I’ve quit sugar…
…and I’ve unquit sugar. If you are confused about carbs, let me tell you: you’re not alone.
Here’s my condensed sugar story: When I first began a healing grain-free diet called the GAPS diet, my ulcerative colitis symptoms disappeared. With the best – albeit uninformed – intentions, I jumped on the “anti-candida diet” bandwagon. That meant I stopped eating fruit and GAPS sweeteners, stripping out nearly all carbohydrate from my diet.
I stuck it out for two weeks, but things quickly slid downhill. I felt like a rock: I was so fatigued that a walk around the block left me exhausted. I was an emotional wreck and I literally couldn’t handle spilled milk. And then there were the dizzy spells. Every time I stood up or tried to walk up the stairs, my I became extremely dizzy and my vision blurred. Now I know this is because my carb restriction had stressed my adrenals, and the adrenals prevent dizziness upon standing.
When I cut out carbs, I didn’t take into consideration these crucial factors:
- I’m a woman, and very low carb diet can be problematic for women’s hormones
- I needed nutrients, including carbohydrates, to repair my body. I was underweight due to my illness and needed to gain solid weight and muscle.
- I was going into a ketogenic state by accident. I consider ketogenic diets an extreme therapeutic diet. It’s a drastic metabolic shift in your body that carries both risks, and also potential therapeutic results. But don’t do ketosis on accident.
- Healing candida isn’t a matter of eliminating all sugar. It’s a matter of addressing the root problems, including leaky gut and a slow metabolism.
Next, I fell head-over-heels for the charismatic writing of metabolic approach authors, such as Matt Stone. His philosophy suggests that consuming plenty of carbohydrates boosts the metabolism, which is true to some degree. So I ate all the grain-free carbohydrates. I had swung the pendulum from no carbs to too many carbs. I felt good, but that *may* have been due to the sugar high.
Lastly, I finally landed somewhere in the middle with the help of functional medicine practitioners. Through reading my symptoms, regular bloodwork, and using a glucometer, we discovered that I had chronically elevated blood sugar. Now, I use both of these tools on a regular basis to ensure that my carb intake is optimal.
Use biofeedback to determine carb intake
To find your own carb balance, I suggest observing your body’s symptoms… in fancier language, this is called monitoring your body’s biofeedback.
What are some indicators that you may be consuming too much carbs?
- Using concentrated sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc) on a daily basis
- High fasting blood sugar in the morning (a glucometer readers over 100)
- Craving something sweet or starchy with each meal
- Feeling tired after meals
- Not feeling hungry in the morning
- Slow wound healing and tissue regeneration (indicates insulin resistance)
What are some symptoms that indicate you may not be eating enough carbs?
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed upon standing quickly
- Feeling chronically chilled
- Having very cold fingers and toes
- Too much weight loss
Of course, the above symptoms may be difficult to read, or could indicate other health issues. So I suggest monitoring your symptoms along with the steps below.
How to eat sugar
Balance carbohydrate intake with fat and protein. Quality fats slows down the absorption of glucose into the blood stream, providing satiation and satisfaction. Protein helps pull sugar into the cells so your body can use it for energy. So enjoy your baked sweet potato with a dollop of ghee and alongside a portion of meat.
For a more detailed explanation of blood sugar, glucose, insulin, hypoglycemia and all that jazz, read my post 10 Ways to Balance Blood Sugar Naturally.
Use a glucometer to tweak your carb intake. Symptoms such as cravings, irritability, lethargy, and hyperactivity give insight into our blood sugar. But we are removed from the meaning and subtlety of these symptoms, which is why I recommend a glucometer to measuring your blood sugar. I suggest taking your fasting glucose (upon waking, before breakfast) at least a few times per week.
For information on the best glucometer and optimal glucose numbers, I used Chris Kresser’s article here and highly recommend it.
If your blood sugar is too high, it usually indicates excessive carb consumption for your physiology, or not eating enough fat with carbs.
Use unrefined sweeteners. That sounds simple, but did you know options marketed as “natural” are actually highly refined? For example, agave syrup.
Choose sweeteners that have stood the test of time: fresh fruit, raw honey, maple syrup, jaggery, and coconut sugar.
Choose fresh fruits over fruit juice and dried fruits. Fresh fruit is a living food, containing a synergistic combination of enzymes, vitamins, soluble fiber and minerals. Fruit juice and dried fruit is concentrated sugar and doesn’t provide the satiating properties of whole fruits. For example, you can easily gulp a glass of apple juice in five minutes, which contains the sugar equivalent of five apples!
Avoid artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. The human body has evolved for millennia to correlate a sweet taste with calorie-density. So it makes sense that animal research suggests how calorie-free sweeteners, including artificial sweeteners and even stevia, confuse the body.
Further, artificial sweeteners like aspartame are potentially carcinogenic. Sugar alcohols, while not shown to be harmful, are notorious for causing digestive distress including gas and bloating. Again, these calorie-free sweeteners are not natural to the body.
Make peace with carbs. Sugar is an emotional trigger for many… it was for me. I approached it with fear and confusion, because it made me feel good and bad and satisfied and unsatisfied. It took a mental overhaul to remove my stress around sugar, which I discuss in my post 5 Ways I Made Peace with Food.
Remember, stress turns digestion off. We need to be in the relaxed parasympathetic mode to produce stomach acid and digestive enzymes. If we are stressed about carbs, we can’t digest the carbs.
Don’t fear fructose in real food. The recent concern about fructose led many to believe that fruits and honey, both sources of fructose, contribute to fatty liver disease and obesity. While isolated fructose – including high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar – should be avoided, there is absolutely no research that shows fresh fruit or raw honey consumption contributes to obesity or fatty liver disease. As a matter of fact, fresh fruit consumption (read: not fruit juices or jarred/canned/processed fruits) boast health-protective properties, including reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and age of mortality (1, 2).
Do you have a rocky relationship with sugar? Have you tried quitting sugar before?
Thank you so much for this post!
I’ve been on GAPS intro for 4 weeks, every day feeling worse. Before that I was very strict paleo for about 18 months, and no starch, no sugar of any kind for the last two months.
I started GAPS intro to resolve some upper stomach bloating and chronic constipation issues. Since I’ve been sugar free for about 2 months due to suspicion of sibo, I ignored the suggestions of honey and limited my starchy vegetables. to the equivalent of about 1 carrot a day.
When the die-off symptoms of brain fog dissipated on week 2 of intro I was left with fatigue and constant nausea and a feeling of being totally malnourished. I tried ox bile (thinking the cause of my nausea might be fat malabsorption), pepsin and betaine with meals (protein malabsorption?) , more probiotic rich foods with no noticeable difference. I was ready to quit the GAPS intro. A half-pound of ginger a week is a little excessive.
Three days ago I “cheated” for the first time since I went paleo two years ago and had a couple bites of cheesy potato french fries. My nausea cleared up within an hour and has not returned. Sensing that carbs might have helped my body, I’ve been beginning to mix about a 1/4 teaspoon of neem honey with coconut oil or ghee. The difference is amazing. I feel like a human being again!
Researching this I came across your excellent article above. I’ve ordered a blood glucose kit to make sure I don’t get too crazy with the neem honey : ) and am going to up my veggie carb intake. I probably won’t have cheesy fries again for a long time but i’m happy they gave me a wake up call.
My naturapath put me on a diet for candida and does not rule out sugar entirely. I am allowed berries and one piece of fruit a day. I am also allowed a small portion of sweet vegetables like yams, carrots, etc. a day. Also allowed some carbs but not too many. She does not rule out these as our body needs some. Instead she keeps us on this diet for 1 1/2 year, takes longer but works. My boyfriend had it years ago and he went on the same diet for 3 years and got rid of it. I find this approach much better as it does not rule sugar entirely. It took about 9 months for me to get better but I feel great, best I’ve felt in my life. I cut out only junk sugar things, I make my own desserts with coconut sugar or stevia and non-gluten flour. But only once in a while. She does not allow me to have honey or maple syrup as she said they contain yeast.
i have a similar story quitting/unquitting carbs and especially sugar. upon your suggestion i quit stevia recently after using it almost daily and i feel MUCH better. i eat lots of natural sugar in yams and squash and a bit in form of fruit. i’m not doing too badly but i still have much to improve in eating carbs, because i can never seem to eat enough on days i work out, because i have LESS appetite than usual.
Thank you for sharing Lauren! I would like to hear more of your thoughts on the keto diet as it has been so emphasized lately in the health sphere for optimal health. I have been on the keto spectrum for a while to try and treat gut dysbiosis, SIBO, auto-immune but have low thyroid and adrenal issues. I have lost way too much weight and still feel horrible with lots of inflammation (which keto is supposed to help?!). Can you speak more about keto and it isn’t working are you just not doing it right or long enough? Thanks again!
I hear you. Losing weight and still feeling terrible. Not fun. I wondered the same things when i tried certain diets to “feel better”. Have you had food allergy tests? Perhaps you are reacting to certain foods that could cause malaise. Also, I think it is worth noting highly specific diets are not for everyone. Some people need more carbs or grains to function while others need less. Second opinions for diagnoses are usually helpful too. Check in with another doctor about your health issues. They may be able to offer different insight or treatment protocols.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. You are a beautiful Soul, who is willing to educate others without expecting anything in return. All we search in life is how to successfully live it.
Food is a big Part of it. Totally agree. So is mind. My understanding is that you already know this. for the sake of those who read your blog I will explain a bit more. with practising loving kindness to everyone in the world,not only those who’s around you, you become a very happy person, in tern will make you a better, healthy person. Since mind play a big role in your health. Its equally important that your mind is healthy (stress free), if possible listen to talks by AJahn Brahm. Google his name. He made me realise the meaning of life. And how to handle challenges in life. I am not advertising anything here, just happy to let everyone know what I know. Ones again thank you!!!!
Hi I have candida. I began eating Keto about 2 months ago and no sugar or fruits. I did ok. Now I am having severe leg cramps and leg pain. Should I introduce some fruits and carbs back into my diet ? Thank u for anyone’s help..
Michelle, the cramping is usually due to the electrolyte imbalance that keto can induce. Please see this post for supplemental suggestions: http://empoweredsustenance.com/ketogenic-diet-troubleshooting/
Hi Lauren. I am just referring back to this post for encouragement and support. I followed the candida diet for two months awhile back. I noticed few improvements. In fact, there were more negative side-effects than were benefits. Since I am already severely limited in what I can eat without IgG or IgE reactions, cutting out an entire food group (fruit) was debilitating. Today, I had a consultation with an integrative doctor who highly recommended I cut out fruit. I advocated that it was not for me for the reasons I have explained above and that I only eat 1-2 fruits per day anyway. I know what works best for the body I live in, so I don’t believe I will be following his advice. Thank you for an informative, encouraging and as always empowering post. I would greatly appreciate any support or feedback from you Lauren or anyone in the comments.
I used to have Candida. I cut out added sugars but the other stuff that is part of the “Candida diet” never made sense to me, nor made any difference in my symptoms if I tried them. Fruit made me feel great; I ate tons of fruit all throughout my Candida recovery. Whole fresh fruit, some but not a lot of juice or dried fruit. starchy vegetables and whole grains were also completely ok. Too much refined starch was a bit of a problem. Any “natural” sugar caused symptoms just as much as refined sugar so I avoided all added sugars: white, brown, coconut, syrups, honey. Stevia didn’t bother my symptoms but I hate the taste so I didn’t eat it. Sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners didn’t bother my symptoms at all either and I used sugar alcohols as my main sweetener (but I didn’t use it every day). Sugar alcohols cause gas in some people but it’s unrelated to Candida. My mom gets gas from them and she doesn’t have Candida. I never got gas from them and I had Candida. A simple added-sugar-free diet, along with probiotics and garlic supplements cured my Candida after several years.
Hi,what kind of probiotics you used?
I think there may be people suffering from candida but not leaky gut, and for them, the idea to cut out all grains but allow fruit and natural sugars, doesn’t make sense at all. Candida thrives on fructose and glucose. Why feed it? I found I have to stay away from fructose and higher levels of glucose… I get major flareups when I eat high-glucose veggies (root veggies) and fruit. But I’m ok with quinoa and buckwheat. And if we cut out all grains as well as all high-glucose veggies and fruit, we’ll go into ketosis, which is not something to play around with. I found this out personally and became dangerously underweight, weak, etc. I was off all grains as well as high-glucose veggies and fruit for 2 months, and it was a terrible experience. I had to go back on some gluten-free grains, to keep from starving. Your recommendations here might work for some people, but not for others… certainly not for me.
I don’t know if you will publish this comment or not. I hope you do. But you say in your article that you tried a low carbohydrate diet for…two weeks. Two weeks? Then you wrote an article on why sugar is good for you. I respectfully suggest that this is neither scientifically convincing, nor responsible. I’ve been on a Ketogenic eating plan (which is high fat/low carb/zero sugar) for well over a year now. I have had Crohn’s disease since 1998, and I am in full remission on this Ketogenic lifestyle, not to mention my overall fitness and energy levels have increased. I know people who’ve been doing Keto for more than 3 or 4 years on the Ketogenic facebook forum. What you describe after a mere 2 weeks of no sugar is what we call the ‘Keto Flu’ and it happens to people who do not consume enough electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, and especially sodium). It can “easily” be avoided by making sure you hit the electrolyte targets.
Your readers should at least understand that there is NO such thing as essential carbohydrates for humans…none. Ask a biochemist, or look it up. There are, however, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids. They are essential because they are required for metabolic function, yet they must be ingested as they cannot be created within the body. Your body, however, CAN create it’s own carbohydrates through a process called gluconeogenesis (the creation of glucose from amino acids and other metabolic compounds). However your body won’t require much, if any, glucose if you are on a ketogenic lifestyle and burning ketones as fuel for your cells (including brain cells by the way). There are entire populations of humans who have lived traditional ketogenic lifestyles consuming only protein and fat (think the Inuit).
In short, what you’re describing in the first part of your ariticle is an addiction to sugar for which you’ve put together your own justification. If you eat sugar in ‘very moderate’ amounts it probably won’t cause major issues, but others reading this may not understand the true meaning of moderation and could consume honey/sugar so often that it continuously spikes their insulin levels, leading to insulin resistance and all the associated metabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke among others.
Ketogenic lifestlye is not something to be dismissed so easily, the consumption of healthy fats to produce ketones for fuel instead of glucose has no negative side effects, and maintains a very low but stable insulin level which helps to eliminate insulin resistant metabolic diseases. I encourage you and your readers to do a bit more research on this. You admit you’ve flip/flopped before on the sugar issue, so I can tell you are open-minded. Good luck with the ulcerative colitis, I know exactly what it’s like to have a chronic bowel disease, but it can be beaten!
I’m so glad to hear that keto got you into full remission! I have tried the ketogenic diet, for three months, and shared my experience with that here: http://empoweredsustenance.com/ketogenic-diet-review/