Better Living – Without Refined Sugar Everyday
Better living without refined sugar everyday. Pinkfarm is committed to living this way. However, we understand and respect that getting to this point doesn’t always come so easy.
We believe wholly and solely in our quote, “With knowledge comes awareness and with awareness comes change.” In most circumstances this gives us enough evidence to make changes in our life but with sugar, a drug, knowledge and awareness may not always be powerful enough. But, we must start somewhere.
So, what is sugar? Without getting technical, when we refer to sugar we are talking about the many refined byproducts of cane sugar, corn and sugar beets, or the sugar alcohols prepared from sugar. These are processed and highly refined sweeteners. Here’s our list of what we are referring to when we say sugar:
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrate
Sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever. In fact, it robs our body of nutrients.
Sugar is laced in our food and it is estimated that 80% of the food in our supermarkets contain sugar! That’s right your packet soup, pasta sauce, baked beans and bread, all things that should be savoury, contain added sugar. Often packaged foods contain many types of sugar all disguised with names listed above.
Are we advocating eating no sugar and nothing sweet? Not at all, but we prefer to use sweeteners that are as close to their natural state as possible. Raw honey from the hive, B Grade Maple Syrup tapped from a tree, rapadura or coconut sugar, which is unrefined and evaporated cane juice and coconut nectar. Read more about these unrefined sweeteners here.
Why has sugar become the unnecessary evil or as Robert Lustig would say “the most demonized additive known to man?” Lustig, a specialist on pediatric hormone disorders and leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California and San Francisco’s School of Medicine and author of Sugar: The Bitter Truth believes that our excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason for the obesity and diabetes epidemic as well as the cause of chronic ailments such as heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers. In addition to this, research has proven that sugar:
- Feeds cancer
- Suppresses the immune system
- Contributes to the progression of diabetes
- Leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity
- Contributes to behaviour problems in children
- Upsets the mineral balance in the body especially using our magnesium stores
- Speeds up the ageing process
- Causes mood swings
- Interferes with concentration and memory
- Instigates fatigue
Learning about sugar and its toxic effects in the body was one of our first realisations on our food journey. Gaining this knowledge was confronting and because of the addictive hold sugar can have, giving it up may not be so simple as just understanding its detrimental effects. Living better without refined sugar every day is just that, living better.
So what is it like living without refined sugar every day? Here’s Pinky’s story……I WAS a sugar addict. For as long as I can remember, lollies, chocolate and all things sweet had been part of my life. I thought about sugar every day and rarely went without my ‘hit’.
Over two and a half years ago my sugar fog finally lifted. I am able to see clearly now and when I reflect back I can see how real my sugar addiction was and the hold that it had over me. This is my journey of awareness and how this brought so much positive change to my life.
Before my son was born four years ago I had been on a learning journey about real food, cultured food and traditional food but still couldn’t take the sugary treats out of my life. I was eating nutritious meals but also consuming Green & Black’s Organic chocolate almost every day, especially after lunch, occasional treats at a café and dessert if I was out for dinner. I was one of those people who couldn’t stop at just one square of chocolate… I had to eat the lot. But, was it really that bad?
It was that bad. My sugar consumption was affecting my son. When D was around 9 months old he began getting mysterious skin rashes. Red, raw and angry rashes all over his body. Medical practitioner after practitioner gave me no answers. He was diagnosed with chicken pox I don’t know how many times and in the end the answers I continued to get were, “It’s normal. Toddlers get rashes.” Normal? How could this be normal? I refused to settle for this warped sense of normality.
In my efforts to find answers amongst the confusion and angst I was feeling, my stress levels crept higher and higher and I ate even more sugar than normal. The Green & Black’s chocolate was traded in for Allen’s Freckles and Natural Confectionary Snakes. I was in complete denial that the sugar I was eating could possibly be effecting my son through my breast milk. So much so that I rang the Australian Breastfeeding Association hotline to ask if the eggs that I was eating for breakfast could possibly be causing an egg allergy in my son. Go figure.
After the 6th or 7th rash that erupted I learned of a kinesiologist that may be able to help. I took D along and after a few minutes of treatment the Dr stated matter of factly, “Oh, he has a yeast infection- candida. You need to take him off all sugar.” My defences went up and I immediately replied, “I don’t feed him any sugar!” But then the elephant in the room got really big. I was sitting in that room with a yeast infection of my own, brought on by the amount of sugar I was consuming daily. Finally I had to face my fears and take control of this addiction that was not only ruining my life, but was also having a major impact on my son’s.
What a wake up call. To this day, I look back and still can’t believe it was so difficult for me to kick an addiction that was clearly impacting my son. The signs were staring me in the face. I felt extremely guilt ridden, but instead of carrying this burden, I have forgiven myself and want to share this story in the hope that it can inspire others to break the habit too. The message it clearly tells me was that my addiction was very real, and giving up sugar really is very difficult. It takes time, commitment and a firm plan to be put in place to help overcome this.
My first step to making a very real and lasting lifestyle change to cutting down on sugar came when Farmer and I decided to take part in ‘Sugar Free September in 2012.” Read more about SFS here. It seemed like a fun challenge to do with a friend, one that also seemed simple enough-remove all refined sugars from your diet- natural sugars allowed. Phew!
Each day of sugar free September was not as difficult as I thought. I just replaced my sugar cravings with lots more maple syrup. Simple! At the time I don’t think I realised I was just feeding my sugar addiction with a different form of sugar. But, what I was able to do was break the hold that refined sugar had over me. Refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine and I was finally breaking this chemical addiction. I was also breaking a strong habit I had created around the refined sugar consumption. Eating chocolate after lunch. I switched this to a homemade naturally sweetened treat. I was taking tiny steps.
When Sugar Free September was over I was feeing so great that I decided to continue to keep refined sugar out of my life. At this time I had also decided to remove grains from my diet. I did this as part of an ‘experiment’ with my trainer (and good friend) at the gym. This experiment was novel and I was interested to see the results. I felt amazing. I had a life energy that I had never experienced before.
My grain and refined sugar free journey continued and I also switched to a more nutrient dense breakfast consisting of protein and fat, no sugar in any form. In doing this I no longer looked for a snack at 10am and I certainly wasn’t craving sugar like I used to. Was that even possible?
Deep Nutrition by Cate Shanahan completely shocked my system as I learned more deeply about sugar’s effects in the body on a cellular level. I also reread Sweet Poison to remind myself of the effects fructose has in the body. My knowledge was growing and so too was my awareness around how things were changing for me. I was more balanced in my moods, not experiencing sugar lows and not constantly obsessing about my next sugar ‘hit’; I no longer had any PMS or PMT; I felt focused and alert, I wasn’t tired during the day, my skin wasn’t as dry, my eyes were brighter and I felt so happy! The blinds were opening and I was actually able to see out past the fog.
Although I was steadily making changes and I could see positive improvements in the way I felt, I was hiding a secret. Each day when I ordered my cappuccino I savoured every sprinkling of the shaved chocolate on the top. I found myself going from enjoying 1 regular cappuccino each day to 2 or 3 and it was mainly the sprinkling of chocolate that I was longing for.
Thankfully I was regularly meeting with two friends here in Sydney to read food related books and talk openly about how our food journeys were going. We talked about struggles and any food goals we had. I was able to admit my lingering sugar addiction and they suggested making the switch to a latte. This may not seem like a big deal, but taking this ½ teaspoon of shaved chocolate, essentially refined sugar, out of my diet made all the difference. My connection to refined sugar was finally broken.
As I reflect on my relationship with sugar now, I want to yell from the roof tops, “If I can ditch refined sugar and break the addiction, ANYONE CAN!” I believe that by taking small steps on this journey and cutting down in stages, it is a lifestyle change that gets imprinted, rather than a diet or detox that we are hoping can come to an end.
If sugar really is as addictive as cocaine, it makes sense that you would wean off, rather than go cold turkey. I believe the natural sugars I allowed myself to consume helped break the strong hold refined sugar had over me as well as develop new habits. Over time, I now don’t need the natural sugars as much. Yes, I still love sweet things, but it is a different kind of sweet. Cherries taste incredibly sweet, strawberries taste like a heavenly treat. My taste buds are no longer dulled from refined sugar and I am able to taste the true sweetness found in nature. I can taste sugar in whole raw milk and the sweetness in a raw carrot. When I do bake a treat with natural sugars like maple syrup or coconut sugar, I can cut down on the amount quite considerably as a little now satisfies.
Staying on track was more than just will power or discipline for me. Making a firm decision to cut back and having an awareness of my sugar consumption was important. I believe there were 3 main reasons that I was able to tackle my sugar addiction and remain on a path that will be refined sugar free everyday.
- I have surrounded myself with people who I can be open and honest with. I share my journey without fear of being judged and ensure that I am completely honest about everything to my friends and of course to myself.
- I removed all refined sugar in every single form. Yes, I initially replaced it with more natural sugars, but refined sugars in every form had to go. Refined sugars are toxic and deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals. They also have a different effect on brain chemistry than natural sugars. I have no desire at all to eat refined sugar.
- Three major dietary changes- The first~ including more fat. This ensures that I am continually feeling satiated and sustained and no longer crave sweet things. If I do, something small and naturally sweetened always satisfies. Second~ limiting grains. This has helped me not constantly crave carbohydrates. Of course I get carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit but by limiting grains I do not have the cravings for sweet things. Third and probably the most important ~ Switching to a Royal Breakfast Starting with a savoury breakfast of meat and fat sets me for the day. A Royal Breakfast literally saved me. Read more about a why we choose to eat like a King here.
Right now I am in the place I want to be, although being the person that I am, I always see room for improvement. Some weeks natural sweeteners can creep in a little more than I’d like but I won’t beat myself up about it. I am out of the fog and can finally see clearly and I am definitely living better without refined sugar every day ~ Pinky
Farmer a sugar addict?…..maybe, maybe not. When reflecting on my relationship with ‘sugar’ it is not that clear. My thoughts are clouded by today’s latest taboo word, ‘fructose’. Whilst listening to Pinky share her story of awakening to her sugar addiction, I never once believed that I had or have an addiction to sugar. But, I did start to wonder? Do I? Have I? Did I? I like sweet things. At times I crave them, but I have never felt ruled or controlled by these desires.
When I think back to my days at uni, boarding in a room next door to Pinky, I remember my fridge being stocked up with fruit, often freshly picked from my parents trees. A jar of nuts and a jar of dried apricots on my desk, were my favourite snacks. No soft drink or cordial for me, just 100% fruit juice. Pinky on the other hand, had stashes of chocolate, a consistent supply of cordial and a floor covered in lolly wrappers.
Although I have always had an interest and affiliation for foods that were innately ‘healthy’ I have still been on paths in my life where I have eaten ‘junk’ food. My peers, my family and stages of life have often heavily influenced these choices. In my early 20’s I learnt about the ‘candida‘ diet and decided to give it a go. It involved cutting out all yeasts and sugar. I lasted a month, if that. It wasn’t long, but it was long enough to bring my awareness to the fact that sugar is in over 80% of packaged food in the supermarkets!!!
When my first child was a baby, about to start solids, one of my first learnings about health, was that sugar (refined sugar) is poison. I learnt from the time he started eating solids to read the ingredients on everything I picked up from the supermarket shelf. I soon found that I was coming home with minimal amounts of packaged food. Everything had sugar in it and I had been oblivious to that.
For the majority of my life as a mother, refined sugar and anything that contained it has seldom had a space in our pantry. It would however, creep back in to ice, decorate or make a cake for a special occasion. Sometimes we would take sugary ‘treats’ on camping holidays, or indulge in ice-cream on a road trip. I am appalled to say that even at times in my food journey, cereals, which are full of hidden sugars took over my oatmeal breakfasts. And more often than not it would be someone else giving it to my children, as opposed to me. Eventually I got tired of defending and would give in. In hindsight, it was still way too much. Refined sugar in any amount is detrimental to health.
Despite having owned my Nourishing Traditions bible for many years and practising many of it’s principles, it wasn’t until I faced some health challenges with my 5th child and I read Nina Planck’s Real Food that my passion for maintaining and building healthy choices and habits for my children was reinforced. Embracing traditional foods was my priority. Motivated and inspired by my new found knowledge and a shared passion with Pinky, I was thrust into another steep learning curve on my real food journey. Around this time I was also fortunate to have use of a Thermomix. My dream to make everything from scratch slowly became a reality and soon became a habit.
The reigniting of my dedication to avoid refined sugars and refined food in general was influenced by the skin and respiratory difficulties my fifth child was experiencing as a baby. I felt as though these challenges were a message to remind me of the importance of food for optimal health and to stick by my beliefs and values regardless of how difficult this can be in todays society.
My journey has bought me to a place where I “let my guard down” less and stay faithful to my belief in ‘real food’ and with this comes the avoidance of refined sugar at all costs. We have maple syrup, honey and rapadura sugar in our house, and these are the sugars we use to have ‘sweet’ treats, very occasionally. My children are exposed to junk food enough outside of the home and that is another story and challenge in itself!
Whilst I can say I have found it easy to give up refined sugar and to be very content with natural sugars for as long as I can remember, my journey with Pinky has focussed my awareness on just ‘how much’ sweet I had in my life. I was having way more than I now believe was ok. Whether it be in the form of fruit or unrefined sweeteners, I was having too much. This brings us to the question of fructose. What about fructose? Bad for you? In all forms? I question so.
Fruit contains Fructose, but fruit is imprinted in my brain as ‘healthy’ and ‘eat as much as you like!’ I grew up eating fruit picked from the trees. I was praised for eating fruit. I have always LOVED fruit. I have always made fruit available for my children. Living on acreage in the country, our yard is in abundance of fruit at certain times of the year. Rambling passionfruit vines, drooping citrus trees, loaded avocado trees, flowering custard apple trees and fruiting mulberry & tamarillo trees are obvious as you stroll around the garden. There is much comfort and joy experienced when sitting under a tree with my children, peeling and eating fruit picked straight from our trees. An experience that truly tantalises the five senses.
I struggle with the ‘scientific’ talking down about fructose in the form of fruit and natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. On a scientific level, I understand and believe how refined sugar and refined fructose (High Fructose Corn Syrup) can be detrimental to our bodies. However, on a practical, experiential and spiritual level I question that fructose in ‘fruit’ and natural sweeteners like ‘honey’ are equally destructive. From the perspective of an Ancestral diet, I understand that we were not designed to consume, even natural sweeteners in the quantities that are available to us today. With this knowledge I have completely eliminated adding natural sweeteners to my food and beverage and now save them for the occasional baked good that we make. Some days I may not have any fruit, unlike previously I may have up to 3 or 4 serves a day.
In the winter however, when my orange trees are splashed with colour, the children will pick their daily orange for their lunches. When we have eaten enough oranges we may juice them and leave the pulp in the juice and have it for breakfast or even make jelly with it. Stepping outside on a cold, crisp winter’s morning on the Atherton Tablelands to pick my “fructose” laden oranges will forever remain a seasonal ritual that warms my heart with fond childhood memories. I am waiting for science to analyse the benefits and detriments of the practice of growing and eating your own seasonal food.
After completely removing boxed cereals and store bought bread from our house 3 years ago, my attention has been focused on breakfast a great deal. For a while we alternated between soaked oatmeal & soaked buckwheat porridge, to eggs or avocado on sourdough toast and buckwheat pancakes, but I found that I was constantly trying to keep up with feeding my family, even after these wholesome foods in the morning.
Since switching to a Royal Breakfast based on protein and fat (in particular meat and fat) a coincidental reduction of ‘sweet‘ foods in our diet has resulted. Unknowingly, I was influenced by Pinky’s shift to eating meat and fat at breakfast and this is the lifestyle we have adapted consistently in the last 3 years. Read more about a Royal Breakfast here. The changes in everyone’s need for food and nutrition has been surprising and unexpected. Eating a wholesome, nourishing breakfast consisting of meat & fat has reduced the need for baking and snacks in between meals. A batch of No Bake cookies now lasts twice as long. I spend more time planning and preparing 3 substantial meals a day and less time on what we have in between. It did come with challenges but the challenges have been worth it.
Having an understanding of sugar and its detrimental effects on the body motivates and reassures me of the importance of ‘what I do’ for my family. Food is “…a nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink….in order to maintain life and growth”. Does refined sugar fit this definition? No. If refined sugar is not food, then what is it? “….a substance that, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, causes death or injury….” That is a definition of ‘poison‘ and I believe that sugar fits this description. Refined sugar is poison and we tell our children that.
I believe that removing refined sugar from my life, gives me health. My grandmother often said to me in her last years of life, “your health is the most important thing, without your health, life is no good”. My mother offered advice of “respect your body, because if you don’t no-one else will”. I have repeated these meaningful wise words to my children along with my own piece of advice that “you only get one body, take care of it”.