When you think of sugar, what do you think of?
Cream puff pastry? “Carby” meals like a big plate of pasta? A triple mocha latte from your favorite coffee house? Or maybe you think of nothing, because you’ve dropped the chocolate chip cookies and made your peace with bread long ago…
Sugar shows up differently in our diet based on personal preference – but there’s one common denominator: it’s ubiquitous. Even those of us who take a pass on the dinner rolls and skip dessert aren’t able to escape sugar’s steely grasp. It hides in virtually all commercially-made salad dressings, soups, sauces, meatballs, cereals… Anything you didn’t make from scratch (and even those things you did) are suspect.
The list of sugar’s harmful effects is long and ugly. It speeds aging, it’s acidifying, it shuts down our immune system, it’s the primary culprit in weight gain, it puts us in a stress state, and it exacerbates every single disease and health condition we have. And that’s only a partial list…
Sugar is the ultimate “anti-nutrient.” Not only does it NOT provide any nutritional value, it depletes the very nutrients required to regulate our blood sugar handling. Big bummer.
Ultimately, when we talk about sugar, we’re talking about hormones. This might not be an obvious link, so let me explain:
Hormones are the body’s messengers. They tell various organs what to do and when. When it comes to blood sugar handling, the key hormonal players are insulin, glucagon, and cortisol.
Insulin’s job is to take excess glucose (sugar) out of the blood, shuttle it into cells for energy, and store excess for later use. This excess is stored first as glycogen in our muscles and liver, and then as triglycerides (fat). For this reason, insulin is known as our fat storage hormone. The more sugar and starch we eat, the faster our blood sugar rises, the more insulin is needed, the more fat gets stored.
Glucagon has the opposite job of insulin. It’s role is to convert that stored glycogen back into glucose, and bring it into the blood when blood sugar is getting low. Glucagon keeps us going between meals. Unfortunately, this vitally important hormone doesn’t get a lot of press.
Here’s the catch: when our blood sugar levels spike too quickly insulin levels surge, and our blood sugar levels then fall too quickly for glucagon to catch up. This is the classic sugar high and crash that we ALL have experienced. And when this happens, our stress hormone – cortisol – needs to step in.
Cortisol is an adrenal hormone responsible for our body’s fight or flight response. It’s closely related to both insulin (insulin tells the body to store fat; cortisol tells it where to store it) and glucagon (cortisol comes to the rescue when glucagon can’t release sugar back into the blood quickly enough).
But why would a stress hormone be so involved in blood sugar handling? That’s not stress, is it?
One of our body’s topmost priorities is to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Both too much or too little sugar in our blood is an emergency situation. It makes sense for our body’s survival mechanism to kick in when there’s such an emergency.
Here’s the thing about cortisol: big rushes of this stress hormone are designed to help us in true emergency situations – for example, running from a woolly mammoth. In such moments, cortisol (plus the other adrenal hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline) would come rushing in to mobilize large volumes of glucose back into the blood for quick and urgently needed energy which we would use immediately. These instances would typically be rare, and would provide a surge of energy when we need it most.
But when our adrenals fire due to low-blood sugar that was caused by a meal too high in starchy carbohydrates, refined foods, or any other kind of sugar, we’re mobilizing all of this glucose and then not using it. Well, we’re using little bits of it, and ineffectively. You see where this is going…?
In our contemporary world, our adrenal glands are pumping out cortisol like there’s no tomorrow to handle blood sugar lows and many other chronic stressors. We get angry in traffic, our adrenals fire. We get a stressful email from a colleague, our adrenals fire. We have a fight with our spouse, our adrenals fire. Our bodies mount the same physiological response to any of these stressors as they would running from a woolly mammoth.
Not only is this incredibly depleting over time, it compromises everything from our digestion and healing processes to sleep and sexual function.
So how do we unravel ourselves from this dance of hormones, and bring our bodies back into balance?
Eliminate sugar, and all things that convert to sugar quickly in your blood. This doesn’t have to be forever, but doing so temporarily recalibrates your body’s blood sugar handling mechanism and restore equilibrium naturally. You’ll fundamentally change your relationship to sugar, you’ll allow your body to use fat as a fuel source, and you’ll shed weight, get your energy back, and resolve all sorts of chronic health complaints in the process. It’s kind of amazing, really.
If this sounds enticing but you don’t know where to start, you’re in luck! We are currently registering for our spring group Sugar Control Detox. Join a fabulous group of detoxers from all over the world as we break out of sugar’s nasty grip and take back our health, our waistlines, and our dinner plates!
The Sugar Control Detox is a 14-day real-food cleanse that will change your relationship to sugar profoundly and switch your body’s metabolism from being primarily sugar- and starch-dependent to fat-burning. Like a chiropractic adjustment for your blood sugar handling, this detox is the first and most important dietary step you can take to break the vicious sugar cycle. In the process you’ll lose weight, increase your energy levels, and feel better all around. The cleanse uses exclusively real food – no potions, powders, or supplements – and you’ll never go hungry. It’s a deeply nourishing, life-changing 14-days that is the beginning of a long-term real-food lifestyle.
by Margaret Floyd NTP, CGP, CHFS