Cutting Down on Sugar: Why Do We Eat It So Much?
I find it highly ironic that as I sit here writing this post, I am slurping (and I do mean slurping) up the last precious drops of my favorite homemade mocha frappuchino drink.
Sugar just tastes good. Really good. I love it as much as the next woman.
Unfortunately for my sugar habit, I’ve been studying health and nutrition for too long to continue to gorge on sugar in sublime ignorance. I know all of sugar’s nasty little secrets, and so although we’ve been good buddies for much of my life, the relationship has now become love-hate and over the last 8 years I’ve been doing my best to drop it altogether.
Ditching The Bad Boy Called Sugar
Has anyone heard the radio commercials put out by the Washington Dairy Association? They let us eavesdrop on a conversation between a woman and the “bad boy” relationship that she’s walking away from. The jilted lover, it turns out, is good ol’ Soda Pop, whom she has now left for wholesome, nutritious milk.
I think it’s a fantastic analogy. Soda Pop tries to remind her of the good times they’ve have, and what constant companions they were. Sugar feels the same way to me. Comforting, familiar, full of memories of parties and fun events and special treats I’ve had… but despite the nostalgia, I need to drop it like a bad relationship because I know that under the cover of sweetness are a thousand reasons my body just doesn’t need it.
Image by ayelie
Here are just a smattering of the reasons that I try to eat sugar as minimally as I can:
- It compromises my immune system
- It weakens my teeth and causes cavities
- It makes my skin break out
- It messes with my blood sugar balance, creating vicious cycles of highs and lows throughout the day
- It depletes vitamin and mineral stores, and impedes the absorption of nutrients from the food I eat.
- It contributes to an overly acidic state in the body (which contributes to disease)
- It throws off my insulin levels, which creates hormone imbalances for me.
- It is addictive and the more that I eat it, the more that I want it.
Want some more good reasons to avoid sugar?
25 Reasons to Avoid Sugar (from the Body Ecology site- good stuff!)
Image by ayelie
Why do we eat it so much?
1) It tastes good. Let’s be real. Sweet things have become treats for good reason– they’re delicious! I don’t love things that are sickeningly sweet, and I also love savory treats, but it doesn’t usually take much for me to be tempted by a sweet option.
2) It’s easy. Lots of convenience foods (even homemade ones like muffins or other baking) have sugar in them. Granola bars, cereal, juice, dried fruit, many breads, jams and jellies, ketchup, store bought salad dressing, many processed meats, etc. It’s really, truly everywhere.
3) We crave it. It’s natural to crave some sweet things. God gave us 1/5 sweet tastebuds, mixed in with those for bitter, salty, savory and sour. He made many naturally sweet foods, like fruit and wild honey for us to enjoy. But due to imbalance in the body, we begin to crave it to an unnatural, unhealthy degree.
One of the primary reasons we crave it is due to Candida yeast overgrowth in the body. This yeast feeds on sugars (from not only actual sweeteners, but also grains and starches, particularly refined ones). This happens when our gut bacteria is off, and guess what you crave when you have too much Candida? More sugar!
4) We’re used to it. I grew up eating lots of sugar, and the habit grew worse during my young adult single years. Church gatherings, special dinner parties, having friends over, going out for a treat as a family… all events where serving and consuming sugar has become the societal norm. We are so used to eating sugar routinely that we may not even notice how many times each week or each day that we actually consume it.
In another month or two, our family is actually going to go back on the GAPS diet because of the massive health improvements that we saw while we were on it this spring. We needed to take a break during a particularly busy late spring and summer, but now we’re slowly getting back into the groove by preparing some grain-free dishes each week, to make it easier when we jump back in wholeheartedly.
I also personally feel that I need to work on cutting back on our sugar intake, because I find that it creeps up steadily during our busier seasons, when I am not as focused on what we eat, but rather just on making food that is quick and simple.
Later this month, I will post again on eating less sugar, with a lot of practical tips on how to do just that!
Thanks Stephanie, I am currently giving up sugar also and am posting about this very issue this week! Thanks for your helpful links- I hope you don’t mind if I link to this post?
@Eyes, Of course, please go ahead and link to it. Thanks! 🙂
Oh man. I hate sugar, and I love sugar. I went off it almost completely while I was pregnant, which I think made a world of difference for me and my baby. But then after she was born I went crazy with the sugar! I finally decided to give it up again when she was about 6 months. I have some slip ups from time to time (sometimes purposely, like for my birthday), but then I’m reminded why I gave it up. I feel terrible when I eat it and I always want more, more, more. And I get so tired.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the nostalgia problem. So many of my best memories with family and friends have to do with eating sugar. It’s hard to think about summer, for example, without ice cream, or Christmas dinner without massive amounts of sweet rolls and pie. But it has to change! I want to change it for my daughter, so she doesn’t grow up thinking sugar is the only thing that’s fun in life. 🙂
I am also one of those people that love it and hate it! I so want to be done with it!! I feel like a sugaraholic ( and alcoholic, but with sugar)! I try to keep it out of the home, but my husband and I don’t see eye to eye on this. I want to keep things as natural as possible. I see the sugar wrapping its tendrils around my two youngest and this is what I want to avoid, as I see how much it has infiltrated my life and the trouble I am having getting rid of this addiction. And I do believe that this is an addiction. My kids and I have food “sensitivities” to wheat/gluten/dairy/soy, so they don’t eat as unhealthy as most kids do. Also, because of this some family members think that they go without! I have tried to find replacements so that they are not the odd man out at parties etc. and they aren’t. Most times the kids want what my kids are eating! But at the same time I really don’t want my kids to eat the sugary stuff and rather they have a piece of fruit as unrealistic as that sounds ,its true. However, how do I get them to do that when they see me drinking my soda on a daily basis( I only have one a day, but don’t let them have any). Now, my youngest daughter wants to be a grown up just so she can drink pop. What have I done?!! It is time to quit but its easier said than done! I need to find a happy medium where they can have some so that when they are older and on their own they don’t go hog wild because I never let them have sugar and turn into sugarholics, but yet don’t feel like they are left out because they never get anything sweet to eat.
I am looking forward to the next posts and hope I can find some help in there somewhere!
@Julie, There are stevia sweetened sodas, Blue Sky Free and Zevia are two brands we buy from time to time. Unfortunately, you really will have to give up your soda or you are placing yourself as a hypocrite in your children’s eyes. The stevia sodas are hardly a perfect ‘food’ but they may make a reasonable stepping stone for you and your kiddos. We also mix sparkling water with juices and/or stevia sweetened flavors… just a thought. Balance is difficult in this world… just keep trying. 🙂
Thanks Beth, I will have to look into those soon!
I realize I am a hypocrite to my children and that is very bothersome to me. However, its just not as easy as “just stop drinking it!” My kids don’t drink it, but want to. We never did as kids, and if it wasn’t for bad tasting water at my 1st apartment in college I’m not sure I would have started!
We currently use stevia and agave in lots of our sweetened sweets, so I guess that helps.
Thanks for your recommendations!
This is on my mind a LOT. I LOVE sugary things… but I actually feel like it’s more of an addiction than anything. If i were to not have it for a while I wouldn’t crave it, but the second I do have it, I need more. I can’t have just one bite. Everyday I see myself finding something sweet. I can’t intentionally make it through a whole day without having something sweet. The bad thing is, is now that I’m older, everytime I eat sugar, especially when its a good amount, I feel BAD afterwards, like kinda sickish. My energy levels actually decrease and I feel worthless. Everytime I feel that way, I think to myself why did I eat this again, but given the opportunity, I’d do it again! I’m soo glad that I’ve never been into drugs/alcohol, cause I must have a very addictive personality, or sugar is just that addictive. Sugar seems like a more evil drug, cause it’s everywhere! I try not to keep sugary things in my house, no pop, no candy, but somehow I still manage to get my sugar fix. I’m going to read your links and see if I can work on busting this addiction i seem to have. Maybe print them off and put them on my fridge!
Thanks for bringing this back onto my priority list! I’ve gone years when it hasn’t been an issue and I really didn’t crave it, but right now I feel like I’m in a rut where it is way more enticing than it should be. I’m going to refine my focus to give sugar the boot!
This post is perfect! I just celebrated a birthday and set a goal of focusing on LESS sugar. I’d really like to read more about the topic. Thanks for the links. Can you suggest any others or any books on the subject?
@Katie @ Making This Home, I think that the Body Ecology book would be a good read. I’m currently trying to work through a book called Sugar Blues (I believe last name of the author is Duffy? I could be mistaken, though). Even Maker’s Diet and Nourishing Traditions both have a lot of good info on the effects of sugar. Some books on the topic of Candida have helpful info as well (Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook by Jeanne Marie Martin comes to mind).
@Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home, thank you, Stephanie. I’ll look into your suggestions. I sooo appreciate it.
Thanks for sharing it is a good reminder of what sugar does to us! My daughter has been diagnosed with several allergies (wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, chickpeas) and I am considering putting both of us on the GAPS diet. (She is nursing still so I am already off of all the foods that she is.) I would love to hear some of the grain free recipes that you have found to work for your family. I made your cabbage rolls and they were great!
@Rebekah, Here’s a post with some of the things that we ate on GAPS, and some good links to sites with more recipes and ideas:
Do you mean ALL sugar?? even honey & maple syrup??
@Tammy, No, not necessarily. I think it’s good to cut out all sugar for short seasons, or while healing from illness, and that would include even natural sweeteners like those.
Mostly, I want to cut out all refined sugars, and seriously reduce my use of unrefined, natural ones. I want to keep them as treats, something that I eat a few times a week, but it’s not even a really great habit to have the natural ones as often as we do.
But no need for alarm! Natural sweeteners are still in my good books, in moderation! 🙂
I definitely sympathize with the desire to eliminate sugar! My husband and I did the Maker’s Diet recently and I was really hoping it would help with sugar cravings… which it sort of did, but once we started eating a more normal diet again, carbs snuck in again so quickly! I’m curious, I read on here before that your family has done the Maker’s Diet – have you found the GAPS diet to be more beneficial than Maker’s Diet? I am interested in GAPS, but don’t want to torture my husband with it if it’s not entirely worth it. 🙂 Personally, I found some value to the Maker’s Diet but didn’t notice any long-term changes (besides trying to incorporate some principles in our regular diet).
I eat it for lots of reasons. I get bad migraines and it “seems” to help – who knows if that is all in my head 😉 I did spend 4 years NOT eating it and didn’t get fewer migraines but did feel better overall…but I also cut out most carbs and exercised way more. I want to get back to that just need to motivation and figure out how to do what with a pre-schooler.
My husband has been trying to cut out sugar (not carbs, just processed sugar) for about a year (on and off). We found that it was particularly hard with convenience foods – the first 20 weeks of my current pregnancy were hard, and we were eating packaged food or fast food a LOT; I lost 5 pounds and he gained 15!
The other big struggle has been bread, which I suppose could be looked at as a “convenience” food, too. I have been able to find 2 brands of whole-wheat bread that don’t use sugar; but they’re more expensive even than the other “wholesome” breads AND they’re not available at every grocery store we shop at. I suppose I could make bread myself, but that takes energy and time that I just don’t have.
Personally, I would never give up sugar completely… but I would like to cut down on how much of it I eat. I want to be a good example for my children and a helper to my husband, so that we can keep sugar as a treat, not an integral part of our daily meals.
I read a bit about the Body Ecology Diet. It sounds like it would be kind of sort of like the GAPS Diet. Both are about basically returning the flora in the gut to what it should be to maintain a healthy life. What is one reason one would choose one over the other? I know it says it will take care of sugar addictions, but I would tlhink its not a one time thing. You have to continue on either diet for the sugar craving to remain gone.
I decided to take a peak at what there is on your site today- interesting! I’m glad I stopped by. I’ve been off sugar (even honey, sucanat, agave and the like) for almost 10 years now. I was eating very typical four food groups style eating before, but with lots of sugar. Breakfast cereals, cookies at lunch, dessert every night, snacks, etc etc. lots and lots of sugar. And it totally, completely ruined my health. I am paying for that today. I think it was a combination of sugar plus some extreme stressful events in my life that triggered health issues that I am working at resolving still…after 10 years of trying. First to go was sugar. I have had it a few times since then, I think maybe 5 times. Each time, my body reacts very badly, and it doesn’t even taste good anymore! My children haven’t had processed sugar very many times, and when they do, they don’t like it. I do make them and my husband occassional treats with sucanat and honey. My husband gets it sometimes at work or out, and his comment the other day was that the treats at work were gross…too sweet!
At first it was horrible to go off sugar. I really didn’t do well with it. I was the typical person who when feeling down I would grab something sugary. Like a chocolate bar. But my body kept enough horrible symptoms that I simply began to not want the effects! After about 2 years I stopped craving it altogether. I’ve only had the occasional craving since, which I am able to satisfy with my repitoire of hard-to-find recipes using fruit sweetened things. I also use fruit sweetened jams, smoothies made with lots of bananas, raisins, dates and the like to sweeten things. Of course in excess these too would not be good, but I’m talking once in a while. I’ve found the cookbook “wow this is sugar free” (its a Mennonite book) to be the most helpful, as well as googling ideas for honey and sucanat sweetened treats for my family and to bring to things (no one can tell). Look for recipes using apple juice concentrate. Making your own is easy and then you can use organic apple juice.
I encourage anyone that the inital time of dealing with the sugar cravings does go away, and then its amazing what foods you really taste…things that were not sweet before are sweet to me now!
I’ve struggled with sugar for years! Though I wanted to “eat it in moderation”, I finally accepted that I just can’t. I’m addicted to sugar – moderation isn’t possible for me. So I cold turkey’d, and I don’t plan to go back. The first few weeks were the worst (cravings!!), now (5 weeks in), it’s not too bad – I don’t miss it as often.
What’s hardest now is exactly what you described – the nostalgic aspects. Dropping it like a bad relationship is a perfect analogy! So that’s where I’m at currently – but it’s already getting better (I imagine this is a bit of a grief cycle?).
Long term, once I’m beyond this “detox” period, my approach will be “I have the option to eat desserts, but I choose not to”.
I’m so happy I’ve made this change – I feel better already. Mood swings, PMS, and energy are MUCH improved. I have more patience for my kids – wahoo! And I’ve dropped some excess weight, which feels great – physically and emotionally! And the other benefits you described… wonderful bonuses.
Thanks for your article – it’s just the encouragement I need.
Cutting out refined sugar is so hard for me – the lifelong chocolate addict. I’m giving it a go by substituting honey, maple syrup or raw sugar in my baking. I’m also drinking lots of kefir lemonade which is helping to repopulate my gut with good bacteria. And I’m making delicious bananaberry kefir smoothies which I drink fresh and then turn any leftovers into iceblocks to eat when that sugar craving hits.
I hope that the longer I do this, the easier it will get.
Thanks so much for this post. It just happened that a friend told me about it today when I was updating her on our situation……which is our 4yr old daughter was diagnosed as having yeast overgrowth by the chiropractor, today. Apparently it has been going on for a while even though we eat pretty healthy most of the time and use ‘natural’ sweeteners almost all the time. So, now we have got to go on the ‘anti yeast’ diet and I know I am going to miss my homemade bread, whole grain pasta, etc. But, I am doing it with her to make it easier for her and I know it will be good for me. I am hoping and praying that hubby will want to do it with us to make it even easier……all 4 of us can eat that way without as much temptation! Any advice or encouragement would be greatly appreciated…..including recipes, scripture, etc:)
@Marlana, we just started a 3 week detox with no gluten or sugar (or a lot of other things), and I’ve found that the Gluten Free Goddess has a ton of recipes that all look great!
I just came across your blog – and this topic is something I have just been dealing with myself. I have been reading a book by an Australian author about how bad sugar really is for us, and I have to say that as a sugarholic it has been a revelation. Here is a link to the website, if you want to take a look:
Sugar is NOT evil.
A tree ripened piece of fruit will have a balance of sugars, potassium and other minerals. The problem is that you can’t get tree ripened fruit anymore, so we need to supplement our foods with sugar and cream of tartar (potassium) to replace what is missing. You don’t get blood sugar crashes from sugar if you have enough potassium in your diet.
I watched a great (but rather lengthy) video on you tube a few months ago about the toxic effect of sugar on our bodies called Sugar: The Bitter Truth. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM
The things we used processed sugar for in our home are frosting for birthday cakes and making kombucha. We’ve replaced all other sugar with maple syrup, honey, or sucanat. I could probably still do a better job at decreasing even those. However since going to this there are treats that seem too sweet to me, which never would have happened a few years ago. I can use 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of sweetner called for in most of my recipes (like muffins) and it still tastes good to me. It’s really nice not to crave it anymore!
@Ann, Thank you so much for sharing this! I didn’t think I’d watch the whole thing, but I couldn’t tear myself away from it once it started, & it was well worth the time! I was stunned by the information about how sugar works in our bodies & the damage it does.
@Chrissy, So glad it was helpful!
We’re on day three of a massive 3-week detox which includes (among MANY things) sugar. I’ve found that even blackberries and strawberries taste SUPER sweet after not having my usual dose of chocolate….
Reading labels while buying food for this detox we read a lot of labels, and I was amazed at how many things – even at Whole Foods or other natural markets – include sugar! Salad dressing, soups, bread, gluten-free waffles…it was pretty astounding!
We went sugar-free in the winter (Jan. – Feb. – Mar.) while we did GAPS and such. When we were allowed it again, I went a little crazy. I wanted to sample all the “treats” I’d been denied so long (some for a veeeeeeeery long time due to nursing baby’s dairy intolerance, like cheesecake or butter cookies!). But it slowly became a habit — anytime we went to a party or out to eat (too often) I had to have dessert. It was bad. I got headaches, my jaw was swelling (actually got told I had TMJ!) and was unhappy/snappish much of the time. I decided it had to go, and now rarely have a treat. And after the first few weeks, was rarely tempted. I’m going to a girl’s night tonight at The Cheesecake Factory and though I love cheesecake, I don’t even want it. I will probably sip some tea while I enjoy girl talk. 🙂 That would not have been the case a couple months ago! EVERYONE in my home is happier and healthier without sugar!
I’ve been contemplating going off sugar for a while now. I was eating very little sugar before my baby was born 3 mo ago. Then we started getting meals form church members. During that time I let things go a little (I did ask for no margarine) but everyone brought dessert and most had cool whip too. (cool whip is my nemesis). Now I crave sugar all the time. I feel like I have to have something sweet every night and often during the day too. I had almost never felt this way in the last 2 years since dramatically reducing my sugar. I think that is is also why my husband as gained weight since the baby has been born.
I think other than water kefir I need to cut sugar out all together or a month or three. (Maybe till after Christmas.)
My family has a huge history of type 2 (adult onset) diabetes. I’ve been struggling with trying to cut out sugar now so that I can prevent myself from getting it when I’m older. HOWEVER baking is such a passion of mine that it is proving difficult. I’m at the point where I’m removing refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup (which is pretty much POISON) and hopefully someday will work my way up to NO sugar. Baby steps!
Thank you, thank you, for your excellent article about sugar, which has led me to pray and throw myself on God for help to overcome this awful, addictive, damaging habit. I especially liked your concise list of why sugar is bad for us. It was a very timely reminder for me who is a terrible sweet tooth.