Simplify your life - Why we have decided to simplify our diet by cutting sugar out

I don’t know if you have noticed, but we try to follow a zero sugar lifestyle. In South Africa, the Banting (LCHF) lifestyle has exploded as one of the biggest trends, probably ever. A big portion of the population has jumped on the bandwagon, with products and support groups and even restaurants popping up everywhere. I have read the reasoning behind it, and have done my own research, and although I agree with most of their principles and guidelines I just couldn’t get around the fact that legumes and beans were not allowed. It is not like we eat boatloads of the stuff anyway, but painting them as villains just didn’t sit well with me. We live in a world where our extreme levels of meat consumption are becoming a problem, from agricultural to economic reasons, and now you are telling me the only other affordable protein is off limits? Not going to fly. So I delved in deeper and eventually came across Sarah Wilson’s I quit sugar series of books, podcasts, blog posts, etc. Yes! She seemed like she had all of the answers and her way of eating allowed beans and legumes. Not only did I agree with her proposed way of eating, I also liked how simple she made it. No funny ingredients or processes, real food that you can do in bulk or quickly at night. Nothing fancy or too complicated. Plus she advocated using the whole veg/fruit/etc. to minimize waste. And she tried to keep her cooking processes as money-saving as possible. Think crockpot dinners, using the oven to roast and dry at the same time, etc. She seemed as if she not only wanted to save her own body but the planet as well. And that is all that I am about!

We embarked on our zero sugar journey. There were same radical changed, and a few that we are still working on (such as cutting out all milk) but all in all, we have made great progress. For all of the changes, we feel a lot healthier, have more energy, get sick less often and focus better. For me especially that last part is crucial!

Sugar is highly addictive, and the biggest challenge we face when trying to consume less of the white stuff is the fact that it lurks in the most unassuming foods. Sauces, fruit, medicine, processed meats, spices, even things that you would never consider is loaded with it. Sugar is used as a preserving agent, a flavouring agent – especially in those garish low-fat or no-fat foods – it aids fermentation, is added to give colour, texture, and a binder. Dairy is full of the stuff, as is most processed food. The health guidelines say you must have no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women daily, and 9 teaspoons of added sugar for men daily. We are averaging between 13 and 20 teaspoons, so almost double than the recommended amount. Yes, sugar is necessary for some metabolical processes. And yes we all deserve a sweet treat every now and then. But I don’t think we realise the impact sugar has on our health, our moods, and our general wellbeing.  

Here are a few reasons to cut back (if not totally out) on your added sugar intake:

1.       It will lower your blood pressure, and lower your risk of having a heart attack

New research has shown that added dietary sugar can increase your blood pressure, leading to an increase in the workload of your heart and added pressure on your arteries. Over time, your circulatory system can damage, leading to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, artery diseases and other serious conditions. People whose diets are composed of at least 25% added sugar are twice as likely to die from heart attacks than those who follow diets made up of less than 10% added sugars.

2.       Your breath will smell better

Sugar provides a quick energy source for bacteria, which causes plaque to build up giving you that terrible morning breath.

3.       You will have fewer cravings

Over-consumption of sugar triggers the production of a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is responsible for signalling your body when it is hungry, so having less of the hormone means feeling hungry less often.

4.       You will help mother nature

Sugarcane plantations are often very destructive to the habitat around it, it needs a lot of water and is often heavily sprayed with chemicals, causing pollution. If we lessen the demand for sugar, we will decrease the destruction.

5.       It can reduce your risk of getting certain types of cancers

Some research suggests that excessive sugar intake can be correlated to increased chances of certain cancers such as pancreatic cancer.

6.       You will see your dentist a lot less

You have stopped giving the bacteria in your mouth the food needed to grow, so fewer cavities and gum disease!

7.       And also your doctor

Excessive sugar intake lowers your immune system by inhibiting phagocytosis – the way your body destroys viruses and bacteria. All the simple sugars, including honey, cause a block on the ability of your white blood cells to defend your body. Less sugar, less sick days.

8.       It is anti-ageing on the skin

Too much sugar can make your skin look dull and wrinkled. How? The excess sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins forming glycation end products (AGEs for short) which then damage collagen and elastin. Both these proteins are needed to keep the skin firm and elastic, thus leading to sagging skin, fine lines, and wrinkles. Furthermore, sugar also interferes with your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes making you vulnerable to sun damage. Your sugar addiction literally will show on your face.

9.       And decrease anxiety and depression

High sugar intake has been linked to an increase in depression diagnoses when compared to people who prefer less sweet options. Why? When glucose (another name for sugar) enters the body, insulin is needed to give glucose access to the cells. When your brain experiences a continuous or constant barrage of sugar, insulin becomes slow to respond or even immune to the effects. This makes insulin less effective, and glucose cannot enter the cells. This can lead to anxiety and depression.

10.   You will lower your risk of developing diabetes

Research has shown that drinking one or more sugary drinks daily increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes by 26%. A diet that is constantly high in sugar leads to insulin resistance, which keeps excess sugar from being taken into the cells. The sugar than becomes stranded in your bloodstream, increasing your blood sugar levels, leading to pre-diabetes and eventually can cause actual diabetes.

11.   You also lower your chances of getting Alzheimer’s and dementia

High sugar intake reduces the body’s ability to produce BDNF, a chemical which helps the brain to form new memories as well as remember old ones. People with impaired glucose metabolism, such as pre-diabetics and diabetics, have especially low levels of BDNF, and low levels have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

12.    You will improve your energy levels

Excessive sugar from your diet can decrease the effectiveness of the orexin cells, who are responsible to induce wakefulness, rev up your metabolism and keep your body going. When orexin cells are turned off because of too much sugar, we feel sleepy and sluggish, less focused and cranky.

13.   You will breathe easier

A diet high in sugar can make you more likely to suffer from asthma or COPD. I know sugar makes my asthma flare!

14.   It will lower your bad cholesterol levels

A high-sugar diet is directly linked to lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL), high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and elevated levels of triglycerides (blood fats). Bad cholesterol and blood fats are partly responsible for clogging up arteries and blood vessels, which can cause heart disease.

15.   You can prevent fatty liver disease

One of the most common diseases in the industrialised world, fatty liver disease occurs when insulin spikes caused by elevated sugar levels in the blood drives fat into the liver’s cells. This then causes inflammation and can lead to scarring. Fatty liver disease is an important indicator for the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.

16.   It keeps your brain sharp

Sugar can impede your brain functions. Research has found that a high sugar intake can be correlated to impaired cognitive functions as the sugar reduces the level of proteins necessary for memory and responsiveness.

17.   And your skin clear

Sugar has been found to increase the severity of acne because of the hormonal fluctuations they cause. The link has also been made to other skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

18.   You will save money

Fewer trips to the doctor and dentist, no more junk food. Less chronic medication, less sick days. A decrease in medical aid costs because your overall health has improved and you have decreased your chances of developing a lifestyle syndrome such as diabetes. Win win win!

I am convinced that after reading these points and doing your own research, you will agree that all of us can do a lot worse than cutting out sugar. And although a lot of conflicting studies have emerged with regards to the effectiveness and safety of a high fat, low carb diet, all researchers agree that sugar is not the innocent “food additive” it has been painted as for decades. So skip the white stuff, and reap the rewards!

Share with me your stories of how you cut sugar, or if you don’t want to, why. We love debates!