High-carbohydrate lifestyles can create health problems, especially after 50. Positive transformations occur when carbs are reduced.
Sugar in the daily diet causes problems. I finally understand that.
Fortunately, by removing sugar from my daily diet I feel better now at age 54 than I did when I was 30.
My realizations about the longterm negative impact of sugar began when I started having autoimmune issues.
I had always thought of my daily diet as being healthy. But when I turned 50, I started to feel poorly.
My waistline became flabby.
My skin would break out, I often felt pinpricks on the soles of my feet, my back and ankles became tender, I had some difficulty swallowing, and my hearing and eyesight began to worsen at a pace that felt alarming.
Though I had already been exercising regularly and eating healthier than the average American, my doctor determined through lab tests that my immune system was confused and attacking my body’s own healthy cells.
I was encouraged to try an anti-inflammatory daily diet to determine if my autoimmune issues could be reversed.
Saying Goodbye to “Fun Food” All at Once
The standard modern daily diet has many foods that provide temporary comfort and are fun to eat.
That is, they are fun to eat while you are eating them. However, as soon as you are done eating, that fun feeling often evaporates.
Accelerated aging is caused by inflammation, which can be radically diminished by making key nutritional upgrades, or, conversely, significantly increased with unfortunate snacking.
I eventually realized that, for me, accelerated aging is too large a price to pay in exchange for brief moments of mouthfeel and the sweet buzz of a sugar rush.
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The Deal with Sugar
The modern diet in many first-world countries is overflowing with refined sugars, and most of us already know that too much sugar in our daily diet is bad for us.
Sugar is a legitimate addiction which can be difficult to quit cold-turkey.
I’ve seen plenty of people over the years who try to quit sugar instantly, with mixed success.
Some try to reduce sugar gradually – starting first with omitting the refined sugars, such as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
But, ultimately, sugar is sugar and removing it almost entirely from one’s daily diet remains an effective way for many people to improve health quickly.
I determined that my best chance of success for quitting sugar was to increase my uptake of healthy fats.
I wanted to curb hunger pangs (fats are great for satiety) and train my body to burn calories from the fat in my daily diet – instead of relying entirely on glucose from all the carbs and excess protein I had been consuming.
Of course, my new diet meant giving up more than just sugar. Here’s the upshot of the new regimen:
- I quit sugar, dairy, grains (except for a bit of white rice), eggs, legumes, and caffeine all at once.
- I reduced my intake of nightshades (yellow bell pepper and tomatoes) by 50%.
- I reduced my intake of nuts and seeds by 50% (and tried to eat them soaked-and-sprouted whenever possible and removed peanuts entirely).
- I increased my intake of healthy fats, including MCT oil, regular coconut oil, and cold-pressed olive and avocado oils.
- I took a 12-hour break from eating each night, usually between 7:30 pm and 7:30 am.
- It’s perhaps not healthy to go very-low-carb forever. Therefore, I would sometimes have a small serving of sliced, steamed sweet potato – or, on very heavy exercise days, a small serving of white rice made in the InstantPot.
- Basically, my diet consisted of vegetables, lean meats, coconuts and a bit of fruit.
For inspiration and assistance, I referred to the Wahls Protocol – created by a medical doctor.
I appreciated the Wahls Protocol in part because it offered daily diet meal-planning in three distinct stages (beginner, immediate, and advanced, respectively).
I undertook my new regime under the supervision of both my own medical doctor and also a naturopath.
The naturopath was helpful particularly in guiding me through the emotional and physical challenges of this process – while also recommending tailored, high-quality nutritional supplements to help speed healing.
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What is Autoimmune?
Many millions of people have autoimmune conditions, in which the body gets confused and starts attacking itself because it mistakingly believes that its own membranes are a virus.
The essential strategy for reversing autoimmune through lifestyle upgrades is to give the body a rest by no longer exposing it to irritants, particularly within one’s daily diet.
The idea is that as irritants are removed (both internally and externally) the body has a chance to at last heal itself – especially the gut.
If you would like to try removing sugar, grains, dairy, eggs, legumes, and caffeine from your own daily diet to see if it will dramatically improve your own health, here is what you might expect:
The First 3 days Are the Hardest
Clear your calendar and plan on staying home for the first three days. I basically stayed in bed most of the time (sometimes my arms and hands were weak and it felt hard to even to hold a book to read).
Remove as many Unnecessary Stress Factors from Your Daily Life as You Can
The last thing you need while you’re trying to detoxify your body is to have extra stress hormones like cortisol pumping through your system. Try to construct your life so that you can feel peaceful, positive, and supported.
Expect your Brain Chemistry to Be Temporarily Impacted
The first month of the regimen left me feeling emotionally flat. No depression, no joy – just a flat line. Fortunately, I expected this in advance and therefore didn’t worry about it.
Eventually, my brain neurotransmitters fired-up again and my mood brightened even more than it had before the regimen.
Keep a Food Diary of Your Daily Diet for at least the First Month
The food diary was astoundingly helpful to me in figuring out what my body liked and what it didn’t like.
Each morning, I wrote down how much sleep I got and also how I felt on a scale of 1-to-10.
Throughout the day I wrote down everything I ate and how my body responded after I ate it. (Did it enhance my energy? Did it drain me?)
I also wrote down my ketosis urine strip test results, which I would do periodically to see if I was achieving low-level ketosis (calories burned from fat instead of glucose).
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When you first lower carbohydrate intake, your body is likely to drop water weight quickly. Dropping 8 pounds of water will flush electrolytes and you’ll want to replenish what has been lost. Get a natural hydration powder and sea salt to add to your water and drink large amounts of it – it might prevent neck cramping, charley horses, and keep the corners of your mouth from cracking.
I encourage you to remember, also, that among the most common mistakes people make when lessening carb intake, is to forget to simultaneously increase their uptake of healthy fats. Make sure to have enough fat!
Have a Sense of Humor about those Random Cravings
Resist the temptation to feel overly sorry for yourself during the withdrawal period. You have every cause to feel hopeful!
Choose to see this health challenge as an opportunity to empower yourself and embark on a new adventure.
I’m not saying your cravings for “fun food” will go away completely – we still live in this culture, after all, with candy bars at the checkout lane and Taco Bell commercials on television. However, your cravings will probably lessen considerably over time as your daily diet improves.
Here are some of the unexpected cravings I experienced in the beginning:
- removing sugar from the daytime was easier for me than removing it from the nighttime (since my 20s, I’ve always liked to have something a bit sweet at night because I’m a light sleeper and sweet food helps me be able to fall asleep).
- though I gave up milk and cheese years ago before this regimen I was still having grass-fed whey protein every day to help my muscles recover from workouts. This is the first time in almost 30 years that I have gone without whey protein powder. I’ve had to plan my workouts and sleep-schedule more carefully to give myself a chance to recover properly.
- I didn’t realize how many black beans I was eating before. (I missed them sometimes, during the first month especially.)
If you’re having intense cravings and feeling down, I encourage you to pick up the Wahls book and browse the many inspiring case studies of very ill people who later became healthy.
Prepare for the Possibility that You’re Going to Look and Feel Better Than You Have in Years
As I approach my third month of this new regimen, I already look and feel better than I have in years. How will I feel in three more years, after living and eating the way my DNA expects? What about in seven years?
Ideas for Reducing Sugar Gradually within Your Daily Diet
If could turn back the hands of time, I would definitely do my 20s and 30s different nutritionally – namely, I would eat far less sugar.
I can only imagine how much better my skin and body would look and feel today at age 50 if only I had consumed less sugar in my youth. I now understand that sugar is acidic and messes up my body’s PH.
I’ve come to believe that the human body is better able to maintain its health and youthfulness when the pH is properly balanced and slightly alkaline (55% to 80%).
Vegetables help the body have more alkalinity, which is one reason I have found freshly green smoothies to be an invaluable part of my new wellness regimen.
I also now know that sugar feeds the bad bacteria in the gut.
Dane earned a masters degree in Counseling Depth Psychology from Pacific Graduate Institute. His past professional adventures include being a Therapist and Discharge Planner at a Dual-Diagnosis Hospital Inpatient Treatment Program, Digital Marketing Director for a real estate brokerage and decades spent as a professional fitness and Pilates trainer. Today, Dane is a Healthy-Lifestyle Advocate curating the Quality of Life Newsletter – a weekly update for creative types who want to increase their daily joy.
If it comes down to anything, it’s this: sugar is an inflammatory food, and most diseases, ultimately, are a result of inflammation in the body.
Perhaps the best way to quit sugar is to take three days off from work and go cold-turkey.
However, I realize that some people might want to experiment with reducing their intake of sugar gradually – day by day, week by week.
If that’s you, here are some ideas that might prove helpful:
- have a freshly made green smoothie every morning (and sometimes, have one in the afternoon, too).
- eat dinner earlier each night so that you don’t have to fall asleep on a completely full stomach.
- give up sodas, candy, wine, bottled sports drinks, and canned energy drinks; if you’re in the mood for something sweet, enjoy half a crunchy apple with a bit of almond butter – or for a fermented beverage, try kombucha tea
- eat balanced meals that focus on fresh vegetables and include portions of fats and proteins
- start with removing refined sugars first; later you can tackle fruit.
Many nutritional experts believe that, ultimately, all sugar is the same to your body, whether it’s the high-fructose corn syrup in a candy bar or the naturally occurring sugars in a plum.
Perhaps the way we so often want to distinguish between simple carbs and complex carbs is – in the end – a rationalization.
All carbs become glucose eventually (and so does excess protein).
On the other hand, I must admit that my own body feels unmistakably different from eating highly refined corn sugar than it does from having a bit of honey or agave nectar or fruit.
I do think that too much fructose (the sugar found in fruit) can be harmful in the long term. For this reason, once I had kicked refined sugars and no longer missed them, then – and only then – did I begin to also gradually reduce my fruit intake (though not completely, I believe a little fruit is still healthy – in part because of the antioxidants they contain).
The Dangers of Unstable Glucose and Sugar Spikes
Glucose is believed to be the body’s primary fuel, though there is an increasing body of work that suggests we may have underestimated the importance of ketones (energy molecules from fat).
In any case, after we eat a standard meal the level of glucose in our bloodstream goes up a bit and then gradually descends as it is absorbed by our cells.
But the wrong kind of daily diet can cause dramatic spikes in our blood glucose levels.
Over time these spikes can contribute to a wide range of illnesses, the most obvious of which is type-2 diabetes.
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For people with diabetes, monitoring and controlling blood sugar becomes essential to their health, but studies by the International Diabetics Federation have shown that even for non-diabetics, sharp spikes in blood sugar after eating a meal can increase your risk for:
- retina damage
- thickening of arteries
- increased inflammation
- decreased blood flow
The Benefits of Low Sugar Intake
Maintaining low/stable glucose levels can do more than just protect you from disease, it can actually rewire your body’s metabolism to rely less on glucose and more on fats and proteins as energy sources – this increases your body’s overall efficiency, lowers cholesterol, and makes it easier to achieve a healthy weight.
New research has shown that low sugar intake can also encourage the favorable expression of our “longevity genes.”
Dr. Scott Fogle, who is the Director of Clinical Information at the non-profit Life Extension Foundation where he oversees its team of health advisors, the scientific and medical information and the Laboratory Services Division, asserts that virtually all chronic diseases of aging – and aging itself – are accelerated by high glucose blood levels.
He states, “Though mainstream medicine once tolerated blood sugars as high as 140 mg/dL as ‘normal,’ we now recognize the substantial cardiovascular, stroke and cancer risks posed by sugar levels anywhere above 85 mg/dL.”
“Above that level,” Fogle explains, “your tissues are exposed to glucose at concentrations that cause chemical reactions with your body’s proteins and fats called glycation – this triggers inflammation and oxidative stress (major enemies of longevity).”
“As blood sugar rises,” says Fogle, “your risk of dying also goes up by approximately 40 percent when fasting-glucose levels fall consistently in the rage of 110-124 mg/dL.
“Risk of dying doubles when fasting-glucose levels reach the rate of 126-138 mg/dL,” he explains.
Action Step: take another objective look at the role sugar plays in our current culture. How many opportunities to eat sweet foods and sweet drinks are you presented within a typical day?
Today, I invite you to eat and drink less sweet foods – and fewer foods made from flours – than you might normally.
At the end of the day, check-in with how your body feels and ascertain if having less sweet foods and simple carbs made a positive difference.
Is this article interesting to you in some way? Feel free to share this article with anyone you think would find it valuable.
I encourage you to learn more about controlling blood glucose levels. As always, before you make any significant changes to your daily diet or lifestyle, consult your anti-aging medical doctor, nutritionist, and naturopath.
- Are you intrigued at how you might improve your own body by reducing your intake of refined sugar?
- Do you crave something sweet at nighttime?
In all likelihood, inspiration has been your missing ingredient. You’ll need consistent inspiration in order to take your wellness up to the next level. Let me help:
Additional Sources on Quitting Sugar:
“evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent excessive sugar intake” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907/
“why cortisol the stress hormone is public-enemy #1” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1
“kombucha tea ameliorates experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in mouse model of multiple sclerosis” http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09540105.2015.1036353?journalCode=cfai20&
“so why do I need to be in ketosis?” http://terrywahls.com/so-why-do-i-need-to-be-in-ketosis/
“leaky gut implicated in MS – leaky intestinal lining, increased gut inflammation appears to track with disease progression” http://www.healthline.com/health-news/leaky-gut-implicated-in-multiple-sclerosis-092514
“solve your health issues with a ketogenic diet” http://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com/
“about Terry Wahls and the Wahls Protocol” http://terrywahls.com/about/about-terry-wahls/