Is sugar the biggest health threat facing humanity?
According to expert nutritionist Patrick Holford it is certainly one of the leading causes of early death and a list of chronic illnesses, including diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Although a valuable fuel for our cells, sugar can be toxic when consumed in excess and in the incorrect or processed forms.
These days sugar is everywhere, hidden in the most unexpected places, preying on even the healthiest individuals and silently creating an epidemic.
Reversing type 2 diabetes
The disease most closely linked to sugar is diabetes – a serious illness that causes blood glucose to be too high. Adult-onset diabetes (type 2) is caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels. It is usually a consequence of poor eating habits (too much sugar and stimulants), often preceded by hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar levels.
But it is not all doom and gloom. The good news, according to Holford, is that type 2 diabetes, which accounts for at least 90% of diabetes cases, is not only preventable, it’s reversible!
November, being World Diabetes Awareness Month, is the perfect month to get to the heart of the problem and quit sugar.
According to expert nutritionist Patrick Holford, type 2 diabetes is not only preventable, it’s reversible
For many people the “first taste” of sugar addiction comes from seeking something that will increase energy levels or decrease stress, depression and anxiety – all of which are most often caused by sub-optimum nutrition, a lack of sleep and working (or playing) too hard.
Be warned, there’s no easy way out – breaking the sugar addiction has been likened to going cold turkey on a serious drug habit! The trick, according to Holford, is to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
Related: The relationship between sugar and cancer
How to quit sugar
Here’s what he advises:
1. Choose low-GL instead of high-GL foods
The sugars and starches in foods with a low GL (complex carbohydrates such as wholegrains, vegetables, beans and lentils) take a longer time to digest than refined carbohydrates, allowing the glucose to trickle into your blood slowly, keeping blood glucose levels even and giving you sustained energy for longer.
2. Eat protein with carbohydrates
The more fibre and protein you include with any meal or snack, the slower the release of the carbohydrates, which is good for your blood glucose balance.
3. Graze, don’t gorge – eat little and often
By spreading your meals out through the day and eating five or six small meals instead of three larger ones, you won’t get hungry or have blood sugar dips that cause uncontrollable cravings.
4. Never go without breakfast
The biggest mistake you can make is not to eat breakfast. This is when your blood sugar is at its lowest.
Eat a healthy, low-GL breakfast that will level your blood sugar, and not a strong coffee with a piece of toast with jam (carb plus sugar), which will set you up for a blood sugar level that yo-yos the whole day!
5. Replace sugar with xylitol
Xylitol is the most natural alternative to sugar, found in small amounts in fruits such as plums, cherries and most berries, and, unlike sugar, does not affect blood sugar levels. It also contains 40% fewer calories.
6. Make your own cereals, replacing any sugar with xylitol, if necessary
Most “healthy” granolas are packed with sugar and are therefore not a good option for breakfast.
7. Minimise caffeine and alcohol, as these both affect your blood sugar
Especially during the Christmas silly season, try to limit the number of times a week you have an alcoholic drink.
Limit what you drink. Stick to wine and champagne instead of beer and spirits as these are lower in calories.
8. Change the way you react to stress
Whatever your thoughts on stress, the reality is that body chemistry fundamentally changes every time a person reacts to it.
When a person feels stressed, they inevitably turn to sugar or other stimulants for energy and control.
Spend time documenting how you react to stress and replace those behaviour patterns with healthier ones (e.g. eating fruit instead of sweets or chocolates).
9. Drink water at every craving
Each time you have a craving, rather than jumping at the first snack that comes to mind, first have a large glass of water, then a piece of fruit with some nuts or seeds (eating protein with carbohydrate keeps your blood sugar level even).
10. Rebalance your blood with extra help
There are certain nutrients that studies have shown to have the effect of lowering blood glucose levels and improving insulin resistance.
To help you balance your blood sugar levels, you might want to consider supplementing your diet with vitamins D, C, E and B complex.
Minerals such as chromium, zinc and magnesium have also been shown to have a positive effect on supporting blood sugar balance.