up or cutting down on sugar. When our blood-sugar levels are consistent and healthy, our brain is more alert and we don’t feel as sleepy throughout the day. Also, too much fructose from foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (many processed, packaged foods) taxes our liver and pancreas. When this happens, these two organs have to work harder to manage all of the low quality sugar in our systems and remove it from our blood stream. While doing this, they exhaust energy reserves which otherwise should have been used for breaking down fat and converting it to usable energy. This can result in an unpleasant cocktail of moodiness, anxiety and even exhaustion.

4. Anti- Aging

Sugar is a primary contributor to the aging process, says Dr. Robert Lustig, a physician who has extensively researched sugar’s effect on the human body. He says fructose, the sweet molecule in sugar, is seven times more potent than the glucose portion of sugar. Fructose (ie. high fructose corn syrup) forms free radicals in our bodies, leading to higher rates of cell damage and death.

In a way, we “rust” as we age, he says. Oxidative stress turns our tissues brown. Overindulging in excess added sugar will speed up this browning process and speeds along the aging process in general.

5. Heart Health

It’s easy to imagine how having excess fat in our blood stream and arteries can lead to heart problems, but less people know about the role sugar plays in cardiac issues. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars (6 teaspoons) for women, and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men for optimal heart health. Unfortunately people now consume 22 teaspoons per day, on average.

A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association has also shown that people who ate between 17 and 21 percent of their calories from added sugar had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with people who consumed 8 percent or less of their calories from added sugar. So less sugar, along with moderate exercise equals a healthy, happy heart.

So, there you have it, some excellent reasons to think about dialing back your sugar habit.

Next post will have a delicious, sugar free dessert to help make living without refined sugar easy and delicious.

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Cypress Mountain & Nice Cream 

A few photos and quotes from last week’s hike on Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver:

Birds are not meant to be caged. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. – Stephen King

In quietness are all things answered. – A Course in Miracles

I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive. – Gilda Radner

Spending time in the forest has always been my yin to the yang of the corporate world. Nothing for me is more soothing and rejuvenating than spending an afternoon surrounded by sweet scented, mossy green trees.

And after working up an appetite on a hike I like to head home to whip up a tasty, sugar-free treat. This recipe is a post hike favourite. It’s vegan, naturally sweetened and uber-healthy with nut butter, dairy free milk and lots of anti-oxidant fruit.

Peanut Butter Banana Nice Cream

  • 5 bananas
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • 3 T. peanut butter (or almond butter if you prefer)

Blend together and store in freezer until frozen. Top with your favourite fruit. This one has banana, mango, strawberries and unsweetened coconut. The recipe tastes a lot like ice cream but is so very good for you.

Hope you enjoy it.

Sugar and your brain

I’ve been sugar-free for a few days and already I’m starting to feel, well, sharper. My memory seems better and my afternoon brain fog is gone. Is this because of my no-sugar eating plan I wondered? So, I googled sugar and brain health and this is what I found.

Not only is sugar bad for your weight, skin and heart, but also your brain.

And here’s what will happen to your brain when you give up sugar:

You may experience cravings – Possibly intense cravings.

I’m writing this blog post on day 3 of my no-sugar lifestyle and, although I slept like a little log last night (a sugar-free bonus) my head is pounding today. And I never, ever get headaches..well, unless I’m hungover and I’m certainly not hungover today. Nope, I suspect this is good old sugar withdrawal. Since sugar helps release the feel-good chemical serotonin in your brain, giving sugar up temporarily depletes your levels of the happy chemical until your body adjusts and manufactures more on its own.

I know this headache and slightly off feeling will only last a few days so I’m staying strong, but on my way home tonight I had a fantasy about opening a bottle of maple syrup and drinking it straight from the bottle (I’ve actually done this before. More than once). So, yes, you may experience intense sugar cravings for a few days.

Your memory and learning skills will improve.

A 2012 UCLA study on rats found that a diet high in sugar impairs learning and memory by literally slowing down the brain by stopping communication between brain cells. I personally don’t feel extraordinarily smarter these past three days but I totally believe that sugar does negatively affect the brain, especially in people who are sensitive to it, so I’ll keep you posted!

 

Your depression and anxiety will lessen.

If you’ve ever had a sugar binge, followed by a sugar crash, you know up close and personal the feelings of crankiness, mood swings, tiredness and brain fog. This has happened to me on more afternoons than I care to count. And it all happens because eating a piece of chocolate cake or drinking a soda causes blood sugar levels to spike and then crash. This is exactly how sugary food messes with the neurotransmitters that keep our moods calm and stable. I’m definitely looking forward to less afternoons of feeling like I’ve hit a wall, very hard.

 

You can worry less about age-related cognitive decline and/or dementia.

There is a body of research showing that a sugar-filled diet increases the risk of cognitive decline as we age as well as developing Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t know about you but Alzheimer’s is one disease that I have watched older relatives suffer from and that I will do anything to avoid getting. If giving up sugar is insurance against future dementia, I’ll buy that insurance, thank you very much. Find out more about the research here.

So, to summarize, these are a few of the sneaky ways that sugar can affect your health, happiness and your entire life. It is now thought to affect our brains in a similar way as cocaine and other opiates.

And even though I’m typing away through an annoying headache and occasionally day dreaming about chugging maple syrup straight out of the bottle, I’m also so excited to see how I’ll be feeling in a few weeks.

Until next time.

Sugar free is the way to be

A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in a raw food eatery in Calgary with my ex-boyfriend, his daughter and his son-in-law, celebrating father’s day. Don’t ask how this happened. It’s a long story.

The cool thing about this luncheon, though, was that the daughter and son-in-law had been sugar-free for a few months and they were singing the praises of this lifestyle like the truly converted.

They had more energy and more even energy throughout the day, balanced moods, their skin looked better and had both, effortlessly, lost weight, they said. And their eyes lit up when they talked about their new eating plan and how much it had improved their lives.

As they talked, I remembered feeling that way too when I gave up sugar. The only thing is that it’s hard and, invariably, I slink down the slippery slope that leads to sugar mountain.

But, what the heck, I’m feeling ready to take on the sugar demon one more time.

I’ll chronicle my experience (and recipes) here and start the journey with one of my sugar-free life savers. This pudding is rich, creamy and bursting with a deep, dark chocolate flavour. Here it is:

The Chocolate Avocado Raspberry Pudding

  • four bananas
  • 2 avocados
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • splash unsweetened coconut or almond milk
  • 2 T raw cacao

Blend, garnish with fresh raspberries & unsweetened coconut and serve.

Delicious, raw-licious peach parfait

My infatuation with raw, fruit-filled food is continuing far longer than I thought it would. This might be because I’ve cut most sugars from my diet and the naturally sweetness of the fruit in my recipes is soothing the sugar monster inside of me.

Also, at this time of year, when the Okanagan is harvesting its amazingly fresh and juicy fruit, it would be almost sac-religious to not make use of the abundance of freshness at our finger tips. Last weekend the farmer’s markets were overflowing with ripe peaches and plums. I bought a bunch of them and this is what I made:

Peach Parfait

Layer:

  1. Peaches
  2. Banana/coconut milk puree
  3. Plums

Top with coconut and that’s it. You’re done.

Fresh. Raw. Delicious.

3 Steps to De-Sugar your Life

Have you been thinking about reducing sugar in your diet? Read on to find out what you need to know to help you get this health buster out of your kitchen and your beautiful body.

1. Find the hidden sugar.  Did you know that the average North American eats 31 teaspoons of added sugar every day? That’s almost 500 calories. How does this happen? Well, lots of packaged foods contain sugar, but it’s hidden under different names. Here are some to look out for: barley malt, corn syrup, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, and turbinado. Read the fine print on labels and don’t be fooled by food manufacturers. Sometimes I think one of their biggest goals is to get consumers hooked on sugar, salt and msg. The more hooked we are, the more junk we eat and the more money they make.

2. Avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. This sweetener is made by changing the sugar in cornstarch to fructose and it’s more inflammatory than other types of sweeteners. Because HFCS extends the shelf life of foods and is sweeter and cheaper than other sugars, it’s an ingredient in soda, fruit drinks, packaged bread, crackers, and tons of other snacks. Look for it on labels and avoid it at all costs. It’s extremely addictive. 

3. Take B vitamins every day.
B vitamins help lessen withdrawals symptoms for people coming off of addictions. And, since sugar is addictive, the b’s will help you through your withdrawal symptoms.

And, when you do get a craving for something sweet that just won’t go away, try munching on a big bowl of fruit instead of something sugary and fatty that might mess up your health and fitness goals. Here’s an idea for a naturally sweetened, healthy snack:

BC Fresh Fruit Salad

·         Blackberries

·         Raspberries

·         Peaches

·         Strawberries

Add any other fruit you might like. Fruit is fresh, natural, good for you and will kill a sugar craving in an instant.

And, if that doesn’t do the trick, check out my next blog post featuring a delicious, sugar free peach parfait.

Healthy Happy Hiking Snacks

The Grind is taking up a fair amount of my spare time right now so it’s going to be the subject of another blog post. This one to be exact.

The stairmaster-esque climb, the intense sweating, the checking of the heart rate every few minutes and the unbelievably long time it takes to get to the first quarter mark can make this hike feel like a special form of torture. But, that said, it’s the best and quickest way for me to achieve my summer fitness goals. And, for this reason, in spite of all of my complaining, I kinda love it.

The Grouse GrindHowever, my fitness level is at a point where I definitely have to sit and take a break part way up. I stare into space for a while, gulp down some water and text a few friends the exact same message “I’m in actual hell right now”. Then I usually hear my stomach grumble angrily. The last time this happened I devoured a sugary granola bar but…no more. I’m eating clean and sugar free now. So for my grumbly, half way up the mountain hunger pains I’ve made a yummy, no-sugar alternative. I tried these snacks for the first time a few days ago and my verdict is YUM.

Disclaimer: this recipe is only delicious after you’ve been sugar free for a while and have reset your taste buds.

Here’s my easy as (sugar free) pie recipe:

Workout Cookies

2 ripe, mashed bananas
1/2 cup quick cooking oats
1 tbsp natural peanut butter
a dash of cinnamon
Mix all ingredients, drop by spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

sugar free cookies

There you have it. Take these on your next trek into the woods and your body with thank you.