The biggest contributing factor to poor health is sugar consumption. As I discussed in my Faith article, The Most Dangerous Toxin, sugar ALONE is responsible for the epidemic increases in heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and obesity. Excess sugar intake can cause depression, especially in the Winter, reduce libido and fertility, and otherwise make us generally miserable…except when we are eating it. It is easy to point the finger at drug addicts, alcoholics, and smokers…but guess what? We’re addicts too! If we eat processed food (in jars, cans, and boxes) from a grocery store, we are most likely sugarholics! Our body knows it and chances are we do to; we acknowledge it whenever we say things like, “I just don’t feel happy anymore. I don’t feel like myself. I’m tired all the time. I don’t have the energy.”
So what can we do? Here’s a helping of hope: your sense of taste will adjust to the level of sugar you feed it and you don’t have to quit overnight. Here is the first step; take it before Winter hits and you will be a whole new you. Your future will be all the brighter for making this right choice!
STEP ONE: Avoid corn syrup & artificial sweeteners in the products you buy.
Corn syrup has many names: if you see the words fructose, glucose, invert, syrup solids, avoid these products like the plague. Artificial sweeteners are sometimes indicated on food with the warning “contains phenylketonics” (they contain phenylalanine). There are five FDA-approved sweeteners: saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and neotame. Artificial sweeteners include sugar alcohols that are neither sugars nor alcohols, but similarly-structured carbohydrates. Common names are sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, HSH (hydrogenated starch hydrolysates), and maltitol. Be wary of any product that says “sugar-free” or “reduced sugar” as they probably contain a corn syrup product or an artificial sweetener.
Right now we just want products that use regular sugar (called “sugar” with no other adjectives except “white”, “light brown”, “brown”, “demerera”, “turbinado”, “organic”, “coconut”, “palm”, or “maple”), evaporated cane juice, honey, or pure maple syrup. This is a big change and may take you several months to get it down, so don’t rush.
Here are the little steps that will help you to accomplish this big step: (1) READ LABELS; (2) IDENTIFY OFFENDERS; (3) FIND ALTERNATES; (4) MAKE YOUR OWN IF ALTERNATES AREN’T AVAILABLE/AFFORDABLE; (5) GIVE UP “ON-NOTICE” OFFENDERS ENTIRELY.
It is unlikely that you will read the labels on all the products you buy and memorize them all (!), so chances are that depending on the product and how important it is to you, a combination of these little steps in a single process is more likely.
Here is what these little steps look like in practice as you attempt the larger goal of getting rid of corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. If you already use corn syrup in your baking, throw it out and replace with honey, pure maple syrup, or a mixture of the two that gives the right texture to your favorite recipes!
- Create an “On Notice” list for the items that you are keeping for now, but will need to replace or get rid of in the future. Keep it accessible at all times; put it on the ‘fridge and write on it as soon as you get back home from the grocery store.
- Start by reading the labels on the canned goods you buy. If they say corn syrup (or it’s other names) or artificial sweeteners, find another can that doesn’t. For example, if the soup you’re buying has corn syrup in, find a brand of soup that doesn’t.
- Once your cans are corn-syrup free, move on to your jars/bottles (including condiments). Read the labels: if you can’t find a jar/bottle that has corn syrup in (like barbecue sauce), keep it for now but put it on notice (!) and use sparingly. If you are feeling up to it, you can click here for healthy sauce and condiment recipes and products.
- Next are boxes and bags (mixes, baked goods, pasta, snacks); these are the most egregious offenders because we like the texture that corn syrup brings to breads and cakes. Do your best to find alternates but chances are the only way to avoid corn syrup in breads and cakes is to make your own. If you can’t find or afford alternates, keep them for now but put them on notice and buy as infrequently as possible. This is a good area to consider giving up certain items entirely, especially your favorite snacks; find a healthy alternative like all-natural kettle chips made with potatoes, olive oil, and salt. Buying fewer cookies and snacks will save you money and your health.
- Finally are tubs (dairy, ice cream, spreads). It is best to switch to butter, non-hydrogenated organic vegetable shortening, or refined coconut oil for healthy fats that will help you to get rid of your body’s sugar-fat. Yogurt is the worst offender for being artificially sweetened. Find a plain yogurt that contains one ingredients: cultured Grade A milk. You can add fruit, honey, or pure maple syrup to it later. If you can’t find or afford alternates, keep them for now but put them on notice and buy as infrequently as possible.
- FINAL STEP: by now you should have replaced most, if not all, of your products with healthier alternatives. Your health should have improved and you have been successfully weaning your body off harmful sugars. Now you need to tackle the “on notice” list! Take the plunge: determine to NEVER buy anything with corn syrup or artificial sweeteners ever again. As you replace each item permanently, you have three options: (1) find an affordable alternative, (2) make your own, or (3) give it up entirely. Organic products are the easiest way to find corn-syrup- and artificial-sweetener-free foods, but they are expensive. Making your own foods is surprisingly easy, but you have to find the right recipe for you which can involve a lot of trial and error (very worth it and so empowering). Giving up corn-syrup- and artificially-sweetened foods is surprisingly easy once you have reached this stage. By now you realize that it isn’t worth wasting all your effort to get healthy on compromise. If it’s not a food group, you don’t need it or you can at least put off using it until you learn to make it yourself. You are a well-educated consumer with hundreds of right choices under your belt and you CAN take control of your health.
A Word of Caution: right now you are on a different track to everyone around you. They are probably (1) oblivious of the dangers of corn syrup and artificial sweeteners; (2) moderately aware but not sure how to proceed; (3) they’ve heard about the dangers but have no motivating factors to want to change; or (4) opposed to making any changes whatsoever. Here’s the thing: you will be eating with them at some point. Here are some recommendations:
- Receive what they give you with thankfulness. It will not kill you instantly 🙂.
- If you have an option to avoid certain products, do so. If someone asks you why you don’t want barbecue sauce or pop, for example, keep it simple: “I’m trying to avoid corn syrup and artificial sweeteners”. If they press further, share more.
- Share what you are learning about food when others are interested; if you sense resistance, don’t get argumentative. Let what you have said up to this point sink in; maybe you can say more next time.
- Others will become interested in the changes you are making if they see a benefit to what you are doing, so keep “living the life” and be ready to share at all times even if you don’t get an opportunity to do so.
- Try to talk in generalities and avoid talking critically about the food you are eating at the time. Stay positive: things that have worked for you, products that are helpful, benefits you have seen in your health.
- Consider having a serious talk with people you are close to, especially if they have health problems or chronic illness. The tips above are best suited for people who don’t know you very well. Love dwells with the truth; we need to warn those we love, but with gentleness and respect. The dinner table might not be the best place to do that; it might come across as disparaging.
- If others are actively trying to undermine what you are doing through discouragement or sabotage, avoid being around them as much as you can (get new friends, avoid discouraging members of your extended family). It isn’t worth the risk to your health. If that someone is in the same house, respect his role; if it is a parent and you are his dependent, don’t use food as an excuse to disobey or rebel (do as much as you can and keep learning until you get your freedom). If it is a spouse, don’t allow food to undermine her in front of your children or use it as a means to invalidate her. Agree to healthy boundaries, even if it means you make your food separate from the rest of the family (making large recipes will help you to have enough food to freeze so you can easily reheat for yourself. The convenience of having it handy might encourage your spouse to change her mind if she gets peckish or doesn’t feel like cooking) It is fine to push in negotiation (fair point: If I’m doing the shopping/cooking I think I should have a say in what we eat), but a peaceful resolution must be reached. Be a tranquil and respectful “witness”: the biggest weapons you have to convince your family are (1) to not be riled up by opposition and (2) be firm on your convictions as far as your own behavior is concerned. Stay consistent, demonstrate the benefits, and others will be more willing to make the same changes!
I hope you enjoyed this Transformation Tuesdays’ Helping of Hope! If you think others would benefit from reading this post, please share it through one of the many options below. Archived Transformation Tuesdays are available under the “Food” Tab above.