I think it is extremely important to start out on the right foot, so to speak. I teach nutritional lifestyle in my practice with a focus on identifying toxic foods and transitioning to eliminating the offending foods. Therefore, there seems to be a generally accepted opinion that my diet is perfect — even though I frequently share with my patients and class attendees that it is not. To that point, I will begin with my nutritional story to emphasize my imperfect dietary history.
Growing Up a Sugar Addict
Let’s be frank! My greatest weaknesses are sweet things. I have spent most of my life consuming large amounts of sugar. I grew up eating the obviously sugar-laden Captain Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, Dolly Madison Sweet Rolls and Donuts for breakfast, something made with Ms. Baird’s white bread, McDonalds, Wendy’s and Burger King with a large soda for lunch, Hamburger Helper for dinner. I typically snacked on chips, Oreos, Chips Ahoy or, of course, a Snickers bar. I was an addict without knowing any better.
In hindsight, I see how this dietary lifestyle contributed to my intense hypoglycemia, adrenal exhaustion, recurring injuries in sports and other various symptoms as a youth. After graduating from college and striking out on my career as an educator, I made minor changes to my diet in an attempt to eat healthier. I changed from putting sugar in my tea to using Sweet & Low and eventually NutraSweet. I changed my morning meal to Toaster Strudel, an extra large banana nut muffin or an occasional donut, my lunch stayed about the same with the addition of fried chicken and then dinner was whatever delicious meal my lovely wife prepared. (Did I tell you that she is from Southern Louisiana?) The only motivation for diet modification in my life was physique and, at the time, my metabolism was such that I could stuff myself at an all-you-can-eat-buffet 6 days a week and not gain a pound …not so now.
Making Changes for the Better
I grew up in a household that utilized almost only Western medicine with my mom being a registered nurse and my stepfather a family physician. It wasn’t until I retired from teaching and went back to school for my Doctorate in Chiropractic that I learned what healthy eating was all about. I would like to say that we made changes because I was motivated by the higher ideal of living to my highest potential, but the truth is that my oldest daughter was experiencing bizarre rashes and illnesses. So, like many parents, I was motivated to find a solution to our child’s illnesses that were not adequately being addressed by Western medicine.
The more classes and seminars that I attended, the more we implemented healthy lifestyle practices in our home and life, and the better we all felt. Within a year’s time, I gave up fast food, a diet soda habit (roughly 6 per day), most of my concentrated sweets like candy bars and candy, and transitioned to more real foods. Around 2006, after years of being told I had a gluten sensitivity, I finally committed myself to eliminating gluten from my diet (my mom had colon cancer, and I decided that I would like to be around for my kids and their kids) and, a short time later, I eliminated most dairy as well.
Today, I usually start the day with a smoothie of kale, cucumber, ginger, lime, beet, 8 oz. of pomegranate juice, a handful of berries, vegan or egg white protein and water and on the weekends I usually indulge with a vegetable omelet sans cheese. Pretty amazing journey from where I started!
The Truth about Sugar & Sweeteners
Based on what I hear from my patients, staff and what we experience in our own home, November through the New Year is the most difficult time of the year. Even for the most diligent healthy-eater, we all tend to give in to the “holiday cheer” and indulge in the starch-rich foods, sugar-laden goodies and maybe a little more alcohol than usual. What is the answer? What are the healthiest choices you could make? Are sugar-free sweeteners the answer? Are sugar-free sweeteners really safe? Let’s answer all of these questions, as well as some that you might have thought to ask.
A Sugar Epidemic
The only concentrated sugar that early man would have had access to was honey. But observational research of modern-day hunter-gatherers shows that the average honey consumptions was minor—maybe four pounds, or three percent of total calories, over the course of an entire year. (1,2) At the turn of the last century, the typical American consumed an average of 158 pounds of sugar per year (this is more than 1 cup/day!). High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was a huge breakthrough in the sweetener industry because it is twenty times sweeter than cane sugar, cheaper to produce and smaller amounts need to be used to achieve the same sweetening effect. “HFCS is now nearly the exclusive caloric sweetener used in the soft drink industry, and it is also used in juice, condiments, jams, and wine but is not available for home use. Presently, HFCS dominates the sweetener industry, accounting for 55 percent of the market and $4.5 billion in annual sales. In 2003, Americans consumed sixty-one pounds of HFCS per person.” (3)
The multiplying factor for most people is the hidden sugar in their food supply. Most processed foods contain sugar. Even foods you would not expect to have sugar are heavily laden with it, including salad dressings, medications, sauces, cereals, alcohol, peanut butter… and just about everything that comes in a box, bag or a can. Sugar is an inexpensive flavor enhancer and bulking agent used by food manufacturer companies. My patients often tell me, “I don’t eat that much sugar!” …but they are usually only considering candy, cake, ice cream, candy bars, hard candy, etc. They are typically not considering all of the different sources by which they take in sugar (HFCS and other refined sugars are considered sugar in the context of this article).
You can certainly do your own research, but a few of the well-documented health risks include increased risk of: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, depression, allergies, Candida, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, arthritis, hormone imbalance, food allergies and much more.
“In 1986, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a report on American sugar consumption and its harmful effects on health. One of the conclusions (based on published studies) was that diets containing 25 percent or more of their calories as sugar could result in one or more of the following:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Behavioral problems
- Mineral deficiencies
- Gallstones” (3)
“Western nations are in the midst of the worst obesity epidemic to ever hit the planet. There are record numbers of cancers, heart attacks, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. One of the primary culprits is our craving for sugar, combined with the convenience and affordability of many processed foods that contain it.” (3)
It seems that logic would dictate that a simple solution to the problem of trying to reduce sugar consumption would be to use artificial sweeteners. In fact, Americans consume twenty plus pounds of artificial sweeteners per day per year without any effect on the exponential rates of obesity and other chronic degenerative diseases.
If you’re interested in the science behind it all, this is a great video explaining how sugar affects your brain:
Alternative Sweeteners: Saccharin, Aspartame and Splenda
The big three alternative sweeteners, Sweet & Low®, aspartame and Splenda® were all accidently discovered. Saccharin was developed in the process of working with the toxic chemical Toluene, aspartame was originally developed as a drug to treat peptic ulcer disease and Splenda® was originally being developed as an insecticide. There is much debate over each of these products, their safety and their alleged health benefits.
My personal experience with aspartame side effects came from my ten-year diet soda habit. I began to struggle with focus and concentration which grew alarmingly worse over time. After I began chiropractic school, I was struggling with memory and focus. A classmate of mine asked me if I ingested products containing aspartame. I told him of my love for diet soda and chewing gum (loaded with artificial sweeteners) and he recommended that I quit. He also recommended I research aspartame more deeply. After three days of discontinuing my diet soda and chewing gum habit, it felt like my brain came alive and my focus and concentration issues became a thing of the past. I have seen similar responses with my patients. Specifically, Brent scheduled a nutritional consultation appointment asking me to load him up with any and all supplements that could improve his failing memory and focus. I inquired to his aspartame intake, discovering that he also was a diet coke addict. I suggested he quit the diet soda and contact me in a few days. He called me two days later excited that his brain was working again!
Is aspartame an effective weight loss product? There is research that shows that aspartame may actually cause people to gain weight. The amino acids in aspartame have been shown to cause a rapid release of insulin and leptin, which signal the body to store fat. Large doses of the amino acid phenylalanine can decrease serotonin, a critical neurotransmitter that helps the body with satiety, the feeling of being full. (3)
Regarding Splenda, “’The FDA’s final ruling noted that no adverse health effects were attributed to sucralose given to animals at doses hundreds of times higher than maximum estimated intakes in humans. However, most of the taste research scientists interviewed for a recent article on sucralose refuse to eat it. One of them commented, ‘I look at that structure and have an irrational fear of it. I’ve seen the safety studies, and you feed it to rats and mice forever and nothing happens. But it scares me.’ – Burkhard Bilger, reporter for the New Yorker Magazine” (4)
Healthy Sweetener Use Guide
Sweeteners to Avoid
(Sweetener data in this chart was adapted from Sweet Deception3)
Where do I go from here?
As I shared with you at the beginning of this article, I have struggled mightily with my sugar addictions, and when not controlled well, I notice many negative symptoms associated with my sugar intake. Most natural caloric sweeteners are simple sugar carbohydrates that will cause elevated blood sugar levels and over time can lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome (elevated triglycerides, cholesterol, low HDL, central obesity, hypertension), obesity and diabetes. Some sweeteners are safer than others, and the general rule is: the less-processed, the better. It is critical that you do your own research to help you decide which sweeteners are best for you. Lastly, when you use sweeteners, artificial or natural, you begin to lose your sensitivity to sweetness, requiring you to use more and more to achieve the sweetness you desire.
Even when I am eating “God’s diet” (a diet with foods that are mostly unaltered by man), my ultimate personal goal and my recommendation to patients would be to limit intake or eliminate all sweeteners from your diet. This goal may seem overwhelming and unachievable, but when you are eating a diet that your body was designed to eat, sugar cravings will almost always be significantly reduced or even disappear.
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Dr. Jeff Ulery, D.C.‘s practice at Austin Whole Body Health aims to identify the underlying cause of patients’ pain and allergies, instead of merely treating symptoms. Whole Body Health believes in a holistic, functional and alternative approach to health, and provides chiropractic care, acupuncture and supporting adjunctive care that aligns with these principles.Resources:
Whole Body Health for Life Class: a nutritional makeover class for cleansing,detoxing and transitioning to a healthier nutritional lifestyle at home for your family, shopping and eating out. http://www.AustinWholeBodyHealth.com Free Nutritional Typing to determine how to eat for your specific body type: http://products.mercola.com/nutritional-typing/ If you would like to learn more about how sugar effects the body, alternative sweeteners, the discovery and politics behind artificial sweeteners like Sweet & Low®, NutraSweet®, Splenda® and more, read:
- Sweet Deception Why Splenda®, NutraSweet® and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health by Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr. Kendra Degen Pearsall
- 76 Ways That Sugar Can Destroy Your Health from Lick the Sugar Habit (Avery Publishing Group, 1996) by Nancy Appleton, PhD, http://www.nancyappleton.com
- Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic by H.J. Roberts, M.D.
• B. Meehan, Shell Bed to Shell Midden (Canberra, Australia: Humanities Press, 1982).
• K. Hawkes, K. Hill, and J.F. O’Connell, “Why Hunters Gather: Optimal Foraging and the Ache of Eastern Paraguay,” American Enthonologist 9 (1982): 379-98.
• J. Mercola and K. D. Pearsall, Sweet Deception Why Splenda®, NutraSweet® and the FDA May Be Hazardous to Your Health (Nelson Books, 2008).
• Burkhard Bilger, “The Search for Sweet,” New Yorker, May 22, 2006.
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