Everything you eat is primarily made up of three macronutrients, or building blocks: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Today I'm going to focus on what I've learned about carbohydrates, because they make up the bulk of most people's diets and they offer the biggest opportunity for diet improvement.
I will try to not get too technical, because then you will get bored, leave, and not change your life/diet. If you want to get a better understanding, I highly recommend "Live Long Enough to Live Forever" by Ray Kurzweil.
When you eat food your body's goal is to convert it to sugar, which is what cells actually use for energy. So, in a way, everything you eat actually becomes sugar eventually. Some people like to use this as an argument that sugar is good for you, which is dumb. It's the journey, not the destination.
Here's the crux of the problem. Sugar is basically predigested food. Your body is a sugar refining machine, but when sugar comes in, it gets really confused and causes a huge spike in insulin. This triggers your body to store fat (which is why some skinny people who restrict calories are still "soft").
At the same time, sugar also depresses your immune system, screws up your cholesterol, creates an acidic environment, and a host of other things.
Here's a page with 146 reasons sugar is bad for you, with scientific research cited for each.
Here's what I'm trying to get at: sugar is the devil.
There is ZERO nutritional value to sugar. Everything we eat that comes from nature has nutrients. Not sugar.
This doesn't mean that SWEET things are bad for you, by the way. Take oranges or pineapples, for example. Each one is sweet, but they have fiber, which slows digestion way down (and thus doesn't cause an insulin spike), as well as vitamins and minerals.
By the way... white flour and white rice are also essentially just sugar.
The outer hulls which contain all of the nutrients and fiber are stripped away, a process that should have been slowly carried out through your digestive tract, leaving nothing but the starchy and nutritionally devoid inner part.
Virtually every study conducted on the subject has shown conclusively that sugar and other highly refined foods are the LEADING cause of diabetes, cancer, obesity, and a host of other serious problems. Basically everything that "rich", meaning people in developed countries, die from is caused or at least accelerated by sugar and refined foods.
Poor people in poor countries just don't have these problems.
Why the hell do we eat it, then?
We eat sugar because it tastes good. It's a drug for our tastebuds, essentially. This goes beyond analogy - it actually affects our dopamine receptors like real drugs do. That particular effect, by the way, also depresses sugar eaters and causes mood swings.
And we're being hooked on it. Virtually EVERYTHING the average American eats has sugar in it.
That starts with the obvious like doughnuts and candy, but even extends to things like pasta sauce, granola bars (loaded with it), almost all breads in grocery stores, most "health foods", and almost all cereals.
As a side note, almost all health foods are a total scam. Granola bars and energy bars are essentially candy bars. Yogurts are basically ice cream. There is very little difference.
Want to hear something terrifying? The average person now eats more than their BODY WEIGHT in refined sugar every year. And that's not including refined flours which are nutritionally equivalent and at least as common.
This is roughly 10-15 times more than today's senior generation ate when they were young, which means that we haven't even seen the very long term effects of sugar consumption are.
This is no mistake, either. National food manufacturers and chains weren't common things during that generation's heyday. Now these groups have realized that besides the direct correlation between sugar and terrible ailments, there's also a direct correlation with their profits.
Which product do consumers go for? The one with the most sugar, every time.
This "cold war of sugar", where each manufacturer keeps one upping the other, has caused our taste buds to become desensitized as well. When we eat sweet things like fruit or even vegetables, they don't taste sweet to us. This perpetuates the sugar dependency cycle.
To make things worse, the government is in on it. Don't rely on them to keep you healthy. Rely on yourself. There are WAY too many lobbyists for food companies exerting their influence on policy.
Quitting sugar is not terribly easy but it is something everyone can do, especially when they understand why it's so bad for them.
It will take one or two months of not eating sugar to completely quell the cravings. But after that you will find that you rediscover sweetness in other foods. I'll never forget the first time I ate broccoli and tasted the sweetness in it. It was amazing.
Once you're over sugar, it's a non issue. You realize that you are missing nothing at all. It sounds like restriction, but the resensitization of your taste buds means that all the "bland" healthy foods you used to pass by have a world of flavor for you to discover.
This sounds like a bit of hippie propaganda, but it's not. I have experienced this personally, and I used to be a sugar fiend. To give you an example, I would often bake a thing of brownies and eat nothing but them for two days until they ran out.
Now on the very rare occasions that I eat sweet things (like the one cookie I ate at christmas), I always have the same experience.
"I used to love these things. This is going to be fun."
"Hmm.... this is pretty good, but it doesn't taste like I remember it. The taste is so simple and boring... just a blast of sugar."
"Ugh. That was kind of gross. I'm glad I don't have to eat that kind of thing."
That's exactly how I think every time. Then I immediately search out some good food to get real satisfaction.
Sugar has an effect which makes you feel less full than you are, and makes you crave more sugar. That's why diets don't usually work. It's like quitting crack by only smoking one rock a day instead of five. The crack makes you want more crack.
If you go cold turkey and just ride it out for a couple months, your life will be easy. You won't crave it and it will be a non issue.
This Sounds Like a Hassle!
You know what? It is. My life would be far more convenient and easy if I just ate sugar and white flour. Sometimes I fantasize about how great it would be if foods I ate were as readily accessible as junk food.
So I'm not going to lie - it does make your life more complex. People will give you a hard time about it and will make up stupid reasons for why they eat it.
"Everything's good in moderation."
WRONG. If you believe that, take up heroin. Moderately.
Buying groceries becomes an involved process. You have to find new foods to eat. Restaurants become a bit of a chore.
But hey... let's get real for a minute. This is your HEALTH. Your LIFE. Sugar impacts you DAILY, whether you realize it or not.
Think about the challenges you face. How hard is it really to check with waiters and examine food labels. Make the decision NOW, rather than when you're 60, fat, and diagnosed with cancer and high blood pressure.
This is something you can do NOW for YOURSELF that has virtually no downside and can literally save your life.
Continued in Part III, "What's Wrong With Meat?"
Not sure if you check old posts, but I have some questions. Really good series of articles by the way, and quite inspiring.
First of all, the vitamins and minerals that we need through food go towards specific processes in the body. You either have enough, or not enough. Getting 1000mg of vitamin C won't do anything more than 100mg, because your body has all it needs (although some vitamins, like vitamin A, act as pharmaceuticals at high doses). It is important to get all the vitamins and trace minerals that we need - but it's not difficult or complicated to fulfill that, and most people in the West are simply not deficient. So with that in mind, why is there anything especially healthy about focusing on nutrient rich foods?
I agree that many Western diets are sub-optimal because too much of certain food-groups are consumed - especially sugar, meat and 'bad' fats, and a good diet would entail eating far less of those than the average American. I'm not sure optimal health requires you to go quite as far as you describe though. For example, white flour has fewer vitamins/minerals that brown - and it certainly gets digested faster, which can spike insulin. But it does have nutritional value - it gives you energy, and you can plainly survive on it far longer than you could on nothing. And white flour is often consumed with fibre, which, as you describe, slows digestion down, preventing an insulin spike. There are easy ways to eat white flour with no negative side-effects, and, as above, it’s not really at all necessary to eat food jam-packed with vitamins all the time - we all have enough of those anyway.
The fruit in sugar, fructose, in it's extracted form is much worse for you than normal sucrose sugar. The effect on metabolism is fairly similar (sucrose being slightly more extreme), but the body has a very strong gating mechanism for sucrose and sends a signal that it has too much very quickly - people feel sticky and sickly if they eat too much. Fructose doesn't have this, which is why Coke uses it as their main sugar - you can keep drinking Coke all day. A coke has two cream-eggs worth of sugar in, but you hardly notice it. As you say, fruit has fiber in which slows down digestion - but you can also consume white sugar with fiber and that would be chemically very similar to a fruit. I say this for two reasons - I think people should be moderate with fruit also, and not feel the need to give up sugar entirely (although moving to a no sugar diet can help minimize cravings by eventually removing the sugar-pleasure connection in the brain).
I think people who want to eat healthy often idealize
the natural. There really is no set way we’ve ‘evolved to eat’ (actually evolution
doesn’t work like that, evolution means that we can eat as broad a diet as possible
– ancestors who were fatally intolerant to certain foods would have died out. Only
things that relate to individual animals – individual genes! - survival – not optimum health - can affect
evolution). Natural is no longer best – and it’s madness to try and eat as we once
did (where the average life expectancy was around 20 and average height for a
man was under 5 foot). Isn’t a sweetened cranberry almost chemically identical
to a grape?
I agree about meat - it's healthier to eat far less meat, and I think the compassion aspect also necessitates zero meat/products.
Love this article.. mostly about your reactions to eating sugar. I also have this euphoria, "I will enjoy this!" and then realize afterwards that I feel deprived. Also, comparing sugar to cocaine, in my experience, is legitimate. Why would people keep eating it if it has terrible side effects? Because it is a drug. A lot of people will say that it's far less addicting than a drug such as cocaine. I disagree. Smaller doses of sugar that are seeped into everything is far more influential than a big dose of something you tried just one time. Scary picture, btw. He really does look like a fat, aristocratic monarch. I appreciate that you rely on yourself to make these choices. I find that I'm always searching for answers, as I haven't seen my own results yet. It's all because of the sugar. Luckily this world has fruit- yes!
I love this article. Makes it nice and simple for someone who has zero knowledge on unhealthy eating. You basically reiterated all that the book "Skinny Bitch" has to say on refined sugar/flour/"white" carbs. I can especially relate and love what you said under "Sounds like a hassle!" I go through this all time!
I agree with everything you say and I have experienced also, first hand the effects of sugar. I gave up sugar last year for "lent" and so had to change my whole eating program - i thought it would be a "piece of cake" and was I wrong when I realised that I had to now read every packaging label in the grocery store! Everything just about has sugar in and I am so glad that some one agrees with me, because honestly people are blind to it.... I came across your site because I am vegan and doing crossfit and I need a diet plan to maintain energy for workouts! Great Site.
If fruit is ok, is it acceptable to use apple juice concentrate as a substitute? It seems like a loophole, but many recipes need a dash of sugar.
Insteresting to find someone also concentrating on no-sugar-eating (and no white flour/rice/etc) :-). I'm from Germany and also found someone (Dr. Max Otto Bruker) here who taught me not to eat sugar. So in every country, there are some who understand. Lucky you and me :-) Best wishes! Nils
ps: moreover i dont drink too, am vegetarian, and starting pickup atm %-) so if i am a girl, i would be in your 15-25 mating partners ;-) too bad were same-gender lol ^^
This is a really great article. I recently began a no caffeine (personal challenge) for 90 days (I am on day 55). It took until about day 50 to start having energy in the morning without caffeine. Then I decided to do the same thing with sugar (I am on day 6), it is not easy but, I have new determination after reading this article. I am so excited to reach the point where I no longer need either sugar or caffeine. I wonder what that will feel like!
I think my biggest difficulty is going to be white rice.
Its not so much that its a big tasty favorite of mine, but its an edible plate for my favorite foods.
I love Indian food, particularly curries, and the meat I usually choose is not essential, but potatoes or rice to soak up the sauce are my favorite part.
And then there is sushi. I know fish is still not the best choice, but this is my all time favorite food, mostly because I feel great after eating it. Any thoughts?
Ultimately though, I guess I don't eat either food that often anymore...so its quibbling over something I could probably eat anyway (and may not even want to after x days on the diet).
Food is good, but feeling good is better, and I think my health and energy are worth the potential sacrifice.
I've mentioned before that I have become a vegan. It's now had such an impact on my life that I'm going to write a whole post explaining why on earth I'd become a vegan, and why I'll be a vegan for life.
First, I should say that the term "vegan" isn't great. It's usually associated with freakshows who are so against killing animals that they won't wear leather. While I'm not going to frequent cockfights or go hunting, I have no problem with animals being killed. I like leather stuff, and animals dying is part of life with or without humans.
Another problem with the term "vegan" is that many vegans eat an unhealthy diet. They cut out meat, but don't add vegetables in their place, so they tend to eat a lot of refined grains. Doing that is more unhealthy than just eating meat.
I eat pretty well and take pretty good care of myself. But it's taken quite a while to get here - before 2006, I had a pretty standard American diet. Lots of pizza, junk food, fast food, liquor, soda, sweets, etc. I smoked cigarettes, cigars, sheesha, and other kinds of tobacco.
Since then I've refined my diet and I eat pretty well. I have more energy, feel better, look better, and God willing, I'll live a lot longer as a result. It's a gradual process though, and I'm still improving. There's a few things I use to do it:
First, I'm all about incremental improvement - I think trying to crash change your diet is unlikely to work unless you have immense amounts of willpower and self-discipline. If you do have these Herculean amounts of will and discipline, you know who you are and don't need my advice. If you're more mortal, then you'll want to pick one or two things to be refining in your diet at a time.
Second, there's two ways I quit food or habits I don't like - "hard quitting" (cold turkey) and "soft quitting" (gradually reduce my consumption and eventually eliminate it). I pick which of these routes to go based on how convenient it is to quit something outright and if there's any detox process. If there's detox (like there was with nicotine), I think it's better to just get it over with once instead of constantly feeling deprived as your body re-adjusts to its new biochemical levels. The most successful method for quitting smoking is cold turkey, isn't it? Something like 80% of successful attempts to quit smoking are cold turkey? I don't have the statistics onhand, but that's the general idea. Quitting something like sugar, bad oils, or excess salt might be easier to do incrementally, since you need to replace the consumption with something else.
Which brings us to third point - I actively introduce new good behaviors before and during the time I quit something. Now, I don't know if the following is a good strategy, but it's what I did - when I started cutting down the sweets I ate, I increased my consumption of the kinds of salty foods I already ate: Chips, french fries, nuts, etc. Later I cut the salt content back. I don't know if that's a good habit, but it's worked okay for me. I also try to actively introduce fruits and vegetables before I quit something - it's hard to go from no fiber food that's highly processed to stimulate you immediately to fruits and vegetables. Fruit tastes bland compared to ice cream. So I introduce fruits and vegetables first, get comfortable with them, then increase my consumption of them as I decrease or eliminate bad consumption.