In 2011 I set about on a journey to regain my health – a series of dietary experiments. You can read the backstory here. Prior to beginning these trials, I had used an elimination diet to clear up a systemic Candida infection. I was also healing my gut/digestion through the intensive application of probiotics via fermented foods and beverages, and it worked, because cultured food is magical!
In February, I eliminated sugar and wheat.
Ah, sugar. If there’s one thing and one thing only that all the dietitians and all the nutritionists and all the doctors and all the alternative health practitioners can actually agree upon, it’s this: sugar is baaaad!
And since I suspected that my underlying issues stemmed from erratic blood sugar levels, it made sense to make processed sugar my first target. In my case, for this experiment, “sugar” meant: white sugar, cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, sucanat, rapadura, jaggery, etc. It did NOT include: maple syrup, molasses, raw agave syrup (I trust my source), or the natural sugars found in fruit/coconut water/etc.
[I know that agave is a contentious product, but that's another discussion. Please just know that I've done my research and I feel comfortable using agave in moderation. I also know from experience that in MY body, agave doesn't cause an insulin spike the way that other sugars do.]
Concurrently, I cut out all wheat. There is a certain school of nutritional thought (the primal/paleo crowd) that argues against the inclusion of grains, especially wheat, in the human diet. They believe that because wheat is a relatively new food (only ~10,000 years), our bodies have not evolved to properly use and digest the stuff. This was one of those researching “throw-your-hands-in-the-air-everyone-says-something-different-dammit!” moments that I’ve written about, but I have to say the theory really intrigued me.
Mostly, it resonated with me intuitively. I knew my blood sugar stability was, well, unstable. I knew it was related to food but I hadn’t been able to pin down the cause. However, it certainly seemed like on mornings when, say, I had pancakes for breakfast, I would spend the rest of the day struggling with intense “sweets” cravings, eating and eating and never feeling full. Or, if I had a big hunk of bread with dinner, I would go to bed kind of cranky and “down”. Since refined carbohydrate (even “whole grain” products) are converted into “simple sugars” (glucose) in the body, it seemed to make sense that wheat was a possible blood sugar trigger for me.
During February I allowed myself free reign of RAW desserts, without restrictions, to get over the no-sugar hump. Refined sugar is seriously addictive and coming off that shit is HARD! I sweetened my coffee/tea and ate my RAW desserts with abandon, and it worked like a charm. By March I was measuring a more modest amount of agave into my drinks, and dessert was relegated mainly to the weekends.
I found a lot of helpful substitutions for wheat, like gluten-free cornbread, raw crackers or rice crackers, corn chips or rice cakes, corn tortillas and cabbage leaf “wraps”, and tamari soy sauce (standard soy sauce is made with wheat).
Eliminating sugar and wheat definitely improved my overall well-being. My blood sugar was more stable (though not completely so) and my moods dramatically improved. Like, dramatically. I very much believe that cutting out sugar is one of the best things a person can do for their mental health . . . but that’s just my opinion!
It was hard, at the time, to parse out which effects were due to removing sugar and which were the result of the missing wheat. And in fact, I didn’t figure that out until many months later. But we’re not there yet! At the end of February all I knew was that I was feeling better already. And so far, it hadn’t been too hard at all . . .
. . . but of course, March would change all that!