Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sugar Attack!

As most of you know, I struggled for years with hypoglycemia, which is basically episodes of low blood sugar characterized by weakness, shaking, light-headedness, irritability, etc. which usually occur a couple of hours after eating. During my worst times I would experience "sugar lows" immediately after eating which was kind of scary, and even the occasional extreme low in the middle of the night which was terrifying (it felt like I was having a panic attack). It's taken some pretty major dietary changes to get over this problem, but once I made these changes I saw results almost instantly (I will talk about overcoming hypoglycemia in my upcoming November workshop).

I generally go for a few months at a time now without eating sugar (or corn syrup), but after a while I forget why it is that I've been avoiding sugar so religiously and I end up getting into trouble. This usually happens on vacation where there is less healthy food available and lots more white flour and sugar everywhere I look! While away for 5 days I had the following (all things I would not usually eat):
  • small piece of elephant ear pastry (about 1/4 of the whole thing)
  • about 4 oz. of Mike's Hard Lemonade spread over a couple of occasions (this stuff is just sugar and alcohol, which breaks down into sugar anyway)
  • "small" 1-scoop ice cream cone (butter crunch)
  • 1 piece cherry-filled Austrian strudel (the absolute best strudel in the world -- this is the only treat I should have had on the trip)
  • small piece of peanut butter & chocolate fudge
  • 2 maple cookies (small cream-filled cookies from Canada)
  • a few sips of Coke (maybe 2-3 swallows)
  • white flour in various forms (mostly wraps, rolls, sugar cone, etc.). It was basically impossible to find whole wheat or whole grain anything on the menus.
Now that I actually write out this list it is clear to me why this proved to be such a problem for me -- this was a LOT of sugar for someone who never eats any! I felt fine while I was away, perhaps more sweet cravings than usual, but overall the sugar didn't affect me too much at the time.

Starting the day after the trip, though, I began having symptoms of hypoglycemia again a few hours after eating. This was frustrating because I have gotten used to being able to go several hours between meals and I really like the freedom of not having to carry snacks with me. The hypoglycemia was pretty mild, though, and gone after a week back on my usual diet. The really bad part of this whole thing was that all week following the vacation I felt very off: my heart was pounding, I had actual chest pains (no joke), I was breaking out, I felt overheated internally, I felt extremely jittery, keyed up and restless (a sign of adrenal over-stimulation from the sugar), and every time I saw sweets (pastries, ice cream, whatever) I wanted to eat them! I never have cravings for sugar usually so it was really strange for me to walk into Whole Foods and look longingly at the chocolate-filled croissants!

It has taken about a week of eating my usual diet to feel back to normal:
  • oatmeal or brown rice for breakfast w/raw honey, butter & raw milk
  • lunches of the following: toasted whole wheat sourdough bread w/butter & homemade pate and side of sliced cucumber; cottage cheese & fruit; scrambled eggs w/cheese; cured bologna (from Abner's farm) with raw milk cheese & greens on sourdough; tuna melt w/homemade mayo & celery on sourdough
  • dinners of potatoes, veggies, meat or beans, brown rice (this past week I also made my special tuna-noodle casserole w/white flour elbow noodles! but there was plenty of cheese, butter, and tuna so it worked out okay as eating fat with a form of sugar (white flour in this case) slows its release into the blood stream)
  • snacks like yogurt w/maple syrup or fruit, homemade ice cream (which is very mildly sweetened), corn chips & salsa, cucumber salad w/tomatoes, sliced watermelon, roasted eggplant with olive oil and sea salt
This was a great learning experience, so I'm not too upset that it happened. Now I will (hopefully) remember why I don't eat sugar! I still include raw honey, occasional blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, and occasional succanat (dehydrated cane sugar juice) in my diet, but refined sugar and corn syrup simply don't work for me. White flour has to be kept to a minimum as well. Of course, I am much more sensitive to sugar than the average person so it may actually seem like a disadvantage to never eat it because you will have a strong reaction. However, the symptoms I get (hypoglycemia, acne, heightened adrenaline response, chest pain) are simply the short-term indication that something is not right. Over time, and with continued use, sugar will cause cellular aging (including wrinkles), diabetes, severe hormonal imbalances (like poly-cystic ovary syndrome, and thyroid & adrenal problems), heart disease, cancer (did you know sugar feeds tumor growth?), wacky cravings, headaches, and mental disorders.

What are your experiences with sugar? What do you crave? How do you feel when you eat something sweet? How do you feel an hour or two later? Please weigh in on this important topic.


  1. Sharon

    Wow! I'm glad you're discussing sugar. This reminds me of my sugar shock a few weeks ago. I ate an organic chocolate bar as an experiment and I thought it had agave syrup as the sweetener. I took one bite and I immediately tasted the sweetness. I could tell it was sugar and I was totally shocked but I kept eating it just because it was there. My favorite sweeteners are honey and maple syrup. I wonder why they can't use these sweeteners more often in packaged health food? Is it because agave is cheaper than honey and maple syrup?

  2. Yes, the cheaper sweeteners are always used. These include corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, etc.), and plain old sugar. Agave is the sweetener of choice for so-called health foods, though it has a similar effect on the body as high fructose corn syrup. It's also much cheaper than honey or maple syrup. Dehydrated cane juice (succanat, Rapadura) is hardly ever used, and you can pretty much forget about buying packaged foods or sweets that contain maple syrup or honey! Blackstrap molasses isn't used either, probably because of the strong flavor and price. It's sad, but that's the current state of things!