Sugar is everywhere! It’s such a huge part of modern life that we don’t even notice it. However eating tons of sugar is harmful to the friendly microbes in our gut.
The amount we consume can be a big factor in the health of our microbiome and, as we now know, anything that harms our friendly gut bugs harms us too.
We’ll feel it not only in our digestive system but also in how our immune system functions, in our metabolism and inability to lose weight, and even in our brain health too.
Unfortunately most of us don’t draw the connection between how much sugar we consume and our health issues. It’s time to take a cold, hard look at how much we consume and start scaling it back radically! Here’s how:
Why reduce our sugar intake?
‘Sugar makes stuff taste good and gives me energy when I need it. I don’t wanna cut it back!’ Why bother cutting back? Because with less sugar:
- our gut works better
- our body’s defences are stronger
- our hormones are more balanced
- our waistline is slimmer
- our skin is clearer
- our mind is sharper and more stable
- our mood is better
For more info on how this fits into the bigger picture of our gut health, take a look at Why Your Gut Is Broken.
How Does Sugar Affect The Gut?
Discussions about sugar often centre on the effect different foods have on our blood sugar level. This is a very important issue but there’s another aspect that’s often ignored, which is the effect sugar has on our friendly gut bugs.
Studies on mice show that a diet high in sugar encourages potentially harmful bacteria to overgrow. This leads to ‘dysbiosis’, which means the balance of good and bad bacteria is tipped in favour of the bad.
The same is highly likely to apply in humans. It’s surely no coincidence that gut-healing diets, such as Paleo or GAPS, involve cutting right back on sugar and other carbohydrates, and they have a strong track record of being effective for many people.
How Does a Bad Gut Affect our Entire Health?
When our gut falls into dysbiosis it sets up a huge number of nasty consequences. You might think that bad gut health just means the occasional fart attack but unfortunately it’s much more serious than that. Awaiting down the road can be any of these:
- bloating, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and bowel cancer.
- damage to our metabolism, leading to diabetes, overweight and obesity. Check out Weight Loss: Is the Secret in Your Bacteria?
- damage to our immune system leading to skin problems, low energy, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, food intolerances, allergies, and autoimmune conditions. For more on how this works take a look at Supercharge Your Immune System to Beat Autoimmune Conditions
- damage to our brain health which can be a major contributor to conditions such as autism, anxiety, depression and dementia. Incredible though this sounds, this is what the latest scientific studies are telling us. We explain more here: Brain Health Begins In the Gut
Many of the people we see at Gut Geek have a combination of health problems from ALL of these categories. By healing their gut they are able to completely transform their health.
Know Your Sugars
Of course there are different kinds of sugar, not just one. That would be too easy, right?
First of all we need to understand an important distinction between natural sugars and added sugars.
Natural sugars are found in, for example, milk, grains, fruit and honey. Added sugars are found in processed food like breakfast cereal, sodas and condiments.
A particularly nasty kind of sugar is the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to diabetes, obesity and liver disease. Its damaging effect may be due to how it messes with our microbiome (scientific studies are underway).
It’s a bit like knowing your fats: there are natural, healthy fats like cold-pressed coconut oil, and there are toxic, processed ones like trans fats (which you’ll see on ingredients labels as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially-hydrogenated’ fats)
Are added sugars worse than natural sugars? Yes, because they are heavily refined and processed, but also due to the sheer quantity.
You’ve heard of the Glycemic Index (GI), right? It’s a ranking of how different sugars affect our blood sugar. The higher the GI number, the more the sugar has the potential to drive up our blood sugar.
Take a look at the GI levels of these different sugars. As you can see there’s a huge range, starting from stevia that doesn’t move the needle at all, right up to pure glucose at 100.
The GI ranking of a particular sugar is not the only consideration but it’s certainly something to keep in mind. Check out our advice in relation to honey below.
Wise up to sugars in Processed Food
The kinds of foods that have sugar added are heavily processed, low in nutrients and high in toxic contaminants. They’re terrible for our gut health.
For example did you know that it’s almost impossible to find a shop-bought mayonnaise that doesn’t contain sugar? Ketchup, canned soups, sauces and ready meals are all laden with the stuff. Low-fat foods are especially bad!
Food manufacturers add whatever quantity of sugar it takes to reach the ‘bliss point’ where the food becomes almost impossible to resist!
How does this stack up against the sugar we sprinkle on food and add to drinks at home? Studies show that the amount consumed at home is MUCH less than the quantity that comes in processed food.
As this graphic shows, 96% of the sugar we consume is from packaged foods, not from table sugar or honey added at home.
Know Your Alternatives
Honey is the official Gut Geek go-to alternative to refined sugar. It contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids and is a natural antiseptic with many therapeutic properties.
Try to buy honey in it’s least processed form, preferably cold-expressed and raw, from a producer that takes good care of their bees.
As with any farming, there are good and bad practices. Some beekeepers feed sugar water to their bees instead of allowing them to graze naturally on flowers.
Doesn’t honey drive up our blood sugar levels? Yes it does, but it comes in a package of goodness that makes it beneficial overall. Just try not to go crazy with the quantity!
Most other sugars, in particular those used by food manufacturers, contain no nutrients whatsoever, just empty calories.
Why does that matter? Nutrients are building blocks for our body, and we get sick without them.
Also people with gut problems normally have nutritional deficiencies as food is not being absorbed properly and friendly gut bugs aren’t producing vitamins as they should do. So it’s even more important not to eat empty calories!
Stevia is another good, natural alternative, particularly as it doesn’t affect blood-sugar levels at all. However some brands are mixed with other (artificial) sweeteners, and are best avoided.
Studies show that if you consume artificial sweeteners like saccharine and aspartame, you’re at an increased risk of weight gain, diabetes and heart attacks.
And they also mess with your gut microbes. So avoid! Yes, that means Diet Coke is out!
Is Sugar Addictive, really?
Yes, sugar is highly addictive. Some people will argue with you that it’s not, but they’re probably addicted!
It’s a stimulant and we often use it as a crutch when we’re low on energy. That’s why the food industry piles it into everything! It keeps you coming back for more.
Like any addictive substance, it giveth but then it taketh away. You feel energised for a while, then you feel tired and scratchy, looking around for your next sugary hit.
If you keep your sugar intake high, in the long run you risk harming your gut while sending your metabolism and hormones on a constant rollercoaster ride, in the process weakening your immune system too.
We’re not built for these modern super-high levels of sugar, and it stresses out our body when we consume so much day after day.
So, decide you’re no longer going to be sugar’s bitch!! No longer will you be a slave to the food industry’s manipulations!! From today you become a kick-ass whole-foods hero!!
7 Steps to Shake off Sugar
- Cut out all candies/sweets: from jelly babies to M&M’s, milk shakes to McFlurrys. Only chocolate of 75% cocoa and above is allowed.
- Avoid all sodas: colas, sprite, Dr Pepper, energy drinks like Red Bull. The diet, sugar-free versions of these sodas are also banned due to the artificial sweeteners they contain.
- Avoid processed food: almost all has sugar added, even savoury stuff. A big culprit is breakfast cereal, which is marketed as healthy because it has synthetic vitamins added back in – what a load of bullshit! We’re not going to fall for that any more, are we?!
- Avoid sauces and condiments unless you made them yourself. If you’re used to smearing your fries with ketchup, this one’s going to be tough. Have you noticed processed food like french fries and hotdogs really cries out for sauces? Solution: skip the processed food!
- Use honey instead of sugar: you can do this everywhere that you currently use sugar, including tea, coffee, baking etc. Don’t go crazy with the amount! Anti-sugar purists will say this is cheating but this will help massively with cravings and honey is medicinal, honest!
- Keep eating Fruit: but not too much! It’s a great source of vitamins, enzymes and fibre. If you need a sugar fix, fruit is a way better option than a donut or bowl of Cheerios. What about fruit juice? Annoyingly, shop-bought fruit juice isn’t a great option, unless it’s cold-pressed. Most juices have been pasteurised, which kills many of the nutrients. They also tend to have sugar added and are prone to have mould growing in them.
- Bring down your alcohol intake: alcoholic drinks have a much higher sugar content than you would think.
How long should I do this for?
Start by following this system for just one day. If you don’t manage it, try again.
You may get crazy cravings and energy swings to begin with, but once your body adjusts you’ll feel cleaner and more energised.
Once you’ve done a day, increase to a week, then a fortnight, then a month, then 6 months, and you’re away.
How strict should I be?
If you have gut problems right now, or if you have knock-on problems with your immune system, weight control or mental health, then you need to be pretty strict.
If you have a yeast infection like Candida, you need to be super-strict and also cut out fruit and honey.
Will I ever eat desserts again?
Yes! This system is not as extreme as it might sound. You can still eat desserts. They just have to be made with the right natural, healthy ingredients.
That may mean you have to make your desserts at home. However it doesn’t take long, it’s kind of fun and your dessert will taste awesome.
Is it worth the effort?
Do you want to be forever shuffling around like a drug-addicted zombie, groping for the next sugary snack, riddled with disease?
Or do you want to feel clean and powerful, with endless reserves of natural energy available to you, ready to reach your full potential? Then kick the sugar habit!
How do I reduce my child’s sugar intake?
We’ve got some ideas for you on that too! Head over to 3 Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Sugar Cravings