Here's how you can cut refined sugars from your diet

by Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.

There’s no need for reminders that refined sugar is detrimental to your health; more and more, scientific experts are going so far as to call it the “poison of the century.” Here’s everything you need to know before cutting refined sugar out of your diet.

What is refined sugar and what does it do to the body?

There are terms used to define sugar, and that can get a little confusing. 
Sugar refers to simple carbohydrates (mono and disaccharides) and complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides). One common source of simple carbohydrates is white sugar, made from sugar cane or sugar beet. White sugar, which is generally refined, can be found in soft drinks, breakfast cereals, biscuits, ice cream, candy, cakes, etc.


There are many reasons to lay charges against refined sugar. Being essentially made up of empty calories, without any nutrients, it’s responsible for many cardiovascular diseases [1] when consumed in large quantities. If there are health professionals sounding the alarm on refined sugar, it’s because of the inflammatory role it plays in the body.


According to many scientific studies, a great number of modern diseases are linked to the presence of chronic inflammation in the body [2]. Refined sugar increases the risk of diabetes [3], depression [4], rheumatoid arthritis [5], weight gain and obesity [6], and many other conditions.



What is the difference between refined sugar and other sugars?

Unlike other sugars, refined white sugar results in a rapid spike of blood sugar (glycemia), while the sugar contained in agave syrup enters the bloodstream more gradually. A stable blood sugar level helps prevent energy "crashes". 


From a nutritional standpoint, the refining process of white sugar takes away all the vitamins or minerals, which are essential to health. But there are other types of sugars that retain their nutrients, such as maple syrup, rich in B-vitamins and minerals, agave syrup, which contains iron, calcium, and mineral salts, and dates, which are a good source of antioxidants and dietary fibre.



Alternative sweetenersSome alternative sweeteners : maple syrup, unrefined cane sugar, agave syrup,
coconut (palm) sugar and Medjool dates

Where is refined sugar hidden?

The answer is not reassuring: it’s everywhere! We could list a great many foods containing refined sugar. But among those consumed daily, peanut butter is at the top of the list. Many companies add sugar, but also hydrogenated oil and salt. A natural peanut butter should only contain peanuts.


Some nut-milks may also be misleading; commercially available almond or soy milk may contain added sugar. If this is the case, it’s better to opt for the brand’s unsweetened version or make your own nut milk at home with ingredients you can control.


Commercial salad dressings, often so innocently disguised, can be genuine sugar bombs. Stay away from them and make your own salad dressings and sauces. It's really easy and doesn’t take long!



Our homemade Italian-style chia dressingVinaigrette au chia à l'italienne

Why we should all cut refined sugar from our diets

Although we may sometimes feel that our energy comes from a deeply complex body chemistry, there are, in fact, two main determining factors. Our hydration level and our blood sugar level.


Every time we ingest sugar, it causes a spike of glucose in the blood [7] (hyperglycemia). Once insulin, the hormone that allows cells to assimilate glucose, is secreted, blood sugar drops (hypoglycemia), which triggers a feeling of hunger. From this point on, a vicious circle sets in: sugar will momentarily calm the feeling of hunger, only to trigger it again a few hours later, and so on.


These energetic roller coasters create stress on the body; energy production becomes irregular and fatigue sets in. If you want to maintain a stable energy level throughout the day, it’s really best to eliminate refined sugar and turn to alternative sugars. 
Sugar consumption can also have an impact on mood. High blood sugar is one of the biggest factors at play in depression and Alzheimer's disease [8]. As mentioned earlier, sugar promotes inflammation, and scientific studies have been highlighting the role of inflammation in mental illnesses for the past twenty years.


The 5 steps to a refined sugar-free diet



1. Start gradually

It is not easy to give up refined sugar overnight, especially since we often consume it by habit and without much thought, as a reflex after meals, or as snacks.



2. Find alternatives

Here's the secret: it’s easier to replace refined sugar with other foods containing natural sugar than to stop entirely, at least in the first few weeks. Eat a handful of blueberries or raspberries, or enjoy them frozen; they’ll take longer to eat and you’ll be more satisfied! Choose dark chocolate with 70% cacao or higher. Replace the white sugar in your pastries with coconut sugar, dates, or maple syrup. As long as you’re not eating a pastry every day under the pretext that it’s made with natural sugar!



3. Eat enough protein and healthy fats

Protein and fat stabilize blood sugar [9] and prolong the feeling of fullness. A breakfast rich in protein helps reduce sugar cravings throughout the day [10]. Learn more about plant-based protein and get our handy chart here!

4. Understand your addiction to sugar

If you regularly have irresistible and uncontrollable cravings for sugar, it might be helpful to figure out what’s driving you to consume sweets at all costs. This will help you deal with the issue, or the underlying cause(s), and ultimately consume less sugar.



5. Get some help

Some supplements like glutamine and coconut oil can help reduce sugar cravings. Eat a teaspoon of virgin coconut oil per day. Coconut oil nourishes the brain and decreases your appetite for sugar. Add coconut oil to smoothies, and use it to cook your food.



When switching to a refined sugar-free diet, remind yourself of the harmful effects of refined sugar and of all the quality alternatives on the market that are there to help you enjoy the sweet taste of sugar—while also caring for your health. And remember: always in a moderation!

 


Sources

[1] Liu S, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, et al. A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in US women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000; 71: 1455–1461.
à[2] Dregan A1, Charlton J2, Chowienczyk P2, Gulliford MC2.Chronic inflammatory disorders and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, coronary heart disease, and stroke: a population-based cohort study. Circulation. 2014 Sep 2;130(10):837-44.
[3] Fujimoto WY, Bergstrom RW, Boyko EJ, et al. Diabetes and diabetes risk factors in second- and third-generation Japanese Americans in Seattle, Washington. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 1994; 24 (suppl): S43–S52.
[4] Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Aug;102(2):454-63. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.103846. Epub 2015 Jun 24. High glycemic index diet as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women's Health Initiative. Gangwisch JE1, Hale L2, Garcia L3, Malaspina D4, Opler MG4, Payne ME5, Rossom RC6, Lane D7.
[5] Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;100(3):959-67. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.086918. Epub 2014 Jul 16. Sugar-sweetened soda consumption and risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women. Hu Y1, Costenbader KH1, Gao X1, Al-Daabil M1, Sparks JA1, Solomon DH1, Hu FB1, Karlson EW1, Lu B1.
[6] Drewnowski A, Kurth CL, Rahaim JE. Taste preferences in human obesity: environmental and familial factors. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991; 54: 635–641.
[7] Diabetes Care. 1992 Nov;15(11):1572-80. Effect of high carbohydrate intake on hyperglycemia, islet function, and plasma lipoproteins in NIDDM. Garg A1, Grundy SM, Koffler M.
[8] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/expert-answers/diabetes-and-depression/faq-20057904
[9] The Effects of Fat and Protein on Glycemic Responses in Nondiabetic Humans Vary with Waist Circumference, Fasting Plasma Insulin, and Dietary Fiber Intake.. Helham Moggadham, Janet A. Vogt, Thomas M S Wholever. 2006 American Society Nutrition.
[10] Nutr J. 2014 Aug 6;13:80. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-80. A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese "breakfast skipping", late-adolescent girls. Hoertel HA, Will MJ, Leidy HJ1.

Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.
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Fanny Vandenhende, Naturopath N.D.

Fanny Vandenhende, naturopath ND, is passionate about naturopathy, an alternative medicine that aims to restore health through natural methods. A graduate of ÉESNQ (École d’enseignement supérieur de naturopathie du Québec), she is currently continuing her training and also practicing at the Clinique Mille Mains, found in the Montreal neighbourhood of Villeray.

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