By: Mau – Northampton, MA
The single most dramatic change I have made in my life in recent years has been the reduction of sugar in my diet. I usually shy away from making gloating statements like that but the benefits I’ve enjoyed from this simple change afford such promotion. I know that my genes may dictate a sugar sensitivity but I bet I couldn’t find many individuals that have never experienced a sugar-low. For much of my life I did NOTHING to moderate my sugar intake. My energy levels and general mood danced around wildly. I had taken it as a fact of life that I could expect to experience several drops in my state of mind and energy level throughout the day, some greater than others. And people around me seemed to be all over the place too so I had no reason to believe that there was something peculiar about my rollercoaster. These ups and downs would limit my ability to focus, they’d curtail my tenderness toward others – make me a bit edgy and rigid, and disturb my attention to whatever activity I had at hand. I found myself in constantly seeking relief from (among other factors) the perpetual insulin shock I would subject myself to on a daily basis.
When we don’t feel well we turn inward so that, ideally, we can fix ourselves internally. This is a good response but if happens too often, we become a little self-absorbed. I would find myself avoiding company, feeling anxious in groups, unwilling to help others, generally lazy, irritable, intolerant, etc. If high sugar intake (among other dietary excesses) is greatly responsible for creating this way of being, the average American diet makes for lotsa antisocialness.
I was able to make this connection between sugar and irritability when my father was diagnosed with diabetes. My father has spent his entire life eating rich, soulful Cuban cuisine and drinking Cuban coffee which more closely resembles syrup – think double shot espresso with 18 heaping tablespoons of refined sugar. I felt compelled to consider my interaction with sugar. Indeed I was not far from my dad’s intake, so I decided to conduct an experiment. I banned refined sugar completely, stopped sweetening my tea, cut out the sweet beverages including iced teas, vitamin water type bevs., even juices (boxed or bottled). I started limiting the amount of times a week I ate out – restaurants loooooove sugar, even in things you wouldn’t expect to have sugar. After a short while I started noticing a steadiness in my temperament that I had no idea I could achieve. I felt good. I didn’t feel euphoric like one does while eating a double fudge brownie but I felt GOOD and, best of all, steady. I found that I had more mental space to pay attention to others and their needs. I had more energy that lasted longer and had less trouble taking on tasks that I knew would require that extended energy.
Why is there so much sugar in food?
I can’t make definitive statements as to why there is so much sugar in the North American, Cuban (let’s just call it the New World) diet, but I can offer some observations and reflections:
• Sugar is a nutritive preservative. In diluted form it is a perfect nutrient for bacteria and other pathogens but at high enough concentrations it’s too much for these microbes. – think of the amazing shelf life of honey (undetermined).
• Subsidies – High Fructose Corn Syrup is a gold-mine for the corn industry. Not only does it render a semi-addictive substance from a subsidized simple grain, but the type of sugar rendered doesn’t trigger the satiety response like regular sugar does. In other words, you can consume a whole lot of it before you feel like you’ve had enough.
• It’s Cheap!!! – Sugar is cheap to produce and it’s a hunger killer. Problems with nutrition are not as visible when no one is complaining about going hungry.