Healthy Eating
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Sugar and insulin resistance

Hi - have been reading with interest the latest theories and research on the effect of sugar and insulin resistance. I'm overweight and eat far, far too much sugar. I'm wondering if anyone here has come across any guidelines as to how much sugar would be acceptable in a diet seeking to improve insulin resistance. I'm not ready to go 'cold turkey' but would like to reduce the sugar in my diet to a healthy (and for me - a realistically achievable) level. Do such guidelines exist - is there an 'acceptable range' for 'healthy' sugar consumption? Perhaps x number of grams per day?

I love this forum - I've read it daily for months - though I think this might be my first post. There seems to be such a wealth of knowledgeable and helpful contributors - I'm hoping to learn from those more informed than me about the numbers I should be aiming for - with thanks in anticipation 😊 Rachel

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Hi Rachel,

You might find this report interesting as a starter - although it's a little old (2014) - and I feel sure there will be more up to date things out there:

nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/w...

Hope it's helpful as a starting point, and I'm sure others will respond.

Glad you're enjoying the Healthy eating forum - I love it too. Glad you made your first post! :-) Hope to see more from you.

Hope you're having a great week so far.

Zest :-)

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Thank you so much Zest for such a welcoming and helpful reply - much appreciated!

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This NHS has some suggestions on reducing sugar.

nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/h...

This site has some useful information too.

healthline.com/nutrition/im...

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Some great links - thanks Penel!

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It took me several goes to kick my “sugar habit” some years ago, didn’t realise how addicted I was! I also found that reintroducing fat was a big help, so having cream with my coffee meant I could ignore the cake on offer. Couldn’t use artificial sweeteners as they upset my stomach.

As AT says, it’s quite amazing how your tastes change and how your cravings do disappear. I do still make the occasional cake, but find that you can reduce the usual amount of sugar without anyone noticing.

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I’m keen to learn more about this too. I’ve been using a free app fitness pal to log my food intake and calorie count. . I’m set at 1600 calories per day. I’ve just checked the nutritional section and the automatically set goal is 62g per day. I don’t have sugar in my drinks, eat chocolate or cake - maybe the odd ice cream. I think it’s warned me once and on that day I’d eaten two bananas as well as other natural sugars in foods.

I guess a lot depends how much fruit you’re eating.

I look forward to reading your responses, I’m a newbie and still learning.

If I’m not right in my information I’m sure somebody will put me right!!

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The bad news: the answer to your question is "zero". A healthy body has no need for sugar and a body that's already insulin-resistant has basically lost the metabolic machinery for dealing with it, or at least has had that system severely compromised.

The good news: breaking a sugar addiction is extremely easy, roughly on par with breaking a heroin addiction. If you think that sounds scary, the parallels are striking - research shows that heroin addicts are utterly terrified of the prospect of heroin withdrawal, but the reality of withdrawal is fairly painless. Sugar likewise: you'll need to do a bit of introspection to find out WHY you're "not ready" to go cold turkey (in other words, why you fear the prospect). But that's what you need to do, and at worst you'll feel a bit grumpy for a few days. It is NOT like giving up smoking or alcohol, which for most people is hard, and often leaves you with vague lifelong cravings. Once you're off sugar, you'll find it increasingly easy to STAY off sugar, and once you've been on the wagon for six months or so, you'll wonder why you ever wanted it in the first place.

There is a recognised protocol for halting sugar addiction that involves replacing both sugar and starches (which are metabolised rapidly into glucose) with fats. You will either need to get a book about it or ask your doctor about it. Unfortunately, most GPs are still not familiar with the process, but an ever-increasing number have got with the programme, so you may strike lucky.

There is little point trying to slowly cut down, especially if you retain a starch-based diet (which for most people represents 90% of their glucose intake). It MIGHT work for you, but the odds are against it: the usual experience is that your body will aggressively demand its sugar hit, you'll give in, and then you'll start cursing yourself for having "no self control". It all goes downhill from there. Following the standard protocol is pretty much guaranteed to achieve the desired result. You'll eventually find you can start introducing starch and sugar back into your diet and your appetite will naturally tell you "enough".

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Thank you for such a considered and thought provoking reply. I fear you are right - that there is no 'good amount'. My reluctance to go 'cold turkey' is for several reasons - because I'm hoping to avoid the aggressive bodily demand for sugar you mention, because my experience is that making any food 'off-limits' makes me want it more, and because like many I am an emotional eater - and sugar is my 'go to' thing. Whilst I meditate, walk and have other tools to self-sooth I cannot seem to find a replacement for sugar as the emotional 'go to' - that habit is very deeply ingrained. It may be the wrong attitude, but for me - having limited access to these foods feels like a more realistic approach. But I'm open minded - and I do see the reduction route as a stepping stone to a more abstinence based way of eating. Thank you

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No harm in trying to cut down slowly, but I think you'll find the cold-turkey approach is LESS unpleasant. It's counterintuitive, but forcing your body to revise its energy strategy by giving it no other choice is fairly painless. What you experience is qualitatively different: instead of aggressive cravings, there's just a mild sense of malaise and/or low energy which lifts after 2-5 days (depending on how badly addicted to sugar you are). After about two weeks - which is the length of time it takes for your body to re-tune the way it delivers energy from food - you'll feel just fine; and more importantly you'll feel increasingly less inclined to comfort-eat on sugary snacks.

I should make it absolutely clear that I am not suggesting an "abstinence-based" way of eating. I despise the calorie-based ideas about diet precisely because they are based on denial and self-punishment ... forever.

Once you're off sugar, you'll find there's a whole world of other foods out there that will give you equal pleasure. The problem is that, right now, you can't experience them for what they are. What I'm suggesting is that you modify your tastes and your appetites. As I mentioned there is a very reliable protocol for doing this which, if followed, will open up that new world to you.

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Thank you again - are you able to recommend one or two books which detail the protocol you mention?

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For some reason I can't message you - it's not permitted to post book titles in the main thread. Any idea what's up with that? Might be something to do with your contact permissions.

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There may be a glitch in the HU system.

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Is it OK if I just post the title here? I have absolutely no commercial interest in it, I just think it's a very good book for understanding the science of weightloss even for those who aren't particularly interested in actually 'dieting'.

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The Grain Brain by David perlmutter is what you should read. It changed many lives!

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I was diagnosed with insulin resistance & you gave excellent advice about sugar and insulin resistance! It's best to cut the sugar all together. I read The Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter and it emphasizes how sugar and carbs are essentially poisonous to out brains and bodies. We should try to limit carbs to more than 50 per day.

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Atkins's view was that it's best to have the individual titrate his own carb tolerance over the long term, and he's been proven right by subsequent experiments. It turns out there's an enormously wide range of tolerance; some people simply can't cope with carbs at all (diabetics, mostly) while some can eat a carb-based diet forever and do just fine (Dean Ornish is probably one of those lucky people). 50g per day is probably a reasonable baseline, but some people will happily get by on more, and some will have to eat less.

It's only my personal view, but I think that the carb content of a locally-sourced diet will naturally vary from low to high throughout the seasons, in most countries at least. It's the persistent, unrelenting onslaught of carbs (thanks to subsidized grains and quasi-religious proselyting from governments about their healthfulness) that seems to be causing our recent health epidemic.

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Dr. David Perlmutter's book is more towards the Keto life style....more fats, veggies, little to no carbs, and zero sugar.

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Everyone needs some carbs to help the brain and the rest of the body functioning correctly so no one will have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). You can always fix the hyperglycemia (high blood sugars) later, but for low blood sugars, you have to do something about it right away. I’m a type 1 diabetic who counts carbs and eats a low carb high protein diet so my blood sugars are even during the day and evening hours.

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It's not possible for a normal body to experience hypoglycemia. Low insulin signals your liver to release glucose from glycogen storage to maintain blood sugar. Only diabetics on insulin therapy have to manage this process 'manually' - for everyone else it's automatic.

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Can you please explain what “a normal body” would be considered? Even non-diabetics sometimes have hypoglycemia if the person doesn’t eat anything or on a schedule.

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That's not exactly hypoglycemia. The layman describes it as such but it's just an insulin overshoot. From a control systems point of view its caused by actuator saturation and/or excessive loop gain, which in this case is the body's self-tuning response to excessive and repeated glucose input. If you stop doing that to yourself the loop parameters rapidly correct themselves and you don't experience that overshoot.

Even in a prolonged starvation situation a basically healthy body cannot go hypoglycemic in the strict medical meaning of the word. Stable blood sugar is a metabolic priority and your body can always synthesize glucose from fat or (as a last resort) amino acids.

An insulin-resistant body is more at risk of hypERglycemia. If the liver doesn't respond correctly to insulin it sits there trickling out glucose even when it's not needed.

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The discussions about diabetes and hypo/hyperglycaemia perhaps deserve their own thread. Though I am looking at diabetic chocolate as a means of getting a sweet treat without the insulin spike. I wonder if there are other foods which forum members might recommend as good but satisfying alternatives to sugary snacks? With thanks!

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Jelly and cream. Coffee and cream. Crackers and cheese. Greek yoghurt with a dash of jam or honey. Those work for me, anyway :)

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Great! Are your jellies and jams artificially sweetened? For the first time in my life I'm questioning which is the worst of these two 'evils'

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When I went cold turkey on sugar I used artificial sweeteners and slowly decreased the amount that I used. That happened so rapidly that I ended up throwing away three-quarters of a box of expensive sweeteners :)

The interesting part is what happens afterwards: your body's demand for sugar "resets" so completely that you can then add back small amounts - say, in jam - and not feel the need to eat the whole jar. Stick with the process for a few months and basically you'll get your life back again. Nothing is off-limits as such; you'll just lose the desire to over-indulge.

So the short answer is no, I don't use artificial sweeteners anymore, because I'm not addicted to sugar anymore.

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Hi..IMO there is No “ok” amount of sugar, it’s just not healthy for so many reasons...I’m completely sugar free. I eat all kinds of “sweets” using coconut sugar

*Homemade ice cream

2 cups organic heavy cream

1 cup organic whole milk

3/4 cups organic coconut sugar

1 Tablespoon vanilla

I’ve put it in several different countertop ice cream makers..follow directions for yours

*peanut Butter cookies.

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup coconut sugar

1tsp vanilla

Bake at 350 for 13 minutes

Coconut sugar has more of a brown sugar flavor, it took some getting used to

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other then taste, there is no differences between coconut suger then any other sugers..so your far from been suger free.

i sometimes buy home made coconut suger for cooking, it is in solid form and i cant help breaking a bit off and leaving it melt in my mouth 😍 it is one of lifes great pleasures🤗

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Thanks Nanecky - your ice cream recipe sounds amazing!

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You’re welcome!

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There is much good advice here to ponder on. As you reduce sugary foods (excluding good carbs) your taste buds change so that craving disappears.

For my own addition to the debate may I point out that sugar has been demonised for things like diabetes as the "cause." Whilst a seriously contributing factor in those who have diabetes I do not see it as the cause.

To justify my opinion may I point you to some interesting research about the rice diet - mostly white rice and sugar. drmcdougall.com/2013/12/31/...

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Thanks andyswarbs - an interesting link - it's always good to get a different perspective ...

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I agree that the best amount of sugar is ZERO, and no, you do not need carbs either. Carbs in the form of green vegetables are very low glycemic and good for you, of course, but that is because of the vitamins and fiber.

I don't think it would be a horrible thing to substitute artificial sweeteners. Eventually you can cut down on those, but for heaven's sake don't make your diet impossible! And also, substitute fat!

It may be, if you are a sugar addict, that is all you have to do to lose weight. But also: coconut sugar, agave, maple and honey are 99.9% sugar too--do not be fooled! A good baking substitute is erythritol.

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Thanks for your advice amykp - I'm looking into stevia and tagatose as possible substitutes. Erithritol sounds interesting too - do you substitute it 100% for the amount of sugar a recipe calls for or is it one of those products which tastes sweeter so you need less of it?

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I think erythritol is equal, sweet-wise, to sugar. But the fact is, it is different in taste (sadly) so I never add as much as a recipe calls for. Cutting back is one of the things that helps make your "pretend" desserts taste OK. (And maybe it also helps you start to lose your sweet tooth? :o)

Sometimes I'll mix and match--mostly erythritol, a bit of stevia, a bit of splenda--it helps. I don't know about tagatose!

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The recommended daily dose of sugar is 29 grams per day, which is 7 teaspoons per day. When reading sugar content on foods look for about 5g per 100ml.

However, like most people on this thread try and reduce your sugar down much further than this or cut it out completely (apart from the odd treat now and again).

I was diagnosed with insulin resistance about 15 years ago and with a strong family history of diabetes I was adamant this wasn’t going to happen to me. I ate very healthy but my downfall was snacking on fruit (which I thought was healthy) & fizzy drinks. I was put on metformin for 1 year (as sugar levels were sky high) & with a change in my diet eg NO fizzy drinks, eating fruit directly after a meal rather than snacking which apparently is SO bad for you, low carbs & starting the day with protein, usually a egg of some sort (an omelette is my preference as you can add lots of other ingredients to make it more interesting), this coupled with regular exercise (which I was doing anyway). I was tested every 6 months and with this new regime my sugar levels dropped into a normal range so I was able to come off medication & now control things with diet & exercise. Seriously I feel so much better and have no mid afternoon slump & all the bloating and yo yo weight gain has gone.

A good book I used to help me with this is “the low carb cookbook” by Amanda Cross, which you can buy on Amazon. Included in the book is a 4 week diet plan that really worked for me, the first 5 days were the hardest, this is because you body craves sugar/carbs, then slowly starts to readjust. In week 3 you slowly start to reintroduce some foods you enjoy (but still keeping sugar low), week 4 is all about maintaining healthy eating long term. The book talks about how some carbs are high in sugar eg I always though jacket potatoes were healthy but they are high in sugar, better to eat boiled new potatoes - I can live with that. The book also gives recipes, I’ve tried quite a few, they are delicious & quick to prepare/cook, plus other tips to help you along the way (eg explaining the mechanics how insulin works in the body), it’s very easy to read.

I’ve recommended this book to so many people, with good feedback. Hope this helps & good luck.

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Wow - thanks Titch22 for sharing your experience and for the book recommendation - I'm very grateful for both. 5% sugar sounds horribly low right now - hard to achieve - and yet - people do. Thank you for your inspiring story - huge congratulations on turning things around. I'm just off to check out the Amanda Cross book ...

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Another thing--be wary of hidden sugar. So much sneaks in, in salad dressings, breads, prepared foods, restaurant dishes--and I mean the ones that are meant to be savory! If you start reading labels and cut out all the sugar in your main meals, it might be OK to have an occasional bit of real dessert!

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It is shocking how much sugar is hidden in foods you wouldn't expect - I'm getting an education in reading the labels - thanks again amykp!

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