What You'll Learn Here:
While most of us assume that the foods we turn to for a meal are the foods human beings have always eaten, the truth is that your dinner plate is dramatically different from what our ancient ancestors ate; one researcher has this to say about the changes in our food choices:
There is surprisingly little overlap between current foods and those of the Paleolithic. We get most of our calories from grains, domesticated livestock, dairy and refined sugars, but pre-agricultural humans ate naturally occurring plant foods and wild game. They used almost no cereal grains and had no dairy foods, no separated oils, no commercial processing, and no sources of “empty calories.” People in the Stone Age consumed more animal protein than do current Westerners.1
Changing what we eat from low-glycemic vegetables and meats to a carbohydrate-laden diet has had dramatic consequences on our health. This is no small point: What we decide to eat determines, to a large extent, how healthy we are. The choices you make every day are reflected in who you become and what diseases you are likely to have later in life.
You can usually recognize people who have smoked for a long time because their faces show the destruction, but that destruction is also the result of thousands of little choices throughout a lifetime. Do you think that a smoker is surprised when a physician tells them that they have lung cancer? Probably not. Most realize that they are responsible for what happened to their health. Sugar eaters are just as responsible for their health.
Your body is exactly the same way. You can eat sugars and grains, but they are not the best food for your body. As your blood sugar rises every day, it acts the same way that smoke does upon entering a smoker’s lungs; the destruction brought on by high blood sugar is slow so you don’t really notice it…at least not at first.
You might have heard of the tipping point concept. A tipping point is the point where everything can change at once: Think about a football game where one team is winning and then something happens and suddenly the other team begins to win. Your car or your body is just like this; it can go on for years without showing any damage until one day when it suddenly all falls apart. Just because you can’t see the damage when you twenty, thirty, or forty years old, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Your body can take a large amount of abuse, indefinitely. And then one day everything tips the other way, and you have to turn to your physician for help.
As I write this, I just got news of a friend of my brother’s who died of a massive heart attack at the age of 48. He was healthy, cycled to work every day, lived in a small town with very little stress, but he still had a heart attack. Eating sugar and foods that act like sugar is like throwing high-octane fuel into pipes that are meant for low-octane fuel. Sugar is too pure, too strong, and it wreaks havoc whenever we decide to eat it. Learning how to eliminate sugar or the harmful effects of sugar can turn the tables on this destruction, helping you to live the life you always wanted to live: a life full of energy, free from many of the diseases that plague our modern world.
Here are three plans to help you navigate through Carbo-Land; you can choose the one that matches your interests, your current health, and your level of commitment.
The first plan is the easiest. You have read through the entire book and you understand that sugar and foods that act like sugar have the potential to do harm to your body. You understand this, but you decide to go on doing just what you have been doing and make no changes to your life. You love carbohydrates too much to give them up, so you just decide to enjoy your life while you can, knowing full well the dangers involved.
This plan would be akin to a smoker knowing that smoking causes cancer, yet continuing to smoke. I’m hoping that you don’t choose this plan.
The second plan is also easy: remove all sugars and foods that act like sugar in your life. Well, this plan is easy to say, but not so easy to do. If you really want to break the hold that sugar foods have on you, you have to completely remove all sugars, grains, and starchy vegetables from your diet. You would, therefore, only be eating foods that are low on the glycemic index or below the glycemic index. This is the only real way to break your carbohydrate addiction.
You should seriously consider this plan if you currently have an illness: If you are diabetic, overweight, have heart disease, cancer, or any number of other diseases. You will be surprised how powerful changing the way that you eat can affect your health. You may also want to try this plan if you have a strong family history of heart disease or diabetes.
If you are overweight, you may want to follow this plan. You can consider removing all sugar foods as the induction phase of weight loss, and you can follow it strictly until you get to your desired weight. Once there, you can switch to the next plan where you learn to keep your blood sugar low while still eating some of the sugar-foods. Be careful, though; you can expect to come face to face with your addiction the moment that you put any carbohydrates back in your mouth. Remember, binging is very common when you return to an addiction.
Finally, you might want to try this plan if you are curious. Perhaps you’ve read through this book, but have not really believed that you are addicted to sugar foods. Trying this type of eating will answer the question of whether or not you are addicted to sugars and foods that act like sugars in a very short time. I recommend that everyone try this plan first just to see how well their body responds to good foods, and to see how just how addicted they are to grains and sugars.
What to Expect
If you decide to remove all sugar-foods from your diet, then you should be prepared to feel very differently from the way you feel now. At first you will feel worse, and then, if you are typical, you will feel better than you have in years.
When you first stop eating and drinking sugars and foods that act like sugar, you are in for a wild ride. Remember that you are a sugar-junkie and you are going to go through withdrawal. For some people, this withdrawal will be mild; for others, they are going to have headaches, flu-like symptoms, mood changes, and other symptoms. And, of course, you are going to have cravings. When you stop eating sugar-foods, your body is going to rebel and tell you that you need them, even if you have just eaten a full meal. If you know this is going to happen, you can plan and prepare for it. I devote a whole section to cravings and what to do about them later in this chapter
A common compliant of people who have removed sugar-foods from their diet is that they feel dry. What they are experiencing is the loss of water in their body. When you stop putting alien foods into your body, it responds by releasing a lot of the water it has been holding on to. Most people are walking around bloated because they carry a lot of extra water weight. The reason for this is simple; your body functions by a simple rule: when you are eating foods that the body sees as toxic, it will hold on to water in order to dilute that toxin. I know of a woman who lost thirty pounds in two weeks because she was eating soy (that she was allergic to). The minute she stopped eating soy, she lost all that water weight. Many people who avoid sugars and foods that act like sugars experience some water weight loss.
You may also go through what can only be called a healing reaction. Your body is suddenly working much better than it has in years, and you might experience all sorts of illnesses. A cold or flu is common, as are all types of skin disturbances such as a rash. While you might think this is strange, this is part of the healing process, and you shouldn’t be alarmed or even rush to treat it. Give it time, and the healing reaction will run its course and you will come out the other side feeling better than you have in a long time.
While removing sugar foods may be difficult at first and you might experience some discomfort, you also want to be prepared to feel much better than you do right now. Many people who begin this kind of diet plan say that they feel awful at first, but then soon feel surprisingly better. Choosing to forgo all grains, sugars, and other high-glycemic foods is going to put you on the path towards a longer, healthier life. People who make the shift to a better way of eating, sleep better, have more energy, and often lose weight.
Throughout this book you have heard me say that you ought to avoid sugars and foods that act like sugars. Likely, the immediate thought in most people’s minds is that in doing so, they will require a high-protein diet. While I don’t think that eating a large amount of protein is as harmful as some physicians believe, I would suggest two things to think about when you choose to remove sugar-foods from your diet.
The first is protein quality. There is a great difference between bacon and wild-caught salmon, or a fast-food hamburger over a grass-fed buffalo; choose your proteins wisely. If you eat proteins from organically grown sources, rather than grain-fed, you will be getting a very different protein than someone who is stopping by fast-food restaurants for a hamburger. Meat from grain-fed animals has a higher fat content than non-grain-fed meat, and organic foods have been consistently shown to have higher amounts of essential nutrients compared to conventionally grown foods, which have had their goodness destroyed by antibiotics, growth hormones, additives, and preservatives.
The other thing you ought to know is that what I’m recommending is not a high-protein diet. I generally suggest that people keep their protein intake about the same as they switch from eating sugar-foods to not eating them. So the question becomes, what do you fill your plate with? I suggest that you replace all of your grains and sugars with vegetables and fruits. If you would normally reach for some bread at dinner, try having green beans, broccoli, or another vegetable. Instead of reaching for potato chips to snack on, try an apple or other low-glycemic fruit (see: Flipping the Pyramid, later in this book). Every place where you would normally have a high-octane sugar-food, choose something whole and fresh. Replacing carbohydrates with vegetables and fruits is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.
- All grains
- All sugars
- High glycemic vegetables (starches)
- High glycemic fruits
- Low glycemic vegetables
- Low glycemic fruits
- Proteins: meats, nuts, beans
Most people will fall somewhere between plan one and plan two: they want to try to do something different, and reduce the impact sugar has on their lives, but they are not willing to give up all grains and sugars.
While there is no doubt that avoiding all sugars, grains, and starchy vegetables is by far the best way to health, you can still create a plan designed to keep your blood sugar low without cutting everything out. The only downside of this plan three is that you are going to constantly be battling with your sugar-addiction because you are still eating foods that act like sugars.
Eat with the Glycemic Index in Mind
In order to make plan three effective, you need to keep your blood sugar low. We have to go back to the glycemic index in order to develop an eating strategy that will keep your blood sugar low. So far, we have been talking about how single foods affect blood sugar levels. This is what the glycemic index is good at. Unfortunately, the glycemic index is not helpful in predicting what happens when you take a low glycemic food and mix it with a high glycemic index food as you would in any meal. Sometimes mixing a high glycemic food with a low glycemic food increases your blood sugar dramatically while other times it doesn’t. So what good is the glycemic index if it can’t predict the way all foods will react when we eat them?
The glycemic index provides general information about how to keep blood sugar levels low. It does not guarantee what happens when you combine foods. However, after looking at thousands of foods and how they affect blood sugar, we can determine certain general principles about the characteristics of foods that can help to keep blood sugar low.
General Glycemic Index Principles
- Sugars, grains, and starches increase blood sugar
This we already know. Since sugars, grains, and starches increase blood sugar, we have to learn what can keep your blood sugar low. Here is what the glycemic index has taught us that will keep blood sugar low:
These three types of foods will keep your blood sugar low. This means that you never eat sugar or foods that act like sugar without a fat, fiber, or protein somewhere in the meal. So, that afternoon soda, that bag of chips, that candy bar are all still out of your diet. If you are going to eat these kinds of foods, eat them along with a meal. If you want to have some bread, choose whole-grain bread (for the fiber), and make a peanut butter or meat sandwich (for the fat and protein). The more vegetables you can eat with the bread, such as a salad or lettuce on the sandwich (increasing the fiber), the better.
What you are doing with this plan is surrounding any sugar-food with other foods that can keep your blood sugar from dramatically increasing. Did you get all that? Never put a high glycemic sugar-food in your mouth unless it is near some sort of fat, fiber, or protein.
Let’s look a little closer about how to make the plan work:
Stop the Soda: I’ve mentioned this in many parts of this book, but just to make sure that you have heard me, I’m saying it again. Don’t ever pick up a soda again; avoid it like poison.
Stop the Sugar: While you can probably keep your blood sugar level low even if you eat foods that act like sugar by incorporating a fat, fiber, or protein, it’s important to stay away from the real, concentrated stuff.
Even though I suggest you should stay away from sugar completely, you may be tempted from time to time to have something sweet (like having cake on your birthday). The best way to do this is to eat it immediately after your meal, rather than several hours later. Your blood sugar will still rise, but by having your sweet treat right after your meal, you will be helping to keep your blood sugar lower than if you ate that cake hours later, all by itself.
Remember, if you take sugar out of your diet and then put it back in, you are putting yourself at risk of returning to your old ways, and your addiction can cause you to binge on sugar-foods. All it takes is just one taste.
Eat grains that are low glycemic: If you are going to eat grains, it’s vital to eat grains in whole-form as much as possible. This means eating grains as most people eat rice – simply boil the grain and eat it with your meal. If you can’t do this, then choose the next best thing. Whole wheat bread, for example, is better than white bread and oatmeal is better than bread made with oats. Luckily, pasta – an easy to prepare grain – also tends to be low on the glycemic index.
You can also choose grains that are lower on the glycemic index. There are a number of sites online that list the glycemic index for various foods, and I have a short glycemic index in the back of this book that can help you find the lower-glycemic index grains.
Replace Sugar Foods with Vegetables or Fruits: If you are thinking about having some bread, rice, pasta, or any other carbohydrate with your meal, consider replacing it with a low-glycemic index vegetable or fruit. I call this kind of eating flipping the pyramid.
The typical food pyramid looks like this:
Part of this pyramid is correct; you ought to use sugars sparingly, if at all. But a food pyramid that takes into account what human beings should eat would look more like this:
Most of your diet ought to be comprised of fruits and vegetables with meat and proteins making up the rest of it. Grain and sugars can be part of your diet, if they are consumed sparingly and occasionally.
Eat More Often: While this might be counter to what you believe, research illustrates that blood sugar levels stay steady when you eat many meals throughout the day, rather than two or three large meals.
- High glycemic vegetables (starches)
- High glycemic fruits
- A vegetarian-type diet (high in fruits and vegetables) supplemented by healthy proteins
- Low glycemic vegetables
- Low glycemic fruits
- Proteins: beans, meats, and nuts
The key to this plan three: Whenever you eat foods that act like sugar, make sure that you eat them along with a protein, fiber, or fat in the same meal. If weight loss is your goal, I would suggest that you go with the second plan first, and then once you are at your desired weight, you can switch to plan three.
What to Do about Cravings
Whether you choose plan two or plan three, you will probably experience cravings. They are your brain’s way of telling you that you need something that you don’t. Your mind is used to being turned on by the sugars in the foods that you have been eating, and it wants the same stimulation over and over again. You are a sugar-junkie, and your mind is trying to convince you that you are going to die if you don’t put a Twinkie in your mouth.
If there is anything that will derail your forward progress, it is your old addiction coming back to haunt you. While many people who deal with addictions will tell you that your addictions go away after three to seven days, I have never believed this advice. I think once addicted, always addicted; most addicts would tell you the same. So instead of chastising yourself for your addiction and for how weak you feel when you crave something sweet, prepare yourself for a battle that will last a lifetime.
The first thing you ought to do is to remove from your house, your car, and your work place, anything that will temp you. Everyone has their weaknesses and you know what yours are. Grab whatever you are most tempted by, and get it out of your reach.
If you still choose to eat foods that act like sugars, you will be tempting yourself every day; this is sort of like smoking one cigarette every day. Some people can do it, but most find this very difficult. Whenever you have a bad day, you will have easy access to your addiction; while this makes it difficult to keep from binging, you can still do it.
Remember, you know you are addicted and that your addiction is a lifelong companion; you simply have to prepare for the battle. Think ahead about what you are going to do, and how you are going to handle the bad day, the celebration, or your monthly cycle (for women) when the desire to binge will rear its ugly head. Preparing yourself in advance can help you take charge of the situation.
Here are some practical tips:
- Eat often: This not only helps balance your blood sugar level, but it also lessens the number of cravings you will have. While you might feel silly eating lunch at ten o’clock in the morning, and then having another lunch around noon, and yet another one around two o’clock, having three little lunches is a great way to balance your blood sugar level.
- Eat dried fruit: Many people crave sweet foods right after they eat. Eating something like a dried fruit following a meal can help. Don’t overdo it, though.
- Salad greens: Many grocery stores stock mixed salad greens. Eating these before a meal tends to fill people up; they are also loaded with vitamins and other nutrients, so it’s a great two-for-one opportunity!
- Exercise: If you feel that craving-monster beginning to creep up on you, try going for a walk. Exercise not only gets you out of the kitchen and onto the street, away from your temptations, but it has been shown to reduce cravings.
- Brush your teeth: Brushing gives you a sweet taste and many people don’t feel like eating once their mouths have been cleaned.
- Drink water: Sometimes cravings get mixed up, and what your body really needs is water and not sugar. Try drinking a glass of water when your cravings begin.
- Try supplementing: Some supplements can help with cravings, including:
- Amino acids: Tyrosine, phenylalanine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), tryptophan, and glutamine can help. Glutamine is sweet-tasting and can be placed under the tongue after a meal or between meals to calm cravings.
- B-complex: A good mixture of B-vitamins is essential for reducing cravings.
- Minerals: Some researchers claim that cravings are based on the need for minerals in our bodies. This is especially true of chromium, which has been shown to help balance blood sugar levels.
- Gymnema: This herb has been shown to help with blood sugar control and cravings.
- A good multi-vitamin: Multi-vitamins can help quell cravings. Many include the B-vitamins and minerals (as mentioned above).
- Remember, it is just a craving: You don’t have to be a slave to your cravings. You have probably eaten recently, so you are not going to starve, even though your brain is trying to convince you that you are. Often, you can out-wait your craving and it will go away.
The main thing to remember is that if you fall off the plan, and cravings get the best of you, keep bringing yourself back over and over again. Consider your fall from the wagon to be like a drinking binge, from which you return to healthy living habits as soon as you can.
The End of the Journey
Okay, you can unbuckle your seat belts and step off the ride. I hope that you have enjoyed your trip. Living in Carbo-Land can be very difficult, but learning how to keep your blood sugar level low is one of the keys to a long and healthy life.
One of the reasons cigarette smoking, or any other addiction, is so tempting is that you cannot see the results of the destruction for a long time. If you took one puff of a cigarette and discovered immediately that it was difficult to breathe, that your skin began to wrinkle, and that your heart was damaged, you would likely never take another puff again. But, somehow, when the damage takes its sweet time to make an appearance, people are willing to trade their lives for a short pick-me-up and a good feeling.
As recently as one hundred years ago, most people died of infectious diseases. Through improvements in sanitation and miracle drugs, we now lead much longer lives. But as infectious diseases have reduced in numbers, we are now faced with chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. One hundred years ago, people would still get these diseases; it is just that most of them would die long before these longer-term diseases could be seen.
What you need to do in order to combat long-term diseases is realize, just as a smoker may do, that your health comes down to choices. A smoker makes the decision to pull a cigarette out of the pack, bring it to her lips, light it, and then inhale hundreds of thousands of times. One cigarette does not hurt you; it is the thousands of cigarettes over a long period of time that causes the damage. Sugar is no different. It taste good, feels good when you eat it, and makes you momentarily happy…while all the while, it is slowly destroying your body.
Throughout the book I have mentioned that human beings are better suited to the foods our cavemen ancestors ate. You might think that I would suggest that we go back to this time, but nothing could be further from the truth. While the food choices available to our ancestors were a perfect match for our bodies, their lives were short…and brutal.
In the world we live in today, we are in a position to feed ourselves better than any human beings have ever been fed but, somehow, we don’t. We have, as a culture, decided to prioritize cheap tasty food that is easy for farmers to farm, manufacturers to manufacture, and stores to store, instead of prioritizing food that is best suited to human growth and thriving. This needs to change.
Who you are when you grow older is the result of all the decisions that you have made throughout your lifetime. Medical professionals all agree that many diseases (perhaps as many as seventy percent) are the result of lifestyle choices, and that you can avoid these diseases by the choices you make. Read that again: your health is in your hands; you are the one who decides whether or not you get diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Take the time to make the right decisions for you and your miraculous body. I wish you the best on your personal journey.