This post about sugar is going to be a little more personal than most of my posts are. I want to share with you what I’ve learned about different sugars, some of the ways that minimizing refined sugar has helped my family (and can help you!), and how we live with little to no refined sugar.
First, what is sugar, and what is the difference between refined sugar and sugars found in natural foods, like fruit?
Technically, the molecular breakdown of fruit sugars and refined sugars is the same. They both contain fructose and glucose, in varying ratios. Glucose is the most simple, preferred energy source for your body. Fructose is sweeter than glucose, and is not metabolized as easily. Fruits (and sweeteners like honey) have mostly fructose, whereas table sugar is about half fructose and half glucose (which combine as sucrose). (Source).
There are other sugars such as lactose (found in dairy), but we won’t delve into all of them in this post.
Refined sugar, also commonly known as table sugar, is made from sugar cane, or sugar beets. It involves a lot of refining (Affination, carbonation, decolourization, and boiling) and a lot of byproduct. You can read more about it here.
So, why isn’t fruit bad for you, if it contains fructose just like table sugar? Several reasons:
1. It is a whole food. This means it hasn’t been taken apart, (like “taking out” refined sugar, from a sugar cane), and is still the way God formed it for us.
2. One of the benefits of whole foods like fruit is that they have the necessary compounds (like water, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients) within the fruit to help digest and use the sugars properly for your body. This also makes fruit a sweet, but healthy option for a snack or dessert.
3. Fruit doesn’t actually have that much sugar, compared to sweet snacks containing refined sugar. Since fructose is sweeter than sucrose or glucose, there doesn’t need to be much to make it taste good.
Here are some of my family’s experiences with refined sugar:
I used to think that sugar was “natural” because it comes from the sugar cane, which is a plant. That’s true, but the processing it takes to make it into sugar crystals is definitely not natural.
My husband started cutting sugar out of his diet first because he had made a bet with a couple friends and they were all trying to lose 20 pounds in two months. Although my family is pretty active (mostly hiking and other outdoor activities) to begin with, Ben didn’t add any exercise to lose weight – just stopped putting refined sugar in his body. The weight melted off, and the challenge with his buddies seemed easy!
Another effect of this no-sugar-diet was clearing up Ben’s skin. He used to have random breakouts on his face and neck, but after minimizing sugar intake, it has completely cleared up.
It was a little more difficult for me to quit sugar, because I had unknowingly become addicted to it (yes, refined sugar is very addictive!). I gave in quite a bit when I first tried to quit, but I kept at it, and now I feel SO MUCH BETTER. My skin has mostly cleared up as well (My hormones still act up sometimes since I’m still nursing my daughter), and my overall health and energy levels have greatly improved. Plus, it’s wonderful to be free from feeling like I NEED that sweet snack or dessert at night!
How we live out the no-refined-sugar lifestyle:
For my family, there are three steps to maintaining a no-refined sugar diet.
1. You have to go through a detox period, which may be very hard for some people. I was one of those people! For a few weeks, I seriously felt like a crazy person. My brain told me every evening that I HAD to get something sugary, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I may have desperately dipped into the jug of molasses a few times during that period!
The key is not to give up, and to have confidence that it WILL pass. Now, on the other side of it, I don’t often think about sugary desserts, and I am certainly not obsessing over them. When I was struggling with it, I thought I would miss my nightly snacks once I quit. Not the case! It is wonderful to not have a substance (sugar) controlling any part of my life. The amount of time this takes differs a bit between people, but for me it took 2-3 weeks to really start feeling in control of it.
2. Don’t keep it in the house. This is very important! If you have tasty things around, they will be eaten. Don’t be afraid to just throw things away, because all that sugar and refined stuff really is garbage. If you really don’t want to waste, give it to someone who eats it anyway. You can also take it to a food donation pantry. One thing to remember about purging your house is to read ingredients of all prepackaged food, and buy whole foods whenever possible. Refined sugar sneaks into many foods that we wouldn’t expect!
3. Use alternative sweeteners when you’re baking for a special occasion, when you have dinner guests, etc. I still sometimes make cookies, crisps, and other desserts, but its important to me to find or create recipes that use natural sweeteners. One of my favorite ways to do this is to search for paleo-friendly desserts.
Here are the ones I use:
-Honey: We buy raw, unfiltered honey, which is not processed and contains many nutrients. The Bible even mentions honey as a sweet treat of choice!
-Maple syrup: This delicious natural sweetener is made by the Maple tree. To get the syrup, you drill a hole in the tree and drain the liquid, and then boil it to make it more syrupy.
-Blackstrap molasses: Molasses is not actually a whole food, so you may choose not to use it. I use it because it contains nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium, and I don’t find it to have any negative or addictive effects. Molasses is essentially the “good part” of the sugar cane or sugar beet, left over after sugar crystals are extracted.
-Stevia drops: Stevia is extracted from the Stevia leaf, and is extremely sweet. In its pure, liquid “drops” form, it is nearly 300 times as sweet as sugar! I do not use the bagged stevia powder because it is not pure. However, I do sometimes use a couple drops of the liquid in my coffee or tea.
Note: I do not use any artificial sweeteners, and I believe that most of them are a serious health concern. I’ll have a post detailing that soon.
One more thing:
I’ll be honest: Every once in a while (maybe once every month or two), we do still go out for ice cream or have a slice of cake at a party. This is a personal choice, and how much you choose to consume depends on your mind, body type, and lifestyle. Ben and I have decided that we don’t need to be 100% strict now (AFTER the detox period!), but we are very intentional about not letting sugar sneak back into our life.
So that is my family’s sugar story; I hope our lessons and the tips I shared are beneficial to you! Now, to start your own journey!