Image source: original image from Jose Miguel Calatayud via Flickr
I love sugar.
I blame it on my dad.
It runs in the family
Awhile back, my sister had my parents for a visit.
She shared this picture & status update on facebook:
“So my dad loves his late night snacks. We are out of milk and so he proceeds to eat the brown sugar that is heaped onto the cereal. I say “Dad, are you just eating the brown sugar by itself?” He says, ‘Yeah, it’s always been one of my favorites.'”
No joke, it has always been one of his favorites. Growing up, I recall his typical before bedtime snack being a little bit of cereal with a rather generous pile of brown sugar on top.
In all fairness though, it’s not just my dad that I can blame for my sweet tooth.
My dad no doubt got it from his dad who was known, particularly in his older years, to keep his fridge & freezer stocked with pie & ice cream. I’m fairly certain those two items were a food group for him.
And it’s not just on my dad’s side.
My grandma on my mom’s side of the family, kept her freezer full of ice cream, her cookie jar was a bottomless supply of cookies, & she always had a few “hiding spots” (namely linen drawers) to keep her stash of miniature sized candy bars. As kids, it was thrilling let me tell you, to go digging around & see what goodies we could find.
5 realizations about sugar
So I guess you could say the love of sugar runs in the family.
But here’s the thing.
Sugar makes me feel like crap.
I wish it didn’t. Believe me, I wish it didn’t.
If I could eat cookie dough for breakfast, maple bars for lunch, cake & ice cream for dinner (with a few salads mixed in there), I would.
But over the past 10 years or so, through a lot of trial & error, getting off the sugar bandwagon, then getting back on (because who wants to give up sweets forever!??!), I’ve begrudgingly (& somewhat reluctantly) realized a few things:
- Sugar makes me feel like crap. (This is probably the most important point.)
- The more I consume of it, the more I want.
- I have blood sugar issues. (see more below)
- Unlike some people, I can’t have “just a little,” (see #2) & I can’t “just stop anytime.” (ie. I’m an addict.)
- Sugar makes me feel like crap. (Oh wait, I already said that.)
Since I went vegan over 8 years ago, I’ve gone back & forth, back & forth with types of sugars I will & won’t eat.
When I first went vegan, I cut all refined sugars & switched to pure maple syrup, agave, dates, & unrefined sugar. Making the shift to more natural sweeteners & all plant foods certainly helped me get a grip on my sweet tooth, but I still had bouts of sugar-itis, & often ate too much of it, albeit “good” sugars*.
Blood sugar issues & diabetes
So let’s talk about blood sugar issues.
Not your blood sugar issues. Mine. (Though if you have blood sugar issues, we can talk about those too in the comments below!)
As you know, with my last pregnancy I had gestational diabetes.
Dipping my toes into the diabetic world of monitoring blood sugar levels & being ultra particular about each morsel that passed my lips was…in a word, awful.
Gestational diabetes is not quite the same as regular type 2 diabetes. There are a few differences, which I won’t really go into here, only to say that gestational diabetics need to maintain an even more conservative blood sugar threshold.
Also, the most important point in my mind is that a gestational diabetic is 2-3 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. This fact is what made me ultra-motivated to return back to my pre-pregnancy weight (I outline how I did that in my ebook Fit, Strong, Lean: The Diet).
An “unexpected” yeast infection
But being diabetic for a short period of time was truly a huge blessing (& not even in disguise!).
I realized I never, ever want to be diabetic if I could help it & I will do everything within my circle of control to take preventative measures–namely, maintain a healthy weight, regular exercise, & “eat right.” It’s the last part that gets me tripped up sometimes.
Because the thing is, I already eat a (mostly whole foods) vegan diet.
But I realized about a month ago, that even that doesn’t cut it for me.
Whether I like it or not, the fact is, I’m not “normal.” I have blood sugar issues & a pre-disposition for diabetes. Therefore, I can stick my fingers in my ears & say “nah, nah, nah, nah” or, I can face the music & realize that because of my personal health background, I have to eat differently than everyone else if I want to enjoy the best health possible (which I do).
The wake up call was about a month ago when out of the blue, I got a yeast infection. What??! I thought. Not me, surely. Why was I getting a yeast infection?
Incredulous, I looked it up on the Mayo Clinic. Under “causes”, it says (my comments in italics & parentheses):
Overgrowth of yeast can result from:
- Antibiotic use, which leads to a decrease in the amount of lactobacillus bacteria in your vagina and a change in your vaginal pH that allows yeast to overgrow (haven’t been on antibiotics in oh, about a decade)
- Pregnancy (it’s been over 10 months since I was pregnant)
- Uncontrolled diabetes (hmmmm……)
- Impaired immune system (don’t think so??)
- Anything that changes the type and amount of bacteria normally present in the vagina, such as douching or irritation from inadequate vaginal lubrication (um, nope.)
Most often, yeast infection results from a type of candida fungus known as Candida albicans. Sometimes, however, a different type of candida fungus might be the cause of symptoms. Candida albicans responds well to typical treatments for yeast infections. Other types of candida, however, sometimes respond poorly to conventional therapies and may require more aggressive treatment.
So the part about diabetes & candida albicans stuck out to me, especially the candida part.
Could it be candida?
Candida, candida, oh yes, my dear friend Ricki is an expert on that (see her guest post, How to know if you have candida)! So I hopped over onto her site, which is an amazing resource for all things candida, & ACD (anti-candida diet) specifically vegan, related.
After spending a few hours hopping around her blog, I realized I was onto something. I was eating too much sugar. My body doesn’t care if it is “natural,” it doesn’t like it & was letting me know by making my skin break out & giving me a yeast infection, not to mention the intense sleepiness (not “fullness”) after eating (which I am here to say, is NOT normal). So I decided to give the ACD a try.
I’m now going on week four of the anti-candida diet.
The first two (while I had the yeast infection), was ultra strict (not even any fruit). Now I’ve added 1-2 servings of low-sugar fruit (usually an apple &/or some mixed berries).
But, no grains (not even quinoa or buckwheat at this point), no flours, no sugar, no vinegars (darn! I love to douse my salads in baslamic vinegar), no mushrooms, no melons, no mushrooms, no peanuts.
Sounds rough, but it’s not too bad. I’ve learned to love almond butter (you know how much I love PB2 powder!) & even sunflower seed butter is pretty good. And sweet potatoes are nearly a daily staple now.
It’s pretty much what I deam, the “squanto diet”–beans, vegetables, squash, sweet potatoes, nuts, & seeds.
And you know what–it has made all the difference.
Benefits of going sugar-free
My skin has completely cleared up, my yeast infection is gone. I have much more energy–no more sleepiness (at all!) after eating. I have to sleep less. The fog has lifted.
I’m not sure how long I will keep this level of ACD. To be honest, I’m just anxiously awaiting the release of Ricki’s book, Living Candida-Free (affliliate link) (available end of January 2015) so I can delve into all the details of this lifestyle.
I’m looking at this not as a quick fix to my breakouts & yeast infection, but as a long-term approach. Which, in all honesty is not too different from how I’ve been eating since I was already gluten-free & mostly whole foods, but to be sure, there are some key differences, namely absolutely no refined sugar whatsoever, & in the first & second stages of ACD, not even things like agave or dates are permitted (among other things of course).
Side note: I’ve *finally* put two & two together–my skin freaks out (various funky skin issues ranging from breakouts to rashes) when I have a consistent sugar overload (candida?). For example, the last 4 months of my pregnancy (when I had gestational diabetes) through one month post-partum, I had a major rash on my face that would NOT go away. My most recent skin freak out (the same time I had the yeast infection) my skin was in a constant-breakout phase (which, is not “normal” for me–when I’m eating like I should, my skin is crystal clear).
Should I go sugar free?
If you’re wondering if you should go sugar free yourself, I can’t answer that for you. I share my story in hopes of perhaps illuminating yours.
A few things to consider:
- Do you experience weird skin issues (namely rashes or breakouts?).
- Do you feel like crap after eating sugary foods?
- Do you experience volatile energy (ie. gotta-take-a-nap-after-I-eat syndrome)?
If you answered yes to several of these, then maybe yes, you should consider kicking sugar to to the curb.
I realize most people love sugar & are about as willing to give it up as they are things like coffee, or alcohol, or any other staple of socializing.
And I’m not a bossypants (or at least I try not to be), so I won’t tell you, “Sugar is addictive! It ruins your bones! It”s completely nutritionally deficient! It’s only empty calories!” (all things are mostly true, btw), but if you want to feel better, then maybe just think about the idea.
More on the ACD process in upcoming posts, but until then, please share:
Have you gone sugar-free? Have you done the ACD diet? Would love hear your thoughts!
* Though unrefined sweeteners like sucanat, evaporated cane juice, maple syrup, & agave (though some debate how “unrefined” agave is) are a better alternative to refined white sugar, the fact remains: it’s still sugar. And these sugars are concentrated simple carbohydrates that can spike your blood sugar & do all sorts of other wacky things to your body. This is not to say that everyone needs to eliminate all sugar, all the time. I think it’s a personal decision that needs to be made with great thought & consideration in regards to your personal health history. Again, I realize there are plenty of much better alternatives to refined white sugar (like dates, agave, maple syrup), but they should still be used with discretion.
PART 2 of should I go sugar-free?
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