The Necessary Evils: Sugar, Salt and Fat

From the three part series,  “The Necessary Evils: Sugar, Salt and Fat”

PART I: SUGAR

BREAK THE CYCLE OF ADDICTION

When I was a child, it was common in my family to eat doughnuts for breakfast, to drink soda like it was water and to add sugar to foods that didn’t necessarily need it. By the age of 12, I was at an unhealthy weight, depressed, anxious, and emotional. My father, quite innocently, indulged my sweet tooth, and did not recognize the unfortunate consequences of a diet high in sugar, nor the very real connection between poor mental, physical and emotional health and blood sugar that was out of control. The type of sugar that I ate most frequently was high in quantity and poor in quality: refined white sugar and corn syrup.

More and more connections have been established between obesity and excess consumption of sugar, specifically corn syrup, which is often an ingredient found in the least expensive and the most processed foods. A good rule of thumb is, if you can buy the item on the shelf at your neighborhood convenience store, it’s better left there than in your stomach.

As obesity and diabetes inch closer to near epidemic status in the United States, there is more public concern and demand for information about these critical issues and what can be done to avoid them. Unfortunately, most people consume more sugar than their body’s need or can ever use.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT, READ THE LABEL

If you want to start reducing the amount of sugar that you consume and you do not know where to start, start at the beginning and eliminate the unhealthiest forms of sugar first: refined white sugar and corn syrup.

Corn syrup is in many items that you may not be aware of: canned soups, ketchup, peanut butter, jam, jelly, soda, boxed sweets, and many sauces. When a nutritional label indicates that there are 40 grams of sugar in a product, as is the case with a 12-ounce can of Coke, it actually means that you are drinking something with 10 teaspoons of sugar in it. If you were going to add sugar to 6 ounces of plain yogurt, you probably wouldn’t add over 6 teaspoons of sugar, which is the amount of sugar that is in a 6-ounce container of strawberry flavored Yoplait yogurt. Even a 12-ounce glass of 100% orange juice has 8 teaspoons of sugar.

It is crucial to educate yourself about sugar by reading nutritional labels, and remember that 4 grams equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. If sugar is one of the first five ingredients on a label the food is high in sugar. Recognize how much sugar you consume and sleuth out the obvious and the not-so-obvious sources of sugar. I am often surprised by some “health foods” that have a lot of sugar. Some items that come to mind are granola, cereal bars, yogurt, and even peanut butter. These items might be using a better form of sugar: such as cane sugar, maple syrup, honey, or fruit juice but it is still sugar and it has virtually the same impact on your blood sugar level.

REDUCE AND REPLACE

Replace refined sugar with something that is natural such as raw honey, 100% maple syrup or molasses. Use unrefined cane sugar in moderation, such as with special occasion baking.

Select juices, jams, or jellies that use 100% fruit and use them sparingly.

Consume whole fruit. It has less impact on your blood sugar than juice or processed sweets.

Add water to the fruit juice you do consume.

Share dessert instead of having your own.

Although I believe that it’s ok to have the occasional treat, it’s a good idea to define what moderation is. If you take small steps to replace refined sugar and reduce the amount of sugar you consume overall, you will eventually crave sugar less and break the cycle of sugar addiction. Soon, foods that are naturally sweet will satisfy the occasion craving for sugar. As you consume less sugar, you will have more energy and vitality then ever before.

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Why you should question reduced-fat foods

This is a thoughtful question from one of our readers. I encourage more questions of this nature because it stimulates an open dialogue as we discuss nutrition and how to make healthy consumer choices regarding food.

Question from reader:

I have a question about this post (regarding my suggestion to use full-fat dairy products), but I’m pretty sure I know how you’d answer. A lot of times Americans focus on healthful eating so they can lose weight. So eliminating reduced-fat foods seems counterproductive. But my understanding is that since reduced-fat foods are less nutrient-dense, they’re less effective in weight loss than a plate full of more natural foods would be. Is this correct?

Response from Traci Goodrich, NTP: 

This is an important question. I would say that reduced-fat foods are less effective in weight loss because they are harder for your body to digest, often have more sugar, and are often less satisfying than the full-fat counterpart. My criticism of reduced-fat foods, specifically reduced-fat dairy products, is your body actually needs the fat that has been eliminated in order to digest, absorb, and assimilate the fat-soluble vitamins contained in these foods. In my opinion, it is counterintuitive to view reduced-fat dairy as “health food” because the fat that has been eliminated makes it much more difficult for your body to digest and benefit from the nutrients contained in these foods. I would suggest not eating dairy at all, if it is reduced-fat. I think that it is more healthful to eat full-fat dairy products, but to also recognize what a portion is (1 cup of milk, a few ounces of cheese, 1 cup of yogurt), which takes some knowledge and a little restraint. There is also a plethora of foods that are naturally low in fat to choose from! If you are someone who has fully transitioned to a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet you will end up eating less, because you will be satiated after you eat. There is an appropriate ratio of fat, protein and carbohydrates (mostly from vegetables, grains in moderation) at each meal so that you walk away feeling satisfied and not hungry after a few hours. If you continue to gain weight after you’ve transitioned to a whole foods diet, I would look towards correcting your digestion by adding more culture foods and fermented foods that help to stimulate the digestive enzymes in your gut. 

A criticism I have of reduced-fat dry foods, such as granola bars and cereals, is that they are hard to digest and often loaded with sugar! With diabetes at epidemic proportions in this country, I would look towards reducing sugar as much as possible, and even being moderate with sugar in its whole form as with fruit and whole grains. 



 

I hope this response helps!

Real Food, Whole Food, Nutrient-Dense Food

Real food, whole food, and nutrient-dense food is best. This should be your mantra as you transition to eating to live. Pay special attention to how your body responds to food. Ask yourself: Are you still eating, but you are actually full? Are you actually eating 1 portion or 3? Do you have an appropriate balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrates at each meal? Are you satisfied after you eat? Do you snack mindlessly throughout the day? The following is a list of a few simple meal suggestions. There are billions of recipes out there, so I encourage you to experiment with what you like and eliminate what you don’t. 

Breakfast 

Two eggs in real butter, add a dollop of sour cream, salsa or sauerkraut, add two pieces of nitrate free bacon
Full-fat yogurt (unsweetened) with fresh fruit,  and some nuts and/or seeds
Oatmeal with butter or nut butter, a touch of maple syrup, raisins and nuts
Fruit Smoothie: blend yogurt, coconut milk, berries, a small amount of maple syrup and possibly a few raw, organic eggs (for the adventurous)

Lunch

Rich vegetable and meat sauce with pasta or rice (olive oil, tomato paste, whole tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, onion, garlic and whatever vegetables and meat you prefer)
Salad greens with a variety of raw vegetables and a salad dressing, add tuna, chicken, turkey or egg salad
Soups and stews: Lentil, chicken with rice, black bean, cream of broccoli, beef stew (the sky is the limit with this)
Quiche: a standard whole grain crust made with eggs, half n’ half, spices and whatever filling you desire, add a salad
Simple crudités in addition to whole grain crackers, salmon cream cheese or sardine in olive oil or mustard

Dinner

Coconut milk curries with fresh vegetables and/or meat served over brown rice
Stir-fry, grilled meat, seafood or vegetables serve over a green salad
Simple Mexican food: salad, beans, rice, salsa, sirloin, and raw cheese
Simple Mediterranean food: hummus, tabouleh, felafel or juicy lamb

 

 

 

 

Healthful Tips To Stay On Track With Nutrition

Eat until satiated, without over eating or under eating. Try to eat three square meals a day and limit snacking. The digestive track needs a chance to rest between meals!

As a general guide, each meal should be comprised of about 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrate (the carbohydrates should be mostly vegetables with no more than 10% of grain).

Try not to revolve meals around bread products. Instead, use grain as an accent to a meal and in moderation.

Keep a food journal. It’s a great way for you to understand your patterns around food and how food really makes you feel.

Start the day with a pint glass of water with lemon or a teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar.

Do not skip meals!

Try your hand at making a rich beef or chicken stock, salad dressings or fermented foods.

Do the best you can! Creating new and healthful habits takes time, so, start slowly, make changes you can live with, and add things you enjoy eating. Eat your food slowly, in a relaxed environment, surrounded by friends or family, and chew your food thoroughly.

 

The Foundation of Nutritional Wellness

Drink 8 to 10 glasses of pure water throughout the day (add some electrolytes in the afternoon—a pinch of Celtic sea salt in water is sufficient).

Have a substantial protein and a healthy fat at each meal. Two or three ounces of protein with each meal (5 to 7 ounces a day),  is a good place to start, some people need more protein and fat because of activity or energy level. Have at least a tablespoon of healthy fat with each meal (real butter, coconut oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, safflower oil, or lard). Many people need more fat, especially vegetarians.

Have fruit in moderation. Two to three pieces a day is sufficient, look for low to moderate glycemic fruit such as berries, apples, or grapes. Avoid fruit juices and jellies.

Consume more vegetables daily, in a variety of colors. Sage advice is to shoot for 5 a day, but limit your intake of starchy vegetables (less potato, carrot, and corn, add more green leafy vegetables, beets, broccoli). These should be raw or lightly steamed.

Have low-toxicity, wild-caught seafood 3 times a week. Do your research on what is considered safe. At this point: sardines, oysters, tuna in moderation, salmon, cod, herring, mackerel, shrimp, and crab are all good choices, as well as others (If you do not eat seafood, you must find another source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts and seeds are good choices).

Choose meat that is hormone-free and organic whenever possible.

It is generally wise not to revolve meals around a grain. Consumption of grain should be no more than 10 % of your meal. If you happen to have a big starchy meal such as pasta for dinner, do not add a grain to your other meals.

Add more nuts and seeds: sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, almonds, pecans, walnuts, or peanuts. Add them to salads, smoothies, and yogurt or eat alone.

Have a salad daily.

Add some cultured and fermented foods to each meal to aid in digestion.

Have calcium-rich foods with each meal (This is not limited to dairy products. Think about chicken broth, or broccoli, as well as many other calcium rich foods).

Limit consumption of caffeine to no more than 16 ounces daily.

Avoid energy bars, protein bars, cereal bars, and granola bars. They are often full of sugar and/or soy protein, and not what the body really needs for energy.

If you are not vegetarian, experiment with adding organ meats to your diet once a week.

 

Out With The Old, In With The New

Clean out the cupboard

Replace corn syrup, white sugar, or any refined sweetener with something real such as maple syrup, raw honey, or molasses.

Replace MSG with something natural.  Look for foods that contain real herbs and spices or Celtic sea salt.

Replace refined white salt with grey, Celtic sea salt.

Replace store bought granola bar, cereal bars, crackers and most boxed cereal with nutritious snacks such as dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and nut butters (to name a few). A few good store bought cracker brands are Ryvita and Mary’s Gone Crackers. A note on store purchased granola bars and cereals: these foods, even if they are presented as healthy snacks, are often loaded with sugar (even if it is fruit juice sweetened).

Replace refined white bread products with whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, spelt, buckwheat, and whole wheat (in moderation).

Replace unhealthy oils with coconut oil, safflower oil, extra virgin olive oil (remember to heat at low temperatures only), and flaxseed oil (not meant to be heated).

Clean out the refridgerator

Replace low-fat dairy products with whole milk dairy products and be sure to include cultured dairy. Include yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, real cream (or half n’ half), real butter, and raw cheese. Use whole milk in moderation.

Replace sugary yogurt with plain whole yogurt and add fruit or a small amount of maple syrup or honey if you want to sweeten it (it will cut the amount of sugar in half).

Replace fake butter, margarine and soy spreads with real butter (or even lard, yes, lard).

Replace soymilk, bricks of tofu, fake meats and fake cheeses  (which are heavily processed) with properly prepared, fermented soy condiments such as tamari, miso or raw, naturally fermented soy sauce. Properly prepared soy may be eaten in moderation (1 or 2 times a week). A note to vegetarians: if soy has been used heavily in the diet, I recommend replacing soy products with a substantial protein and a healthy fat at each meal: add more nuts, seeds, legumes, cream cheese, coconut milk, nut butters, real butter, olives, avocado, as well as other vegetables to whole grain crackers, whole grain pita wedges or brown rice.

Replace processed cheese, cheese slices, and “cheese spreads” with raw cheese and cream cheese.

Replace sugary sodas and fruit juices with sparkling mineral water, or a fermented beverage such as kombucha, or “sweeten” drinking water with a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange. Remember that a full glass of orange juice has as much sugar as a can of Coke (when it comes to the chemical processes of the body sugar is sugar, no matter how nutritious the food is or what the sugar is called).

Replace sugary pickles and vinegar based sauerkraut with real, healthful fermented products (Bubbie’s is a good brand). It is generally a good habit to include a fermented food at each meal (this might be a teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar in water before the beginning of a meal).

 

Great Beginnings Always Start With Leaving Something Behind

A great place to begin is to clean out your cupboard and your refrigerator. I recommend clients greatly reduce (and eventually eliminate) the amount of processed foods they eat. I understand that we live in a busy world, but if you have 20 minutes to make dinner, you can just as easily sear a tuna steak (which takes less than 10 minutes) and assemble a basic salad with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon for dressing, instead of making a box of “the San Francisco treat”.

If you are that person that cooks from a box, rest assured that you are not alone. This is a transition that will take time. I recommend that you start by reading labels. Make sure you know what every ingredient is on the box, and if the ingredient is not a whole food, or a word you do not recognize, do not purchase the box (this is trickier than you may think).

A good rule of thumb is to not buy foods that contain high fructose corn syrup or MSG (also known as “natural flavor”, “hydrolyzed protein” and “spices”). This actually eliminates a considerable amount of unhealthful foods right off the bat.

To go a step further, stop purchasing items that are highly processed, such as white sugar, white flour and white salt. These foods are actually void of nutritional value.

It is also wise to get rid of unhealthy oils such as soybean oil, Crisco, Pam cooking spray and Canola.

There are many items that exist in the refrigerated that are considered healthful but need to be replaced with a counter part that is whole and nutrient-dense. First, I recommend phasing out “low-fat” dairy products. This makes sense if you want the food you consume to be nutrient dense.

Store bought salad dressings are often unhealthful because of the type of oil that is used, as well as the amount of sugar that is often added! Also, store bought salad dressings have often been sitting on the shelf for too long and have rancid oils. A simple dressing takes less than 10 minutes to prepare if you have olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a few spices on hand; it’s also a lot tastier and less expensive.

Tofu has been in vogue for some time, but I recommend eliminating bricks of tofu, fake meats and fake cheeses from your refrigerator. These foods are highly processed and hard to digest.