Friday, March 12, 2010

Sweet Nothings

In late 2007 I became a bit obsessed with sugar. I mean this in the sense that is probably the opposite of what you are thinking. I became obsessed with getting it out of my diet. I had always been a big carb eater. But in late 2007 I went on the South Beach diet--I had some weight from nursing school that I wanted to lose & was having a hard time getting it off.

The first week or two was really, really tough. I was dizzy, didn't feel well at all. I was actually astonished at my reaction to the lack of sugar in my diet. (for those who aren't nutritionally knowledgable carbs get broken down into glucose in our bodies & affect us just like sugar basically, so you 'could' actually cut sugar out of your diet & not get the results I got if you're still eating lots of carbs) People kept insisting that sugar couldn't do that, it had to be caffeine withdrawals or something like that. But I gave up caffeine back in January of 2003. There was no other explanation than sugar withdrawal.

After the dizziness & feeling sick passed I started noticing how steady my energy level was throughout the day. I REALLY liked this. I began to think it over & I realized that if you ingest something that makes your blood sugar spike up (sugar, carbs, etc) it's also going to end in the blood sugar crashing & bottoming out (what goes up must come down). This is what had been causing my energy level to go up & down so erratically as it had for so many years. I really liked the way I felt on the South Beach diet.

Sometime during this diet my mother in law brought me some info she had on sweeteners. It listed natural sweeteners & how they affected the blood sugar. This was exactly what I was needing to know. Things like maple syrup & honey do cause the blood sugar to spike, even though they are natural. But things like stevia, agave, brown rice syrup, barley malt, & lo han don't. So I then started using those sweeteners. I use all four (have not been able to find lo han for sale anywhere, although it is in my protein shake powder), it just depends on which one I want (based on flavor) for what I'm eating at the time. And there are plenty of things that I just don't sweeten. I've learned to appreciate it's natural taste. This is true especially of drinks like herbal tea (which I used to put a ton of sugar in) & herbal coffee.

As far as stevia goes, I have heard a lot of complaints about it's taste & I have actually tasted some that doesn't taste good. But I remember reading an article somewhere that said it's important to get a really good quality stevia. I was just speed-reading that article, but I do recall it was something about cheaper brands of stevia use all parts of the stevia plant & the better quality brands use only the parts that are sweetest (I cannot recall which part this was though since I was just speed-reading the article).

You may be wondering why I haven't mentioned the big artificial sweeteners: saccharin, aspartame, etc, etc. I refuse to ingest these & I believe they are VERY dangerous chemicals. I don't believe for one second that they are safe at all for us. As a nurse I have seen a HUGE increase in seizure activity in people of all ages, races, etc & in questioning these people I have noticed ONE connection: they all use artificial sweeteners. I know that is not very conclusive evidence, but if you take some time to do some research you will find a ton of bad info on them. I really don't bother because I just don't consume them. (Margarine also falls into this category as far as I'm concerned--just say no to margarine & use some real butter PLEASE)

As a side note: not too long ago there were society norms that appear to have vanished almost overnight. These were norms that said things like "you don't drink soda with breakast", "you don't eat cake for a meal", "you don't eat chocolate in a meal". Sweets & pastries & things of that nature were reserved as a special treat. I think this is a good norm. But somehow it has vanished as I said before. If you take a walk down the cereal aisle it's really really scary. There is chocolate & sugar EVERYWHERE. I was talking with someone recently & they were recounting what they eat throughout the day & were astonished to realize how much sugar they were consuming. It was at every single meal! And this is by no means unusual at all. Even among people like my family, who don't shop at normal grocery stores & consider themselves health-food eaters.

And even if you are proud of yourself for reading labels & not consuming sugar take a closer look. Yet another culprit that is really going to spike your blood sugar (& a huge part of why so many people are diabetic these days) is corn. Corn & corn by-products are in TONS of foods. I have met diabetics who don't understand why they can't get their blood sugar under control when they don't eat any sugar, yet they don't realize they're consuming corn syrup & other corn derivatives at every meal. Corn is very unhealthy for us for a wide variety of reasons--someone recently asked me if there are any health benefits to eating corn & I couldn't think of anything aside from maybe fiber, but you can certainly get fiber elsewhere. Just say no to corn!

There are a lot of people who shrug their shoulders & feel that it's impossible to not eat all this junk. It's been a long time since I've shopped in a regular grocery store, so I can't say how hard it is there. But a lot of regular grocery stores offer healthy brands too. And there are more & more health food stores out there all the time. It's amazing to me how many products you can buy that are sweetened with things like fruit juice & agave & barley malt & rice syrup as opposed to sugar & corn & artificial sweeteners. The same goes for the trans fats (hyrdogenated & partially hydrogenated). I know a lot of people who say they can't stop eating it because it's in everything. Whole Foods market is committed to not selling ANY product that has trans fat in it. It's certainly not in ANYTHING we buy & bring into our home. And of course even if you can't find processed foods without bad ingredients, then why not try rethinking your diet & STOP buying processed me you will benefit from it more than you can imagine.

One last thought. The author Michael Pollan (has written a few really great books on food) has a new book out called "food rules". I plan to get this book at some point when money allows. I saw him interviewed & heard the premise of the book & I love it! Things like "don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" (his example was yogurt in a tube--is it yogurt? is it toothpaste?); and he said when it comes to unhealthy foods (like cake, pastry, french fries)--go ahead & eat them as long as you make them yourself from scratch. Not only are they healthier that way, but he also feels that because they are extra effort to make that this will limit how often you are willing to make them & that this is really how often we SHOULD be eating those types of foods. I really like this motto. The world is eating french fries on a daily basis, yet we all know it's not healthy & they shouldn't be. If you had to take the time to make them yourself from scratch you would eat them a lot less, though, & this is what's best for your body. I just really liked his ideas & can't wait to read that book.

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