by guest blogger Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrative medicine pioneer
The sugar wars are on, and the truth is becoming more bitter and less sweet. Studies continue to show that refined sugars and carbohydrates (such as white bread) are more damaging to health than perhaps any other “food.” I say “food” because rather than having any nutritional value, these substances seem to act like powerful drugs. They trigger a chain of harmful reactions in the body, alter cell function, fuel inflammation and wreak havoc over time with their extreme effects. Nevertheless, when we’re face to face with a delicious pie or box of chocolates, this information just doesn’t seem to stick, so to speak.
We reason with ourselves, “It’s only one piece…It’s the holidays…I just want some comfort food…” But, like so many drugs, one thing can lead to another. Before we know it, our self-control is gone, replaced by extra pounds and a lackluster feeling—physically, mentally, and emotionally.
But here’s the good news: You can actually have your cake and eat it too! A balanced diet, the right nutrients, and other healthy habits outlined below can prevent and even reverse the damages from over consumption of refined sugars and carbs.
And if you’re looking to kick your sugar habit for good, these solutions will boost your efforts, curb cravings, and can help you lose extra weight.
First, however, it’s important to remember that we do need carbohydrates for energy, brain function, and other processes. Healthier sugars are easily obtained by eating fruits, many vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and other foods with naturally occurring sugars. Sweet tastes and complex sugars are part of our evolutionary palate—in balanced amounts. Refined sugars and over-processed simple carbohydrates are not.
There’s no reason to feel guilty if you indulge, as long as you follow some healthy guidelines to balance out the effects.
Here are three ways to beat sugar cravings:
1) Balance sugars with fiber and protein: Mix sugars with protein and fiber to slow down their absorption, thus preventing or minimizing a glucose/insulin spike. In particular, high levels of fibers will slow down the absorption of sugars.
2) Eat probiotics. Beneficial bacteria, and the cultured foods which contain them, such as sauerkraut and yogurt, help the body process sugars in a healthy way, and can even help to ferment them for better nutritional value. Essentially, fermented foods and probiotics help pre-digest the sugars into more beneficial nutrients. The probiotics will use the sugars and consume it for their own energy, so the sugar becomes a food for the healthy bacteria to populate the gut. If you eat too much sugar, probiotics such as sauerkraut and other fermented foods can counteract the effects. Plus, according to Chinese medicine, the sour taste controls sweet cravings.
3) Supplement with herbs. A number of herbs and nutrients can help balance blood glucose, decrease insulin resistance, aid the metabolism of sugars and fats, help curb cravings, and more: chromium polynicotinate, alpha lipoic acid, L-taurine, cinnamon, holy basil leaf, gymnema leaf, fenugreek seed, astragalus, medicinal mushrooms.
It only takes a few days for your body to adjust to new habits—so do your best to incorporate more nutritious whole foods, stay hydrated, and avoid ingredients you can’t pronounce. Gentle exercises such as brisk walking and yoga are also excellent for helping to balance blood glucose, improve metabolism of sugars and fats, reduce inflammation, support cardiovascular health, and more.
These are just a few steps you can take this holiday season to protect your health, stay energized, and avoid colds and flus. By limiting refined sugars and taking the right steps to protect your metabolic health, you are giving yourself the advantage that can make your holiday indulgences truly guilt-free.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrates Western medicine with his extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, Dr. Eliaz has a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more information about his work, visit dreliaz.org.