I have quit sugar hundreds of times, and I'm not exaggerating. I think I first started stopping when I was about seventeen, after a fully sugar-saturated childhood, commonly having it with my three meals a day, often complimented with two or three sugar snacks or desserts in between. I began perfecting my strategy to overcome this addiction in my twenties, researching the health problems, reading books like Sugar Blues, by William Dufty, a classic, and observing the co-craving pulls, like my body's need for magnesium, which is found in dark chocolate. Not only would I engage my rational mind and my will power, but I'd also put a few tablespoons of tart cherry juice concentrate in my drinking water in order to keep my magnesium levels nicely replenished all day. And this is still a strategy that I advise for those who just can't say 'No' to chocolate, which is very hard for many of us to do.
Another sugar stopping strategy for chocoholics, (if the caffeine therein isn't posing a problem,) is to turn to non-sweetened sources of chocolate, like Pascha 100% cacao unsweetened organic dark chocolate baking chips. These are Fair Trade Chocolates, which means that unlike 95% of the chocolate that is sold in the world, no human rights abuses or child slave labor was involved in the production of this product. That is a really good thing. And it is available at most healthy food stores. Another non-sweetened source that is very good, comes from the UK and is available here in the states at many of the Trader Joe's stores. This is Montezuma's 100% Cacao Solids, Dark Chocolate, Absolute Black bar with Cocoa Nibs. These bars are ethically sourced, though they are not certified Fair Trade chocolates. With a similar ethic, another popular favorite is Addictive Wellness Raw Wild Cacao With Adaptogenic Super herbs. With mostly organic or wildcrafted ingredients, it is not only refined sugar-free but it is also gluten-free, keto, vegan and paleo. Unlike the other two that I've mentioned, which are not sweet, the Addictive Wellness chocolates are sweetened with xylitol and stevia. This small company also makes their chocolates with health promoting herbs so the consumer gets more than just the chocolate fix.
But it is not just chocolate that is at the root of our problem here, it is the refined sugar. Our primary sugar crops are sugar cane or sugar beets. Currently 95% of the sugar beets in the USA are grown from genetically modified seed. This means that if you are eating something sweet, say at a restaurant or friend's house and the sugar used was not cane sugar, which is highly likely, then you are, quite assuredly, inadvertently, consuming a GMO product. Just so you know.
When sugar is refined, all of the naturally complimenting nutrients are washed away, leaving only the pure white crystalline substance we all crave so hungrily. Molasses is the by-product of the rinsing and the concentrated result of all that has been removed. This is part of the reason why molasses is seen by many as a healthy food. Molasses may help to prevent anemia because it offers iron. It also provides calcium, magnesium, potassium, along with a variety of B vitamins. I've learned that one half of a teaspoon of molasses per day, perhaps served in a cup of herbal tea, can prevent a tendency toward easy bruising, which sometimes happens in people with anemia.
After the molasses has been removed, those remaining refined sugar molecules are significantly different. When they passes through our bodies, they try to make themselves whole again. They grab onto and rob us of our own vitamins and minerals on their way out. This seriously depletes our health and compromises our immunity. And that's not all refined sugar does. Recently there have been studies that show how those stripped sugar molecules accumulate in the folds of the skin contributing to wrinkles. Other studies show how sugar destroys collagen causing sagging skin. But that is not the worst of it.
I've heard that we all successfully process and eliminate something like thirty million cancer cells per day. That is amazing and wonderful. The problem happens when some of those thirty million cells slip past our bodies immune system and set up housekeeping somewhere, like in one of our nutrient rich internal organs. Cancer cells have a great affinity for sugar way more than any other cell in the body. They need huge amounts of it for their growth and they use roughly 200 times more sugar than normal cells. And, along comes our regular sugar-addicted intake to feed that growing cluster of cells and 'Voila!' we find ourselves in trouble. It is good to remember that when we are regularly eating sugar we are feeding cancer cells. Not a good idea.
So, yeah, bad bad bad. We don't want to do it. But, it's addictive. Very addictive. In animal testing experiments, mice who were made to be addicted to both sugar and cocaine, chose the sugar first, over the cocaine, when deprived of both. That shows us how extremely addictive refined sugar is.
Some people are under the mistaken assumption that brown sugar isn't white sugar, but it is. It is just that it has had a little molasses added back in for color. So, it is good to also watch out for that common trap or justification, thinking that brown sugar is somehow better for you. It's not. It is still white sugar with just one other little ingredient.
A few years ago some of my British friends told me that for health reasons food producers in the UK were no longer allowed to put added table salt in their processed foods, like crackers and such. But sales dropped way off, so they started including more sugar instead and sales shot back up. Now, I see that currently the UK has introduced legislation to restrict low-priced offers on foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt content. When the government pays for health care, it tends to care a little more about everyone's health. But here in the United States, sugar related illnesses are increasing every year: Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease and obesity. And sugar is a big part of our lives.
For my own part, I know that my little sugar addicted self can hardly stop me when I am confronted with a nice salty, sweet cracker, like a Ritz or a Wheat Thins, especially if it is paired with cheese, (the casein in which is another addictive substance.) The internal justifications come flying to the fore of my thoughts. "It's only a teeny bit of sugar. I'm not eating the desert. It's just a few pieces of cheese and a little cracker or two." (More like ten.)
And then there are all of the other processed foods, laden with refined sugar and other empty calories. White flour, for instance, which though high in caloric value, has been stripped of almost all of it's nutrients. Most of it's vitamins, protein and fiber get lost during processing. Thus it is empty or nearly devoid of all nutritional value. Almost every loaf of bread sold in supermarkets is full of empty calories and they most often also contain sugar. Deli items like coleslaw, canned goods like soups or three bean salad, all too frequently have sugar in them. Almost all potluck food table dishes, "My, your beets are so sweet and lovely." Yes, and there is a reason for that. The glaze is laced with more than 'just a pinch' of brown sugar. Not to mention restaurants. Chefs know what makes us want to come back for more.
And, food scientists have been perfecting this for years. Sugar. Fat. And salt. Our brains are hard wired, from our distant past, to seek out these three qualities in our foods in order to keep us well fed and alive. But, when we were foragers, we would only find one of these big three at a time. Fruit would give us sweetness. Vegetables like beet greens and celery or sea kelp would give us that savory saltiness. And fats would come from nuts and seeds. But those three didn't come paired or tripled together in any one food. We had to seek them out separately. And we did. And the pull for each was plenty strong enough to get us there. But when you put these together, like the salt and sugar of those fatty crackers that I was mentioning, or a good cheesecake with all three, salt, sugar and fat, then our little brain cells go berserk, "Pay day!" And you can bet we will want to come back for more. Those who support the food industry with research to increase consumer sales absolutely know this and definitely capitalize on it.
In my long personal history of stopping sugar, again and again, all of these points have helped me along the way to strengthen my resolve. In my earlier decades the main concern was slowing my gradual wight gain. But the holidays and all of their temptations would lure me back. "Just one chocolate bar, it's Christmas," or a few pieces from the annual gift box of "Sees." Then New Year's Resolutions, "That's it. No more." But then Valentines Day comes along, and "It's such a nice candy heart, given with such sweet love," or Easter with fluffy yellow Marshmallow Peeps. Birthdays and cakes of distinction in summer, jello and cream and puffy dry light meringue cookies with chocolate chips, marzipan and baklava, not to forget Halloween or those lovely Thanksgiving pies. Then it is Christmas, all over again. So, yes, hundreds of times. At least five times a year for decades.
I have one friend who shared with me that she had stopped sugar, once and for all. Then she woke up six months later, with a cold and the realization that it was probably due to all of the sugar which she had been eating that past week. She was shocked to remember that she had forgotten all about quitting sugar and had been on an unconscious bender with it for nearly five of those six months time. So, she quit again. This is often the way it goes with addictions. How many tries has it taken the smokers you've known to finally move beyond it. Addiction is not easy to overcome.
I would like to mention that in some cases a sugar addiction can save us from more potentially imminently dangerous addictions, like alcoholism. When I've attended AA meetings as a guest with family members or friends, I'm actually glad to see the cookies and punch that can help keep those folks coming to their meetings. A lesser addiction can be a solution. And that's a good thing.
But for those of us who just want to get off sugar, I've learned a few tricks. First if you typically have sugar every day at say 2:00 pm. Then, a 1:00 pm it can really help if you can beat yourself to the punch and have a big hit of sweetness that is not made with refined sugar. Both honey and maple syrup are not as addictive as refined sugar and they are a whole food, so they don't try to rob you of nutrients as they pass through. Both of these natural sugars provide a lot of good minerals. So, take a big spoonful, enough to beyond satisfy. I'll make a 'cookie bowl' of one tablespoon of honey, one half of a sliced banana, one pat of softened butter, one tablespoon of peanut butter, ten or twenty raisins and or the same number of non-sweetened chocolate chips. (Organic, vegan unsweetened dark chocolate chips are sold in most healthy food stores or are available on-line.) I stir it all together and wolf it down. Then when 2:00 pm comes around, I've already had my hit.
For holidays, have some fun and learn how to bake. Make all of those special treats, like pumpkin or apple pie, substituting honey or maple syrup for sugar, cup for cup, in the recipes. This will get you through and it is delicious. Honey burns a little quicker than sugar so watch your temperatures and times. In decades past, I've even made butter brickle with equal parts maple syrup and butter, stirring constantly in a hot pan until 'the hard ball stage.' But, remember, we want to use these natural sugars as a step down plan. The idea is to get through the tough temptations and then gradually let them go too.
Next you can go a little further. Instead of apple pie with super sweet honey and empty calorie white flour crusts, try baked apples. No need to peel, just core them almost to the bottom and then put some spices like cinnamon or nutmeg in the cavity with a pat of butter or not. If that's not sweet enough to satisfy you, try dropping a teaspoon of St. Dalfour 100% fruit jam in there and slow bake them with a little water in the bottom of the pan for several hours until they are well caramelized, nice and brown, and their skins have started to split. These not only make a satisfying desert that you could serve with a little raw cream, for a holiday treat, but they also make a great cold breakfast food too.
Some years back, I learned a great mantra, which holds me in good stead now. "If it is sweet and it is not a raw organic piece of fruit, spit it out." Recently, I've actually made it two whole years without a single molecule of refined sugar passing through these lips. And if a slight indiscretion should occur, like one of those crackers, I can immediately feel that dip in my immune system, telling me to watch my step. This is because sugar knocks your immune system a nasty set back for generally four hours after just a small consumption. Not something that I want to do during the holidays, this year or any year when the viruses and bacteria of colds and flus are flying around.
So, just in case your New Year's Resolution includes cutting back on white sugar or quitting it all together, I thought I'd share my path to healing and give you all a few tips and a little boost with your resolve. A Very Happy New Year to you. May it be full of great health and joy.