I’m a sugar addict. I’ve quit the stuff a few times now but each time, it has snuck back into my diet. Its a work in progress, one which I am determined to succeed at! Today I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Jenine from www.foodness.com.au about her journey with quitting sugar.
Hi Jenine, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me and my readers today. Can you tell us your story?
Thanks so much for inviting me to chat to you and your readers, Rach.
I am a busy wife, mum, step-mum, singing teacher, healthy food blogger and Food Coach. I am about to turn 42 and I feel better now than I did 10 years ago thanks to quitting sugar. I am a reformed chocoholic. I honestly could not get through my day without chocolate. I thought having one small chocolate bar a day was no big deal. Little did I know this one little chocolate bar along with all the other hidden sugars I was eating was so detrimental to my health. I considered myself a healthy person, I didn’t add sugar to anything, I rarely ate cakes, biscuits, lollies, sweets or soft drink I only drank juice with no added sugar. I ate everything low fat, with a considerable amount of carbohydrates in the form of various whole grains such as grain bread, rice, muesli & other “healthy” cereals. I ate a lot of salads with low fat dressings, I used fat-free packets and jars of sauces, lots of fresh fruit, I didn’t eat fat, I cooked with canola oil & I never ate butter. I didn’t eats chips or junk food on a regular basis, I was essentially doing everything that was promoted as healthy eating by my doctor and following the Australian healthy food pyramid yet my health was deteriorating.
I had high blood pressure that my doctor wanted to medicate, I was having anxiety attacks and heart palpitations, my hormones were having a party of their own that I wasn’t invited to, I was tired and irritable all the time, not sleeping well and waking feeling tired all the time, the first thing I would do was make a cup of coffee. I was suffering with dermatitis on my hands in particular under my wedding ring, I had joint pain in my knees and a ganglion the size of a large marble on my right knee and I wasn’t yet 40! I had always been slim however weight was slowly creeping on, my belly was often bloated and it didn’t make sense to me when I ate what I, and the vast majority of medical professionals considered a healthy well balanced diet.
My hormones had become so bad and my monthly cycle was out of control and far from monthly more like fortnightly. My doctor wanted to put me on The Pill or suggested I try the Mirena® implant however I knew enough about these synthetic hormones to know I didn’t want them in my body. So she suggested I have an operation either an Endometrial Ablation or a hysterectomy – now this scared me, a lot! I didn’t want either of these operations not at my age.
So I decided to take matters into my own hands and I began scouring the internet for what could be causing not only my hormonal imbalance but the other health issues I was having. I thought I would find a magic herb or vitamin that would cure my ailments, not that I hadn’t tried numerous supplements before. But the one word that kept coming up over and over again was SUGAR! I couldn’t initially get my head around it because I didn’t consider myself as having a high sugar diet but I dug further and learnt how to understand food labels, there was my answer. Sugar, lots of it was hidden in everything I was eating. Let me give you an example, for breakfast I would have a bowl of sultana bran with low fat milk, no added sugar and a chopped banana . Now that bowl of sultana bran contained almost 25% sugar in the entire bowl before even adding the in the fructose in the banana. The amount of fruit I was eating per day was on average 6-8 serves a day, that was a heck of a lot of fructose but it was healthy right? Well that fructose can be a sneaky little guy. I started reading “I Quit Sugar” by Sarah Wilson and “Sweet Poison” by David Gillespie and on the 1st February 2013 I quit sugar!
For those who don’t know, why is sugar and fructose in particular, so bad for us?
Refined sugar also known as sucrose is a 50/50 combination of glucose and fructose. Fructose is also known as “fruit sugar” and often regarded as healthy because it comes from fruit. Refined sugar is highly inflammatory, it is completely void of any nutrients, it is as addictive as cocaine, it causes rapid sugar spikes in the body leading to massive crashes which make us tired and irritable. Sugar causes you to be hungry again very quickly as it is not filling and interferes with the hormone leptin which tells us when we are full, sugar doesn’t contain any healthy fats which provide satiety and triggers leptin. Sugar interferes with hormone balance not just leptin but also cortisol. Cortisol helps maintain blood sugar levels (among other things) together with insulin but when this becomes unbalanced a whole chain of hormonal imbalances start to occur. I could go on for pages about the effects of sugar on hormones.
Fructose aka fruit sugar is sent to the liver for instant energy, which is not a huge problem in itself as typically the body uses this energy to help us out run tigers or hunt for food – oh but hang on we don’t do that anymore, we usually drive to the nearest shop for food and we generally don’t outrun predators on a regular basis. So in a nutshell what happens is this energy source (fructose) doesn’t get used and our liver becomes over loaded with it so in turn the liver converts it to fat – to save for later (stored energy) when we are in famine, when food is scarce no thanks to a drought or extremely cold winter and we use that fat for energy to keep us warm and survive – oh but hang on that doesn’t happen anymore either as food is in abundant supply, it’s everywhere we just need to drive to the supermarket to buy a packet of cereal, some bread, jam, yogurt and fruit – all loaded with sugar and fructose. So you can see here the vicious cycle of hidden sugars and too much fructose. I am not suggesting you don’t eat whole fruit however be very mindful of where else you are consuming fructose/sugar. Whole fruits are a great source of vitamins and fibre but I personally do not need 6-8 serves a day.
When it came to my hormones and sugar it was all about reducing the imbalance of blood sugars, hence quitting sugar.
Anyone, including myself , who has tried to cut the sugar habit will know that its an extremely hard thing to do. The reason behind this is that sugar is addictive, and highly so. The big question and one that I am personally very interested in discussing, is how did you go about quitting?
I’m not going to lie, it was hard. But I set my mind to it, my motivation came from not wanting to end up on the surgeons table and not wanting to struggle continuously to keep weight off. I chose to go cold turkey with all sugars, I cleared the pantry & fridge of all packaged foods, sauces, jams, muesli bars, cereals, fruit juice……and I also stopped eating fruit however I found within a few weeks I was really struggling without fruit so I reintroduced it but only 2 serves a day. Increasing my fat intake in the forms of coconut oil, avocado, macadamia oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds really helped reduce my sugar cravings as I wasn’t hungry, I always felt full. I also supplemented with Chromium to help regulate blood sugars. By about week 6 I started introducing homemade treats using Rice Malt syrup which is fructose free and I admit at first I went a bit crazy with it and the sugar cravings started to return so I had to lay off the Rice Malt syrup. I found eating sweet vegetables such as pumpkin and beetroot also helped combat the cravings, eventually these vegetables became really sweet to me. My taste buds were revived, everything I ate began to taste so much better. I was eating real whole foods and I felt amazing.
And what advice can you give to someone who has tried to quit before but struggled? (eh-hem, like me)
Don’t give up, I know that sounds cliché but it’s so true. Set small goals such as getting through one day at a time without sugar, those days will turn into weeks quickly. Keep focused on the health benefits be it losing weight, feeling more energised, healing your hormones, clearing your skin, less mood swings - it will all happen that I guarantee. Keep a diary of how you feel, physically and emotionally. Learn to recognise what triggers the cravings. At first you’ll feel good then you may feel pretty lousy for a few days but know that like any addiction the bad days will pass and the good days will outweigh the bad. Find something to distract you, for me it was learning to make everything from scratch without sugar, it became an obsession but I got really good at it and reaped the benefits.
How long can someone who wants to quit sugar expect the cravings to last?
Everyone is different and it comes & goes. I found within 6 weeks initially my sugar cravings had really subsided but like any addiction it can return quickly. For me all it takes even now is a holiday away and it’s not the sugar as such it’s the carbohydrates which trigger the same sugar high and lows in the body – that really sets me back. But I don’t beat myself up, I dust myself off, get up and know that it was only a temporary set back – up and on! I still crave sugar at times but I know how to manage it and deal with it now.
Any tips on what we should stock our pantry’s and fridges with to empower us to quit the sugar habit?
Just. Eat. Real. Food. One of my favourite sayings from Dr Libby “Mother Nature get’s it right and human intervention can get it so wrong”
Healthy plant based fats such as nuts such as walnuts and almonds, seeds in particular chia seeds plus avocados & coconuts either whole coconuts, cream, dried (without sugar), oil, yogurt or butter. Lots of fibrous green vegetables and swap your carbs to plant based sweet vegetables such as carrot, sweet potato, pumpkin, beetroot instead of wheat based pastas, replace rice with quinoa. Low fructose fruits such as citrus fruits and berries. If you eat dairy choose full fat dairy, organic butter, cheeses such as goats or sheep’s cheese and haloumi. Ideally organic natural yogurt with no added fruits add your own berries and chia seeds for a truly satisfying snack. Cacao is mother nature’s chocolate before sugar and other nasties are added to it, introduce it slowly as it will seem bitter at first, start by adding it to smoothies with berries and the bitterness will eventually subside. Organic eggs, don’t be afraid of the yolks, are a great satisfying breakfast and snack, I take a hardboiled egg to work most days. If you eat meat choose grass fed locally farmed free range or organic, you can really do without the GMO grains that conventionally farmed animals are fed and you end up ingesting. When you re-introduce sweet treats free of refined sugars, don’t go overboard still consider it a treat. Choose your natural sugars wisely many are still high in fructose but many have nutritional benefits that may benefit your health.
Keep lots of fresh herbs and spices on hand. Add flavour to your food with herbs such as mint, coriander, basil, parsley, rosemary, garlic, turmeric & ginger. Add pure vanilla to smoothies for sweetness and cinnamon too. Also herbs such as mint & basil taste amazing in smoothies or juices along with ginger. Infuse your water with herbs like lemon-balm & mint with fresh slices of lemon and lime.
I am pleased to say that I no longer need to have any operations or take artificial hormones, my monthly cycle is regular and normal, I do not suffer with PMS or severe mood swings. I have no dermatitis, my ganglion on my knee has gone, I have more energy than ever, I no longer crave coffee when I wake up, my blood pressure is normal and I no longer have anxiety attacks. My weight is healthy, I initially lost around 5kg’s and they haven’t crept back on, I actually no longer think about my weight, I do not weigh myself I gauge my body on how I feel and I feel wonderful, if I can quit sugar then you can too.
This advice is so practical and a lot of things have hit home for me during this conversation with you, I bet there are a few readers who feel the same. Thanks again for chatting with me today Jenine, its been so lovely.
For my readers, you really must check out the array of sugar free recipes Jenine has developed here. Below are some of her most popular sugar-free dishes (click on the image for her recipe)
Beetroot infused quinoa & kale salad
Healthy sweet muffins