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Gut Health Begins With Cutting Back Sugar

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 

56 names for sugar

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.

Glycemic Index

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.

know sugar

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.

added sugar

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.

Alternatives to refined sugar

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.

Artificial Sweeteners 

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?!
  4. 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!
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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


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60 thoughts on “Gut Health Begins With Cutting Back Sugar”

  1. lately, I had my blood sugar checked up, fortunately, I’m within the normal range. This post has the most detailed information about our sugar levels

  2. Sugar is one of the hardest things to cut back…but it’s true that it really does help with gut health

  3. For Lent, I have decided to cut back on sugar and it’s so hard. I am grateful to read this informative post which will help me keep my decision to eliminate sugar.

  4. After reading your post, I realized that I need to cut out my sugar intake. This is such a great post, very informative! Worth sharing!

  5. Since becoming pregnant I have become massively addicted to sugar. Its been so hard to combat but rest assured once baby is here I’ll be following all the tips in this post

  6. This is such a great post! I had to go towards a keto/low carb diet for diabetes prevention and cutting back on sugar has made such a HUGE difference in my overall health. <3

  7. Your steps will be helpful as I try to cut out sugars. I set baby goals….get through the weekend, then get through to Wednesday, etc. Baby steps seem to motivate me. 🙂

  8. I’ve been trying to cut back on sugar for so many reasons, so it’s nice to see a different perspective on it, other than the typical reasons! Great post!

  9. This is really quite remarkable. A friend was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in November. She immediately removed all processed foods and sugar (gluten, too). She began her chemo in December and her response to her chemo has been remarkable! Her doctor’s are amazed at how well she is doing. She feels pretty good and other than a day or two after each chemo treatment, she is keeping up with her normal life. I really would like to give this a try.

  10. This is an insightful post chock full of great information. I have found that staying away from sugar helps me to feel better in every way. Thanks for alerting us.

  11. Ugh, I struggle with sugar.. I actually feel my mood change and withdrawal symptoms when I don’t have it.. I feel horrible about that.. Thank you for posting this, I pinned it too!

  12. Sugar is definitely a huge problem! I am regulary trying to avoid it, with some missteps unfortunately, but wheb I’m off, I always feel so much better 🙂

  13. I slowly started cutting out processed foods and refined sugar a couple of years ago and don’t miss it at all. I do occasionally have it and never feel guilty as the majority of the time
    my diet is very good. I’ve found great alternatives that contain natural sugars to deal with any cravings so don’t feel like i’m missing out on that sweet treat! It’s so good that gut health is slowly making its way in to the mainstream media, it’s so important and should just be a way of life.

  14. Great article. Nice approach to sugar. It’s so addictive and so many struggle with giving it up. I always find the change in my mental clarity is amazing when I stop eating it! It can be easier said than done for some people though….given the affect on the brain!

    1. by Adrian Corbett

      Hey Lesley! That’s interesting you notice more mental clarity when you don’t eat sugar! But you’re right, it can be tricky to give up

  15. I try to cut on sugar too, honey, agave and maple are my usual substitutes. It’s easy to reduce or you’re aware of it. I agree, stay clear of soda, including diet! My rare exception is in an occasional cocktail.

    1. by Adrian Corbett

      Honey is my favourite of those substitutes as I understand the other two drive up blood sugar more. Anyway, an occasional cocktail is a nice treat 😉

  16. This is an awesome post! Sugar is super duper addictive, and seems to be in everything! I hear people all the time saying that they don’t eat much sugar (adding it to meals, eating sweets, etc.) but sugars are in most processed foods, drinks, etc. Sugar is sneaky! haha. I try to use natural sweeteners like unsweetened applesauce, beets, or dates when baking to avoid adding more sugars. I also LOVE using local honey every once in awhile. Have you heard of raw coconut sugar sugar with turmeric? If I use sugar in coffee, I use raw coconut sugar with turmeric. Stevia is a decent replacement too. I am really enjoying your blog. Great information!

    1. by Adrian Corbett

      Thanks for the feedback Aarika! Really glad you’re enjoying the blog! Yeah that sneaky sugar gets everywhere, dammit :p But beets and dates are excellent natural alternatives to refined sugar for baking, desserts etc. I’ve come across coconut sugar but not with turmeric, sounds far-out! 😀

  17. but….but….sugar is so good!
    I need to kick my sugar habit for sure. I wasn’t a big fan of sugary treats for a few years, but these past few months I’ve been craving soda and chocolate! I need to find healthier alternatives and keep my gut happy!

    1. by Adrian Corbett

      Haha I know what you mean KP! Once the cravings creep in, it’s difficult to fight them off! Try honey or very dark chocolate

  18. In March I did a clean eating month and cut out most artificial sweeteners and processed food. After the first few awful days (sugar withdraws are absolutely a thing) I felt so much better and full of energy. But I cannot follow a diet 100% if there are no cheats allowed. So what works for us is the 80/20 rule. Means, we try to eat healthy fresh food 80% of the time, while still allowing us our cheats 20% of the time. This girl just cannot live without the occasional junk food or sweets 🙂

    1. by Adrian Corbett

      Hey Jasmin, so what kind of withdrawal symptoms did you have? Interesting you felt better after a few days though. I agree, the 80/20 rule can totally apply here! 😀

    2. just reading your comment, if you love chocolate then you have to try ombar, it doesn’t contain any refined sugar and after trying many raw healthier chocolates this one is by far the winner for me! and means that i don’t ever want any other chocolate. There’s also tons of options for savoury snacks like real food and jw garcia products which also help to avoid the bigger very unhealthy brands. love spreading what i’ve discovered with people!

  19. LOVE this post. So so so true. Sugar is a hard one to shake (major sweet tooth over here) but I totally follow all of your steps and I have cut it out 99% of the time in my daily eating. It’s amazing how much sugar is in processed foods if you just read the ingredients list. UGH!

    1. by Adrian Corbett

      Hey Chrissa, wow you’ve cut out sugar 99% of the time? Go to the top of the class! 😉 It’s even harder if you have a major sweet tooth!

      Your blog looks great, some cool-looking recipes!

  20. Hi Adrian! I actually cut out ALL sugars recently because of an addiction. My father has type 2 diabetes and I knew I had to do something about it. It was hard, but I ended up going cold turkey. I find that if I don’t eat any of it, I don’t crave it and go on a binge. I feel so much better without it in my system! Great post!

    1. by Adrian Corbett

      Hey Chelsea, that’s really interesting to hear about. Well done for kicking it! That’s great you found motivation from your father’s illness. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Wow, very informative. I had never really looked at sugar this way but it really makes sense when you start separating it out and really look at what you’re putting into your body. It truly does help when you cut it out because you will stop craving it. I’ve noticed if I slip and have a piece of cake, I’m right back into my old sugar filled routine!

    1. by Adrian Corbett

      Hi Jillian, I agree that for some of us there are no half-measures, we have to cut it completely otherwise it creeps back in and takes over! Well done for being so determined 😀

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