The Sugar Straits

The Effects of False Energy on American Culture

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

I am a healthy person. I work out and eat my veggies, and do all of those things healthy people are supposed to do.

But I also have a pretty tight-knit relationship with sugar.

It hit me one day when I was baking and realized that I had already eaten handfuls of chocolate chips that were supposed to be making their way into my gluten-free cookie dough. Sure, everyone has their sugar crazy moments, but these were more than just “moments” in my case. In addition to the “few chocolate chips” and the “couple of bites” of cake, there were loads of times throughout the day where a simple “taste” of something(s) had added up to something big.

Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten everything I knew about sugar and the havoc it wreaks on the human body. And I found out I wasn’t alone.

“Sugar is an incredibly addictive drug that many of us … are hooked on,” says Jennifer Fugo, the founder of Gluten Free School (, an online education destination for gluten-sensitive individuals, and its Gluten-Free Sugar Cleanse Program. “No matter whether it was introduced at childhood or snuck in under the radar at one stressful point in your life, sugar has its claws in you and doesn’t plan on letting go without putting up a good fight.”

Two weeks ago I decided it was time to put up a fight. I embarked on Fugo’s Gluten-Free Sugar Cleanse and chose to eliminate the surplus of sugar that I was adding to my life. It was rough –– not only was I giving up the obvious sources of sugar, like chocolate, cupcakes, cake and cookies, but I was also looking to improve my consumption of the not so in-your-face sources of sugar like bread, cereals, crackers and even fruit.

Let me say this first: These things are not necessarily bad for you. The key is moderation, and somehow along the way I had forgotten that very important rule.

“Getting the sugar out of your diet involves more than simply passing up the dessert,” writes Anne Louise Gittleman, author of Get the Sugar Out: 501 Simple Ways to Cut Sugar Out of Any Diet. “Sugar is pervasive in our society, not only in obvious forms such as cookies, cakes, and candy, but in just about any other food you can think of. From packaged meats to soups to commercial salt, sugar is in there. It’s even hidden in such nonfood items as vitamin and mineral supplements, aspirin, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and various cosmetics. Cutting down on sugar has to involve a multifaceted approach. It requires developing a “sugar savvy” –– knowing where to watch out for sugar and how to creatively and healthfully live without it.”

In fact, learning how to keep a bird’s eye view on sugar was exactly what I began to do, and I was quickly reminded of the ignorance I had chosen to use in place of what I knew what was good for me. One of my biggest lessons throughout this entire process was realizing just how often all of those “little bites” made their way into my mouth.

It had become a habit. And I found out it was one that more than a few people had a tough time breaking. In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan writes:

“One of the most momentous changes in the American diet since 1909 (when the USDA first began keeping track) has been the increase in the percentage of calories coming from sugars, from 13 percent to 20 percent. Add to that the percentage of calories coming from carbohydrates (roughly 40 percent, or ten servings, nine of which are refined) and Americans are consuming a diet that is at least half sugars in one form or another –– calories providing virtually nothing but energy.”

And Pollan’s not talking about the good kind of energy. Instead, sugar creates a false energy that causes your body to speed –– much like it does when under the influence of a drug –– and to very quickly crash. The worst part? That crash causes your body to want the drug –– sugar –– again, creating an endless cycle.

That cycle, I realized, was the exact root of my problem  –– and it was giving my body a one-two punch.

“Healthy flora are bacteria living in and on you that do what seems like a lot of magic in your digestive system,” says Fugo. “The thing is, it’s always a balancing act of nurturing those good bacteria and keeping the bad bacteria and yeast (aka candida) at bay. The good bacteria are a critical part of our digestive and immune systems. A serious problem arises when you overeat junk food and sugar because you’re literally feeding the bad guys. Your diet helps to dictate a specific environment in your belly that is not friendly to the bacteria you really want there. Thus, the good guys begin to die off, making way for the troublemakers.”

I have spent the last two weeks kicking those nasty troublemakers out of my system and the verdict is this: Will I eat sugar again? Yes. Will I be much more conscious about the amount of sugar I am putting into my body? You bet your sweet behind.

The truth is this: Sugar is found in more things than you and I could ever care to admit. It’s the creeper that lurks in our cupcakes and the stealthy sleuth that hides in the most seemingly healthy of food choices, like fruit. Yes, it’s just fine to enjoy it in moderation. Instead, the problem is when sugar becomes a daily part of our lives, wrapping it’s sweet little arms around our food decisions and wreaking no less terror than an overtired two year old.

Want to give your sugar habit the boot? Check out Fugo’s Gluten-Free Sugar Cleanse. You might also want to consider getting your hands on one or two of these books for a wealth of knowledge about how to live a healthy life in the presence of a sugar-ridden society:

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr
Sugar Shock by Connie Bennett, C.H.H.C.
Get the Sugar Out: 501 Simple Ways to Cut Sugar Out of Any Diet by Anne Louise Gittleman

Dr. Robert Lustig also gave a very interesting lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” that was posted on YouTube in July 2009. In the video, Lustig makes a case for why sugar is “toxic” and runs through a host of interesting facts about the American culture’s addiction to sugar.

As for me, I am definitely on a better track. During the cleanse, I learned so much about how my consumption of sugar can be curbed by the mere acknowledgement that I am leaning on it as a habit rather than something I really need in my life.

Next up? Figuring out how to make gluten and sugar-free Snickers bars. It’s bound to happen, right?

Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the founder of The G-Spot Revolution , a gluten-free, healthy living blog built upon the premise that there is not a one-size-fits-all prescription for total wellness. She is also a freelance writer for several publications, including, and REDBOOK and Breathe magazines. Follow her on Twitter @TheGSpotRev.

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