Most people’s sugar evolution goes something like this: promiscuous sugar usage as a child, artificial sweeteners in college, honey post college, then agave maybe stevia, now mostly none. Zilch. However if 30 years of low-no fat dieting has told us anything, removing entire food groups from your diet when you don’t know what you’re doing, is dangerous. Organ, hormonal and emotional dysfunction can all result from cutting out food that is vital to your body’s function. So should we be quitting sugar for good?
Should We Eliminate Sugar Entirely?
Most of us following Paleo whole food values are pretty much back on the (healthy) fat bandwagon. We’re eating pastured animals complete with the fats they come with, cooking in butter and lard and delving back into our love of bacon. And speaking of bacon, it goes with anything right? There was even a bar of bacon chocolate the other day at my local store! Yum…
Ok, so it’s that last little bit of over-indulgence that this article is about; because who doesn’t fancy a little something sweet no matter the health or balance or both of their diet.
Let’s just face it: anything that seriously satisfies our sweet tooth isn’t going to be the epitome of health: most snacks (even the healthy ones, gasp) contain sugar. We swap out white, brown and raw sugars for more natural versions like coconut, Yacon, maple and honey. However the trouble with substituting one added sugar for another is it still keeps the sugar bar high, never allowing our taste buds to recalibrate. We still need more and more sugar to get the same sweet sensation. We just don’t give our insulin producing pancreas, and its myriad relationships with all the hormones in our body, a rest.
Get your sweet on from less
Luckily, we can aim for low sugar or one that offers something beneficial (not eliminating sugar completely) at the same time. You could get your sweet tooth:
- From fruit, or from teasing out food’s internal sugars by roasting root veggies (with a sprinkling of cinnamon to lower their insulin surge)
- By distracting the tastebuds with another flavor so they’re less focused on the absence of sugar. Cinnamon or nutmeg can give the impression of sugar in it’s absence. Vanilla extract is a great sugar like substitution too.
- Lemon juice-soaked or lightly (not caramelized) onions in dishes can also add that little something sweet you’re looking for.
- Coconut oil in cooking, baking or just on a teaspoon is a great sweet craving reliever
- Paleo ‘sweets’, though beware even following Paleo principles, when these become creeping-up-on-every-meal treats, are still ‘treats’.
Cutting Way Back on Sugar
When you try it yourself, cutting way back on sugar (even those healthier natural sugars) you do start to crave less and detect hidden sweetness in non sugar foods; you get the same sweet sensation from less.
Because we need some sugar; a higher fat diet will have you craving sugar too. We need that sugar we’ve been carefully removing from our diet. Our brains are wired for sweetness. We’re naturally wired to seek ripe, seasonal foods that are naturally sweeter. The same wiring lets us know when a food is spoiled or if it’s poisonous! Sweetness in food was a marker for edibility in primitive times and it should still be in modern times, and for the deliciousness we’ve all come to love (albeit in excess).
So what’s the best way to get a better balance, and even enjoy that little bit of sweet you love after a meal? No guilt, no craving; just ‘that’d be nice thank you’. Does it exist? You’ve probably heard that certain cravings can tell you about what’s missing from your diet. When we don’t assimilate food well, or don’t eat nutrient-dense food, our body craves extra food in the attempt to fill in the nutritional blanks. Yet, we don’t always crave the correct foods, and can end up reaching for something that doesn’t support our health.
A single meal can help you listen
A single meal can help you get back to listening to what your body needs:
- Excess fats/ proteins – leave you feeling lethargic, ‘heavy’
- and sleepy and with a dull mood
- Excess carbohydrates – leave you feeling headache-y, jittery and jumpy in the mind or with brain fog, nervous/anxious and tired, and you seem to get hungry quickly
- A great starting principle is 40:30:30 (carbs: fats: proteins) of your plate, where most of your carbs come from green leafy vegetables (and a few starches like sweet potatoes as sides now and then); your proteins from pasture raised organic where possible ethical choices; your healthy fats from the most pristine sources.
Don’t Forget to Enjoy Your Food!
But this is just a start; you need to work out how best you feel so try keeping a food diary for at least four days, even a week, and track your own feelings after eating: you know your body better than anyone. Try cutting back excess sugars, mix up your go to’s meals, distract your taste buds using cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, lemon juice-soaked onions and coconut oil. Try and detect sweetness in fruit and vegetables you’re eating. And don’t forget to enjoy your food!! Paleo whole food values is a great template for you to listen to your body. And then enjoy that little something sweet you love.
The truth is that nothing is good or bad, just in or out of balance. Too little (i.e. sugar) or too much (even the healthiest, daily) of anything doesn’t do a body good. A single meal can help you get back to listening to what your body needs, and let’s face it, that little bit of something sweet we all feel now and then, no matter how satisfying a meal.