You might be surprised that I start by discussion Fat more than Sugar but understanding the connection between the two is vital to understanding SUGAR and overcoming addiction.
From years we have been told that saturated fat was bad for us and that it caused weight gain, high blood sugar, heart disease and strokes and from that false belief, more and more processed low-fat foods flooded the market. Thousands of fad diets were promoted all centered on low fat and the prevention of weight gain and disease and yet the population has just gone on getting fatter and more sick.
We now know that advice was totally wrong and that refined vegetable oils and transfats are the lethal ones that age us faster, damage cell walls and cause chronic inflammation and disease. Over these same decades we have eaten more and more carbohydrates to try to satisfy our hunger. Many of the processed foods and drinks have hidden sugars in an attempt to make them more palatable. Healthy fats satisfy our appetite and have a stabilising influence on blood sugar.
Our bodies were not designed to run on sugar and lots of processed carbohydrates like packaged cereals, pasta etc. and therefore we have a hard time converting all those foods to usable fuel. Most modern meals contain much more of this fuel than we can use in the short-term and so the body produces lots of Insulin to process it and allow what is needed to go to work in the muscles, brain and liver. When these cells are full the rest of the glucose is converted to FAT for storage.
We now consume nearly four times as many carbohydrates(including sugars of all types), a lot less fiber and often poor quality fats and oils. In time, the insulin receptors on the surface of your cells start to decrease in number and also in efficiency and if the glucose can’t get into the cells because they are full – it stays circulating in the bloodstream. The Pancreas senses the high levels of blood glucose and secretes more Insulin and the receptors on the cells become even more resistant! Constantly higher blood glucose causes inflammation and damage to cells. The main signs that you have a degree of Insulin Resistance is fat distributed around your middle and around your vital organs that is very hard to shift. This is dangerous Visceral fat that can also affect hormone levels.
We now have 3 generations of people with some degree of Insulin Resistance which has reached 1:2 of the whole population. Type II Diabetes and Cancer are epidemic. Even children are now being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes and yet a generation ago it was mainly a disease of middle-age.
The good news is that it is reversible.
Sugar is addictive. We often crave it when we are feeling stressed or depressed. One of the reasons for this is that when we have dysfunctional blood sugar it is spiking too high but then can drop rapidly too low. When blood sugar falls too LOW it causes another automatic response in the body connected to the release of our stress hormone Cortisol. This then has the effect of a sudden release of glucose to prepare us for the ‘fight or flight’ response and inhibiting Insulin in an attempt to prevent glucose being stored. Cortisol also narrows the arteries and a surge of epinephrine, its partner in crime, causes the heart to pump harder and faster. If there is no actual emergency then this might be felt as increased anxiety, palpitations, insomnia or suddenly wakening in the early hours – all common problems in life today. We lead busy stress filled lives so already have too much cortisol and this only makes it all worse.
Fixing the problems
Because the problems are complex and occur over time we need to sort them on several different levels.
- Learning how to stabilise blood sugar
- Eating a healthier diet
- Reducing anxiety/stress and improving sleep
- Increase activity levels
- Intermittent Fasting
FIX 1. Learning how to stabilise blood sugar
If sugars and processed carbohydrates are at the route of the problem then we need to concentrate on eating quality protein and healthy fats. If you are overweight and have been on low fat or calorie controlled diets – this will feel as if it goes against the grain. Trust me, it works. Throw away the low fat 1 Cal sprays, stop looking at Calories and stop buying low fat and processed foods. Instead concentrate on fresh, whole foods. You should not feel deprived on this way of eating – in fact things that you might previously have thought of as treats – like a cooked breakfast- can be eaten more often if you like. Every meal should contain some quality protein, either meat, eggs, nuts or fish and also some healthy fat, either avocado, olives, olive oil, coconut cream/oil, nut butter, grass fed butter or ghee. I also use Rice Bran oil for some cooking as it is safe at higher temperatures ( see my previous Post on Healthy Fats).
Virgin Coconut oil has a special place in controlling blood sugar for several reasons. It is not just a new Fad, it is a product that serves as a treatment for the health problems we are talking about and on several levels. Firstly Coconut oil is very easily digested by most people, even those with Gall-bladder problems or no Gall-bladder. It is liquid at room temperature and easily taken up and used as a fuel by the liver and brain. If you have been a long-term sugar eater then you might also have problems with an overload of yeasts, Candida and poor levels of good bacteria in the gut or even IBS etc. Coconut oil has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and even anti-viral properties. It will reduce cravings for carbohydrates and sugars by stabilising blood sugar and making you hungry less often. Coconut oil contains the type of fatty acids that are most useful to the brain and appear to help prevent and treat dementia and Alzheimer’s. It can be used in a huge variety of ways from whizzing some into black coffee in the morning, to a good baking substitute, medium temperature cooking, homemade desserts and ice cream.
Having protein at each meal also helps stabilise blood sugar. If you have eggs, bacon, mushrooms and avocado for breakfast then you will be well set up until lunchtime. If you don’t have time in the morning then try a protein/fat enhanced smoothie. Protein powder from Whey (if you can take dairy) or wholegrain brown rice or pea protein without any added sugar easily blends with things like alternative nut or coconut milk, berries or banana, flax seeds and a little nut butter or coconut oil for a nourishing start to the day. I suggest keeping to this type of breakfast and only having a small portion (about 25-50g) of carbs (sweet potato, brown rice, pitta or wrap etc.) with healthy protein and fat for lunch and dinner always including plenty of green vegetables/salads.
Snacks shouldn’t be needed very often but it is always wise to carry some healthy snack in case you are unable to eat at the right time or just get hungry after 3-4 hours. Nuts are good , veggies and hummus, olives, apple and almond butter etc. Pinterest is an excellent place to get ideas and also store any favourite new recipes. Once signed up just search for low carb clean eating snack ideas and you will find hundreds – as I said – there is no need to feel deprived!
FIX 2. Eating a Healthier Diet
The basic guidelines
- Do not buy and consume ‘low fat’ drinks and food
- Do not count Calories
- Cut the amount of starchy and processed carbohydrates you eat – grains, white potatoes, wheat pasta, white rice and sugar. The only grain exception is Rye (if you can tolerate the gluten) because consuming rye bread and rye pasta has been shown to turn off the diabetes genes.
- Eat plenty of real food – vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green leafy veg, carrots, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes,onions, garlic, peppers; fruits like berries, peaches, mango, apples, pears as all these provide the vitamins, minerals and polyphenols needed to heal your body and help cellular function. Eat fish, seafood, meat, nuts and seeds and eggs – have some protein at each meal but do not eat protein to excess. For cooking and baking use alternative flours like coconut flour, almond flour etc. there are many recipes on Pinterest and Paleo sites to help with this.
- Eat plenty of good fats – coconut oil, olive oil, olives, avocado, grass-fed butter, ghee, whole eggs.
- In place of sugar you can use small amounts of honey, maple syrup, vanilla extract, dates or banana or a natural sweetener called Lucuma Powder. Do not use artificial sweeteners as they can actually be worse for blood sugar control. Have small amounts of good chocolate 70%+ cocoa solids.
- Drink water, teas, coffee (which has been shown to protect from a fatty liver), Green teas, coconut water, coconut milk, almond milk – but nothing sweetened and no sodas or large glasses of fruit juice.
- Add plenty of herbs and spices, especially cinnamon which has a stabilising effect on blood sugar. Turmeric, saffron, etc. all the yellow and orange spices are anti-inflammatory.
For a brilliant guide on cutting out sugar and eating low carb go to www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb
FIX 3. Reducing anxiety/stress and improving sleep
This can have a dramatic effect on how you stabilise blood sugar. Try meditation apps, yoga stretches, deep breathing, massage, gentle exercise like swimming and walking and life coaching to manage anxiety and stress. Blood sugar problems and Insulin Resistance can have a very detrimental affect on sleep and lack of sleep can have a dreadful affect on Blood sugar and Insulin resistance so it is vital to improve the quality and amount of sleep that you get each night. Many of the things listed for anxiety will help, so also will getting to bed at a regular time, sleeping in a dark room with no technology and if you need your phone or device for a meditation or sleep app disable location finder, switch to airplane mode or off when finished. If you still have trouble sleeping then try taking a glass of almond milk and a capsule of L-Theanine 150mg before bed, this is an amino acid that helps promote relaxation, reduce stress and tension without drowsiness. There are many other natural sleep aids and it is best to vary them and not rely on them for too long.
FIX 4. Increase your activity levels
Most of us sit down too much these days so become aware of that and vary your activities in whatever way you can. You do not have to join a gym unless that appeals to you, it may be better to get out in the open air for a walk, take the stairs instead of the lift, dance, do some gardening but it should be regular and enjoyable whenever possible. It is not advisable to suddenly up your exercise level dramatically without getting your heart health and blood pressure checked out first.
If you can work up to doing some high intensity interval training then that is the best for reducing your glucose stores in your muscles and liver.
FIX 5. Intermittent Fasting
Once you have adjusted to all of the above and you feel that your blood sugar levels are more stable and you are feeling healthier you could try the next steps. Old guidelines were to eat little and often to stabilise blood sugar but we now know that this doesn’t work long-term. Eating carbohydrates is what stimulates insulin and too much of both adds to weight gain and Insulin Resistance. Intermittent Fasting is known to reduce Insulin Resistance and the best way to do this is to eat within an 8-10 hour window. I think the easiest way to do this is to not eat anything after 8pm and then just have a drink for breakfast and nothing to eat until 10am. For me it works if I have a black coffee with a teaspoon of coconut oil and I can usually get to 12 or 1pm before needing lunch and I feel fine. If I do feel hungry before that I have 3-4 nuts. I do not do this every day – some mornings I have a protein breakfast or shake.
Even some Diabetics find that their blood sugar is not very low first thing in the morning so it may be fine to skip breakfast as long as you monitor your blood sugar throughout and get your doctor to decrease your medication when you feel it is too much. It is even possible to reverse Type II Diabetes by following these guidelines. If you know that carbohydrates are causing the problem then you also know that you are taking medication to counteract your food! Change the food, take the stress of your body and then it is possible to reduce the medication.
For great guidance on going low carb when you are already on Diabetes medication go to www.dietdoctor.com
If you have Type I Diabetes then it could still help to follow fixes 1-4 and it would help to keep dosage of Insulin from escalating and also to reduce the occurrence of the side effects of Diabetes.
Supplements that can help
- Ensure that you get enough Minerals through diet by changing to Celtic Sea salt instead of table salt and preferably supplements like Sizzling Minerals. Levels of Magnesium and Chromium are especially important if you have blood sugar problems.
- Supplement Vitamin D3
- Natural plant based Vitamin B6, B12 and Folic acid as in BioCare Methyl B Complex
- Omega 3 fish oil supplement helps protect cardio-vascular system
- A good Probiotic can be helpful as it is known that certain healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome have an effect on balancing blood sugar and also help with dealing with stress, anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
- Taking an Inulin Supplement has been shown to target Visceral fat. Inulin produces Short Chain Fatty Acids and can be found in Chicory root, Dandelion root, asparagus and bananas but a supplement would probably be necessary for a therapeutic effect.
In conclusion – when you make these changes to your lifestyle and diet you will not crave sugar and you will loose your sweet tooth; find other foods that you really enjoy; you will lose weight and especially that fat that is the dangerous fat – visceral fat that is under the muscle and surrounds your vital organs; you will have less inflammation less muscle and joint pain; you will have more energy and feel healthier.
I was a nurse and capable of eating a whole box of chocolates during an evening shift when there was no time to eat or no proper food around. I still love chocolate but now I have a few small treats a month – my favourite at the moment is two Medjool dates stuffed with dark chocolate instead of pudding or a couple of frozen After Eight Mints. I also make Paleo Chocolate Brownies with coconut oil and dark chocolate or a rich chocolate mousse based on avocado and sweetened with a little honey or Lucuma but the difference is that I am now very happy with just a little occasionally and do not feel I deprive myself of anything……… and I have 10 times the energy that I used to have.
Give it a try – you know it makes sense!