First fat was demonised, and now it is sugar. Whilst I completely agree that over the past 60 or so years we have been consuming far too much sugar – and many diseases that are growing rapidly today are certainly a result of this – we mustn’t demonise it completely as it still has its place.
But firstly, what do we even mean when we say sugar? Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. There are many, many different forms of sugar found in nature in fruits, grains, vegetables, cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar and more. Then we have the highly processed forms like white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, invert sugar, glucose syrup and more. The quality of the sugar is much more important than the quantity, and I believe everyone should be avoiding the highly processed forms of sugar to prevent disease or unwanted symptoms.
The various forms of sugar affect our blood sugar levels differently, causing it to either spike quickly or slowly trickle into our system.
The more refined forms of sugar – such as high fructose corn syrup, sucrose and glucose syrup – will drastically affect your blood sugar levels and can lead to inflammation and other illnesses discussed below.
Moreover, the new chemically-hybridised wheat grain affects our blood sugar levels even more than sucrose, according to the book Wheat Belly by Dr William Davis. However a traditional wheat grain like emmer wheat will have a much lower impact on our blood sugar levels – this is another example of the importance of purity, quality and traditional preparation.
Having said that, high consumption of sugar in all its forms, such as too much fruit and too many grains, processed and refined sugars, can certainly lead to many symptoms or illnesses, including hormonal imbalances, gut dysbiosis, cognitive decline, diabetes, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, fatigue, anxiety, depression, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, some cancers and more.
I personally avoided all forms of carbohydrates (apart from the occasional serve of berries) for a few months whilst undergoing a personalised gut healing regime due to imbalances in my gut flora. It brought me incredible health and I recovered from many symptoms that I previously thought were impossible to rid, like skin rashes, hormonal problems, skin issues, severe digestive distress and extreme fatigue. However, once these problems were rectified, I brought in healthy amounts of occasional carbohydrates from whole foods and continue to feel great. If I find my gut is going out of balance again, I will remove the sugars from my diet and follow the same gut healing regime.
When To Consider Avoiding Carbohydrates (and Sugar)
Of course, everyone is individual and at different stages of their healing regime, so the types of sugars one avoids and the length of time it is avoided for will vary dramatically from person to person. However, the following may just get you thinking about how much sugar you are consuming and whether it is time to really start reducing it or cutting it out completely depending on your condition:
- During gut healing regimes where the various forms of sugar may feed pathogenic overgrowths living in your gut such as parasites, yeasts and bacteria. It is best during this time to avoid most forms of carbohydrates including all of the ones listed above. Remember, however, that this isn’t a forever deal, it is just temporary until you have rebalanced your gut flora with a combination of diet, herbs and other healing regimes.
- If you have insulin resistance, you are unable to metabolise sugar efficiently and, to correct this, avoiding high amounts of sugar is highly recommended until you gain insulin sensitivity once again. Those that usually have insulin resistance include people with polycystic ovarian syndrome, obesity, prediabetics. Symptoms to look out for include fatigue, dizziness, the need for food regularly and hormonal issues.
- If you are noticing signs of cognitive decline that may indicate Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is in fact Type 3 diabetes and, therefore, avoiding sugar is highly recommended to gain insulin sensitivity and reduce the chances of a continuing decline in cognition.
- If you need to lose weight. Carbohydrates are only one cause of weight gain or the inability to lose weight, so I urge you to look into other causes, too. However, reducing or eliminating your carbohydrates is something to consider.
- If you have Type 1 or 2 diabetes. To avoid the regular need for medication, it is highly beneficial to avoid carbohydrates so you can help to manage your blood sugar levels simply through diet alone. I recommend that this is done with guidance from a practitioner.
When To Ensure You Are Eating Healthy Forms of Carbohydrates:
- If you are pregnant, a very low carbohydrate diet is not recommended as carbohydrates are crucial for fetal brain development and growth.
- If you’re an athlete undergoing intense training 4-6 days per week you may require some healthy carbohydrates if you are not efficiently using fats as energy.
- To support gut health. This is really critical, as if you are on a very low carbohydrate diet for a very lengthy period of time (beyond a few months), you can begin depleting your beneficial gut flora as even your good gut bacteria thrive off carbohydrates, particularly resistant starch forms like green banana flour, cooked and cooled organic rice and sweet potato. If you cannot tolerate any carbohydrates due to diabetes or alike and you need to support your gut health, you may require supplementing with a prebiotic such as unmodified potato starch (but this is best done under guidance of a practitioner). Other foods that feed your beneficial gut bacteria include prebiotics from onion, garlic, asparagus, artichokes, chicory root and leeks.
Healthy Carbohydrates To Incorporate When Your Body Tolerates Them:
- Seasonal fruit in moderation is beautiful for your body if they are well tolerated (ie that you digest them efficiently without experiencing bloating, diarrhoea, gas, fatigue or a foggy mind). I find that many of my clients tolerate berries like raspberries, blueberries and strawberries even if they suffer from digestive issues with other foods.
- Resistant starches from foods like green banana flour, cooked and cooled starches like white rice and potatoes.
- Fermented grains such as an emmer wheat sourdough. The fermentation lowers the carbohydrate content and makes the grain a lot easier to digest and the nutrients more bioavailable. Fermenting our grains is something we have done traditionally for thousands of years, and shouldn’t be seen as abnormal or put in the ‘too hard’ basket.
- Starchy vegetables like sweet potato, pumpkin, beetroot and carrots. These consist of beautiful cleansing nutrients that are certainly worthwhile consuming. If you are avoiding them temporarily, try fermenting these to remove the sugar and increase the nutrient content.
I hope this clears some misconception around sugars and carbohydrates. Have you had experience with reducing your carbohydrate consumption? Or have you had to bring some carbohydrates back into your diet for health?