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Monthly Archives: May 2012

End of month 5 update

Although I don’t feel all that sweet right now, it has nothing to do with the lack of sugar for the month and more to do with the snow-like pollen floating around outside. I made it! Yay! Anyone who has gone for a period of time without sugar, or anything they love to eat for that matter, can attest to how difficult it can be. Especially with something as addictive as sugar. I mean if a coke-head rat chooses sugar over cocaine, you know there’s got to be something to it! (I read about these little guys…choosing sugar over cocaine in over 90% of the trials!) Now that the hardest part is over, I’m glad that I did it. I will continue to keep sugars at a minimum in my diet and be more aware of them in random things like table salt, but I’m not going to turn up my nose to a little bit of ketchup. You’ve got to live too, right?

Overall, I’d say that the biggest change I’ve noticed is an increase in the flavour of foods I previously thought quite bland. Not having so much sugar has given my taste buds a chance to reset themselves. I also lost a few pounds. Nothing extraordinary, but every little bit counts, right? I sincerely hope that my pancreas had a nice break. It still had to do many other functions and since I didn’t cut out fruits, white breads and rice, it did still have to work a bit with sugars, but cutting down on a potential minimum of 10 teaspoons of added sugar a day, I’d say it had a little breathing room.

Have you ever or are you currently avoiding added sugars? What did you notice? Any body changes, weight loss or something else?

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Homeostasis and the sugar upset

A seesaw or teeter-totter in a children's play...

What is perfect health? Everyone’s answer could be completely different. Some might say that ‘perfect health’ is when your body never gets sick. I propose that perfect health is when your body has the ability to heal itself by being kept in a balance that allows this to happen. That balance is called homeostasis. It is a balance that regulates our electromagnetic fields and our chemical systems. Homeostasis can be upset by a number of different things, including our environmental stressors like chemicals, genetics, emotional stress and of course, our diets.

Our blood sugar balance is part of homeostasis. Even after fasting for a period of time, our bodies are able to regulate our blood sugar to prevent hypoglycemia. If we eat a lot of sugar, the reaction is the opposite and we are able to prevent our bodies from going into hyperglycemia. In a normal personal, when we eat sugar our pancreas reacts and secretes insulin. The insulin makes sure that our blood does not absorb too much sugar, which could send us into diabetic shock. Ever heard of too much of a good thing? Well, sugar isn’t that great to begin with, so too much sugar can be disastrous over time. If your pancreas is constantly trying to deal with high amounts of sugar being shoved into your system, it will never be able to achieve a state of homeostasis. It will struggle until the point of exhaustion. Eventually, you may be dealing with a pancreas that is secreting too much insulin. When that happens, your blood is not able to absorb the sugar it needs from your foods and your blood sugar drops. Conversely, you may end up with a pancreas not secreting enough insulin and the blood gets over saturated with sugar and you become diabetic.

Your body works as a team, so with the pancreas in distress, the rest of your glands start to secrete hormones in an effort to help the poor pancreas out. As this process isn’t a part of their normal function, they may secrete too little or too much. All these hormones floating around in your body can send your entire endocrine system into a complete disarray.

On top of all these effects, your body can go into a state of inflammation. When your pancreas is exhausted, the proteolytic enzymes produced by your pancreas that are in charge of digesting protein are affected. If this happens, the proteins are not broken down properly to be absorbed during digestion. If they are not fully broken down, then the body thinks they are invaders so it reacts as if there was something toxic in your system and inflames your organs and tissues.

This inflammation can present itself in some of the following ways:

As I look more and more into the effects sugar has on body, I find that I crave it less. Sugar is highly addictive and it was hard to break the habit at first, but I am definitely glad that my pancreas only has to deal with natural sugars for awhile. I’m sure it is glad for the vacation.

How about you? Does all this information make you want to go on a sugar hiatus? Do you think you could if you tried?

Sugar, by any other name would taste as sweet

The Shakespearean quote, modified slightly, is quite apt when it comes to sugar. As I read labels, I’ve noticed that products I thought would have ‘sugar’ in them, don’t have it listed as an ingredient. When it comes to reading labels, most of us are sorely uneducated. Sugar can have a multitude of different names.

You have your obvious ones, where they mention what the sugar was derived from or what type it is.

  • cane sugar
  • evaporated cane sugar
  • beet sugar
  • date sugar
  • brown sugar
  • confectionary sugar
  • turbinado sugar
  • unrefined sugar
  • raw sugar

Those ones are the easiest to spot. Then you have the ‘-ose’ family with all of its many members:

  • fructose

    English: Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (...

    English: Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (saccharose) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • galactose
  • glucose
  • lactose
  • maltose
  • sucrose

Next we move on to the syrups, ah the syrups:

  • cane syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup (this one’s a biggie)
  • maple syrup
  • rice syrup

Then we have a few randoms, some that even sound like healthier options:

  • honey
  • molasses
  • barley malt
  • agave nectar
  • fruit juice concentrate

Things like honey, fruit juice concentrate and agave nectar can sound like they are much healthier options, but that isn’t always the case. For example, agave nectar may look good when you are looking only at the Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemix Load (GL) because it is only made up of 10% glucose. Glucose is what is used in these two measurements. However, the rest of it is made up of fructose. Sugar (sucrose) is a 50/50 blend of glucose and fructose. The reason more fructose is bad is that studies have shown that fructose raises the levels of LDL(bad) cholesterol, as well as triglycerides in the body whether a person has a healthy blood glucose tolerance or not. High

LDLs are a contributing factor to heart disease and the liver can’t handle the fructose, so it turns it into triglycerides. Having fruit every day doesn’t adversely affect us, but agave nectar is so high in fructose it has more concentrated sugar than sugar itself. Yikes!

So if you’ve been following along, keeping that sugar intake in check, remember that sugar has many other names. Some worse than others, for different reasons, but all on the unhealthy side of the fence. Especially considering the massive amounts that we consume.

What can you do to abate that sweet tooth? Eating whole fruits that are sweet are a perfect way to ebb those cravings. The fibers in the fruits slow down the absorption of the sugar into your blood so it is much more manageable for your pancreas and other organs. I have also found a new best friend name Stevia. Stevia has no calories and does not affect your blood sugar. A drop or two in some lime flavoured Perrier and it’s just as good as a nice 7up.

Sneaky Sugar Surprise #3: Homeopathic medicine granules

Sweet Medicine

This weekend, I was playing softball and I pulled a muscle on my left side. After speaking with my chiropractor today, there is a possibility that I may have torn it off the rib a wee bit. Le OUCH. So I’ve been ice/heating my way through my days, rubbing Traumeel on the area and taking some arnica montana oral homeopathics. When you think of medicine, you think of it as something that is good for you. But did you know that in those little homeopathic tubes filled with granules there are two types of sugars lurking? Sucrose and lactose.

Sucrose is basically the white, crystalline formations we know as table sugar. I read an interesting fact on wikipedia.org about sucrose. It said that the world produced about 168 million tonnes of table sugar in 2011. The world census says that there was just shy of 7 billion people on the planet in 2011. That means (I’m hoping my math is right here folks, my calculators don’t go up that high) that there was 0.024 tonnes of sugar, or 24,000 grams of sugar per person was produced. If we use white sugar as the rule, meaning 200 grams to a cup, that is over 120 cups of sugar per person for the year. Holy diabetes! I also feel that most of that was produced for North America, especially since I’ve read that most North Americans have on average a half cup of sugar per day and this is more like a third.

Lactose is a sugar that you probably know of, which is found mostly in milk. It is formed from the joining of galactose and glucose. It makes up about 2-8% of the composition of milk. So, I guess if you are lactose intolerant, oral homeopathics are not for you.

I’m still going to take the arnica, as right now the benefits of decreasing my injury far outweigh my goal of no sugar for the month. But man, I can’t believe that there is sugar in homeopathic remedies. Cough syrup yes, but homeopathics !?

Mary Poppins wasn’t kidding…a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down, whether or not we realize it. Although there is sugar, I’m sure the quantity is not enough to actually affect my blood sugar levels, or there would be a warning on the label somewhere.

Have you noticed a sugar of some kind in any of your medicine’s ingredients? Tip: Look for ingredients ending in  ‘-ose’.

Sweet dreams, brought to you by the fortune cookie

Photo of an open fortune cookie

Photo of an open fortune cookie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One would think that by day 19 of a sugar free detox that cravings would start to dwindle. I’ve been pretty good about keeping my sugar intake on all levels at nothing, but there are a few slips I’m sure. Some I’m not aware of, some I only have a sneaking suspicion about. On Saturday night, I went to what I consider Ottawa’s best Chinese restaurant. It is called So Good and it is really aptly named. As you eat, you will find yourself saying, “Wow, this is so good!” and the laughing at yourself. It has been a great experience on the few occasions that I’ve been able to go over the past few years. If you live in the Ottawa area and have yet to try So Good, GO! It is phenomenal. Although I didn’t order anything sweet, I’m sure that there was sugar in most of the dishes my friend and I ordered. Then…there was the fortune cookie. Without even thinking, I cracked it open, read my fortune and ate it. It was only later that I realized what I had done. 19 days sugar free gone in a flash. Sigh…

I’m not going to beat myself up about it too much, I’m sure that some of what I’ve eaten since the beginning of the month had sugar in it that I didn’t even know about. However, this was the first time I ate something so OBVIOUSLY made with sugar. Then, that night I dreamed of buffets of sugary treats as far as the eye could see. If dreaming was reality, I would have gained 20 lbs. from the stuff I ate. Donuts, ice cream, profiteroles, chocolate and the list goes on. Since that was the first time I ate some obvious sugar, I wonder if it was a chemical reaction that triggered my craving dream or simply my brain acting on the sugar consumption. I was always convinced that sugar was  an addictive substance, but what level of me was reacting? Just based on the fact that I’m sure I’ve eaten some sugar along the way, I’m going to guess it was more of a cognitive or emotionally driven reaction.

So, I will continue along my path of no sugar…especially since my fortune was something along the lines of continuing down my path because it is the right course. I will not regret the fortune cookie, but I will try to be more aware of what I am eating and not literally shove things in my mouth before I realize what I am doing. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, although I thought I was practicing mindful eating, I now know I have more work to do on that front.

How about you? Do you think you practice mindful eating? Why or why not?

80/20 and why it fails me

I used to be a huge fan of the Biggest Loser, that show where contestants compete by losing weight and making themselves healthy with the help of trainers. Lately, I can’t watch it anymore though. The network seems to have gotten its claws into it and it has rapidly turned into a race to win the game rather than remaining focused on changing lives for the better. That’s just my humble opinion of course, but when you start to watch an episode and all this scheming happens…it’s just not fun anymore. I feel like I’m watching the plus size version of Survivor. But I digress.

I think it was Jillian Michaels, a former TBL trainer, who said that you can eat healthy 80% of the time and indulge 20% of the time. If I’m not mistaken, it’s in one of her books. I totally agree with this if you are already at your target or close to it. But if you are starting at somewhere much heavier than you should be, then you should be on 100% all of the time. I know, it is really, really, really hard to do that. Not just sometimes, but all of the time. It can be a constant struggle.

For a long time, I thought 80/20 would be a smart way to go and for some people it is. I have realized that I am not one of these people. I need to get into a stronger habit of saying no and not having in mind this ‘treat’ or ‘reward’ at the end of the tunnel. That vision is like the misguided efforts of the network to make the Biggest Loser a more riveting show with weird challenges that breed negative competition. I’m looking the wrong way, searching for the end of the tunnel instead of being aware of the journey.

I’m not saying that after having been completely sugar free (to the best of my knowledge) for 15 days that I’m ready to go the rest of my life without sugar. That’s just crazy talk! However, I am prepared to continue past the end of this month and to the end of the year doing my best to avoid sugar and let my body heal from the 29 years of sweet abuse I’ve put it through. I will be more aware of sugar in the foods that I buy, since they are everywhere! Also, I have definitely decided to be a better dinner guest by not imposing a no sugar in their cooking rule. My cousin (and dietitian) had the…ahem…pleasure of my dining company the other night and did extraordinarily well, but it isn’t fair. It is a self imposed food restriction and not a food intolerance others need to respect. I will just skip on the obvious sugar laden areas.

In the meantime, I’m also looking at different coping mechanisms. I’m someone who reaches for the sweets and finds comfort in foods when I’m down. Not being able to eat them, I need to find other ways to perk myself up. I mentioned this in an earlier blog about finding ways to get the happy flowing. So far, I think my poison of choice is movies. Ooh, I love a good movie and I’m in luck because the big summer blockbusters of every genre are coming out as we speak. I went to see the Avengers today and it was spectacular! It’s not like I’m short on film availability. My husband has a massive movie collection that will keep me in onscreen plots for years to come. I think I will also try to start walking more. I used to love it and now that the weather is more cooperative, it will be much easier. Once I close in on my goals, I can re-evaluate my diet, but for now…100% is the way to go.

Half way through the month I thought would be the worst and feeling pretty darn good!

How about you? Does 80/20 work for you, or are you more like me and need 100%, at least to start with?

Sneaky Sugar Surprise #2: Salt

Shneaky, shneaky sugar

You may think this is joke, but I’m completely serious. Go into your cupboards and check the ingredients on your salt packaging. If you are using sea salt, then you are likely safe. There are a few other types of salt that are safe as well. But if you are using table salt…you may be in trouble.

When I first found this out, I could only think ‘Why?”. Why are they adding sugar to my salt? The answer I found was this,

Glucose is a sugar (the main sugar in corn syrup), and is added in small amounts (0.04%) to salt to prevent the potassium iodide from breaking down into iodine, which evaporates away (sublimes). Other potassium iodide stabilizers include sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium carbonate, and sodium thiosulfate. ” –sci-toys.com

I suppose it does make sense, but you could always buy your salt in the form you need to grind up and not worry about this at all. Just sayin’.

Sugar at every turn, literally!

2007–present, notice that the curved lines are...

Every year, my friend Sally and I raise money for the Walk for Kids Help Phone. As a child and in the first few years of high school, I was heavily bullied, so it is important to me that kids have someone they can reach out to. The walks are always filled with great energy, music and t-shirts! I have to admit, I love getting free t-shirts and I’m so glad  the event is back to giving out participant t-shirts this year.

I’ve been doing really well on the whole, not eating sugar. I avoid that section of the store completely and we haven’t eaten out really, so it hasn’t been too hard so far. But today, as I did the walk, there were temptations at every turn! Along with water bottles to keep walkers hydrated, every kilometer or so, there were also people offering mini chocolate bars. Oh…my…gawd. Free and available chocolate. Luckily for me, Sally is also currently avoiding sugar, so I didn’t have to watch her scarf down mini kit kats. Fewf! But after being asked three or four times, my will power started to shake a bit.

The worst part of the day, however, was right afterwards. Most years, Sally and I do our walk and head off to Dairy Queen for a well deserved, ice cream blizzard. After Sally left, I sat in my car dreaming of the sweet and cool goodness of that annual blizzard treat. My dopamine started rushing in,

Ooh, Jenn, imagine how good that would taste right now? You are so warm! You need to cool down. There’s a Dairy Queen on the way to your softball practice. No one needs to know!”

After about 30 seconds believing that I could get away with it, my will power spoke up.

“No! You’ve gotten this far. And think of how gross that blizzard will make you feel for your practice. And what about all of you blog followers? You want to lie to them?”

The answer is no, I DON’T want to lie to you guys. But I’ll be honest, it was a close one!

Getting out of the Rat Race: Sugar Addiction

I can now classify myself as an addict! Yesterday I had this massive headache that I couldn’t seem to get rid of. I drank lots of

I've had a migraine/headache for 6 days straig...

water, which is now my first action if I get a headache. Normally it works but this time for some reason, the ache persisted. I took a Tylenol. Still, the ache persisted. After mentioning it to my husband, he said that he also had a headache earlier that day. Common denominator? Lack of sugar! So, on the fourth day of my sweet enough month, I got the first sign of physical withdrawal.

I’d had cravings, wicked cravings on the second and third day, but the fourth day was the first physical symptom to crop up. I also had a nagging but small headache today. I’ve been eating and snacking to keep my blood sugars stable, but I really think that a lack of refined sugars and sweeteners has got my body’s knickers in a twist. Not me though, my knickers are dandy. My cravings are getting less strong for now, I hope the pendulum doesn’t swing too hard in the other direction. Yikes!

From what I’ve read, I need to find something that swings my serotonin up without consuming the sweet little additives. Like all addictive substances, sugar raises your serotonin levels. When they drop, the body looks for the item that raises it, sending out ‘feed me’ signals it hopes you will take care of. My cravings weren’t enough for me to cave in to sugar, but there were some close moments.Then you have dopamine playing mind games with you as well. I have my dopamine talking sweetly to me about how good that sugar will taste and if I don’t reward myself I feel sad. That’s the way dopamine operates. For now though, will power is dominating!

A study was done at Princeton University using rats to demonstrate the addictive nature of sugar. Rats were given a choice of ‘healthy’ foods and sugary foods. The rats always chose the sugary ones, even pushing away the healthy ones to get to them. When they were given a choice of water or sugar water, they always chose the sugar water. When the sugar water was removed from their diet, the rats had withdrawal symptoms including chattering teeth and shakes. Upon reintroducing the sugar water, the rats once again reverted to consuming that over the regular water. A similar study was done in France where scientists compared sugar (saccharin) and cocaine. They used saccharin instead of plain sugar so that the calorie intake would not be a factor in their study. 94% of the rats chose the saccharin and in rats previously addicted to cocaine, they changed their addiction over to the saccharin. They concluded that the saccharin could replace the reward the addicted rats sought from cocaine. I find that absolutely incredible! No wonder there are so many North Americans, wandering around obese and unhappy. Ditching sugar is a tough gig!

On top of its addictive nature, sugar is in almost everything, in one form or another. The U.S. government started collecting data in 1966 to see what the sugar consumption of American was. In 1966, the average person was consuming 116 pounds of sugar a year. If you think that seems like a lot, it peaked in 1999 with 151 lbs. of sugar per person. Currently, as people become more health conscious, the average is about 142 lbs of sugar, per person a year. That’s about 1/2 cup of sugar every day. Crickey! No wonder I had a headache! Sugar is such a slippery little sucker, it’s hard to know exactly how much you are consuming.  Guess I will have to keep checking those labels.

Any ideas on some things that will bring my serotonin levels up without the help of Mr. Christie, Aunt Jemima or Betty Crocker?

Sneaky Sugar Surprise #1: Soy Sauce

I was reading through my e-mails and I occasionally get information sent to me from the Spark Community. They are an online resource for people trying to lose weight. Normally, I find their emails very informative, but I have to say that this one was misleading as heck! It read 15 Surprising Sources of Added Sugar. I was so excited! It came at the best time possible, just as I am embarking on a quest to avoid added sugar!

Unfortunately, I found only one of them truly surprising: coleslaw. Now, I have to stop and wonder if it is because I am fairly educated in aspects of nutrition or if the list was a bit silly. I mean, come on. Chocolate milk, sweetened teas, sports drinks, fruit drinks, ketchup and barbecue sauces. Aren’t these OBVIOUSLY products that contain added sugars? Is it just me?

So, I’ve decided to post some sugar surprises of my own. Some will be based on amount of sugar that the product has, which can be surprising, while other will be about the fact that the product has sugar at all. Maybe sometimes it will be a combination of both.

The first YOTD Sneaky Sugar Surprise is: SOY SAUCE

Not all of them have sugar, but for example the No Name brand from Loblaws has sugar listed as the third ingredient just after water and hydrolysed soy protein. Yikes, it’s not even made with whole soybeans. It shows that there are 1g of sugar on the nutrition label for every tbsp. of the soy sauce but I’m not sure what that represents exactly. Considering it is on the list of ingredients though, it is definitely added sugar.

We buy the San-J Organic Gluten Free Tamari. It takes great and is made with organic soybeans. It has no added sugar and has no significant source of sugars listed on the nutrition table on the back. Oh and ps, it actually tastes much better.

Anyone surprised that there is added sugar in some soy sauces? How about the Spark People list, am I alone in my lack of surprise for many of the items they chose to include?