We tend to think that added sugar is mainly found in desserts like cookies and cakes, but it’s also found in many savory foods, such as bread and pasta sauce. Some foods promoted as “natural” or “healthy” are laden with added sugars, adding to the confusion. In fact, manufacturers add sugar to 74% of packaged foods sold in supermarkets. So, even if you skip dessert, you may still be consuming more added sugar than is recommended.
Here are some healthy-looking items you can find in the supermarket that also have high sugar contents:
- One leading brand of yogurt contains 7 teaspoons (29 grams) of sugar per serving.
- A breakfast bar made with “real fruit” and “whole grains” lists 15 grams of sugar.
- A single cup of bran cereal with raisins, in a box advertising “no high-fructose corn syrup,” contains 20 grams of sugar per serving.
- A cranberry/pomegranate juice product, also advertising “no high-fructose corn syrup” and “100% Vitamin C,” contains 30 grams of added sugar per 8 oz. serving. Some of the sugar is naturally occurring, but some of it has been added.
- Many baby foods contain shocking amounts of sugar, which can set your child on the path of lifelong sugar addiction and the health problems that go along with it.
A recent study looking at the addictive potential of sugar was published in the November 2019 issue of Scientific Reports, in which they point out that “Excessive sucrose consumption elicits addiction-like craving that may underpin the obesity epidemic.”
Sugar consumption triggers the release of natural opioids and dopamine in your brain. In a short time, this lowers the availability of those receptors. Reduced receptor availability is a sign of overstimulation. When your brain gets overstimulated, it downregulates the receptors in order to protect your brain from damage.
The drawback of this protective mechanism is that you now need a higher dose of the substance to get the same pleasure response. This is key mechanism is how addiction develops. This explains all addictions, including drugs and sugar.
According to the authors of the Scientific Report on sugar addiction,”The results clearly demonstrate that sucrose affects reward mechanisms in a manner similar to that of drugs of abuse.”
Other research has shown daily sugar consumption impairs spatial memory and inhibits neurogenesis in the hippocampus, a brain area involved in learning and memory processes.
Research on rats has also shown a high-sugar diet tends to alter inhibitory neurons in the prefrontal cortex, where decision-making and impulse control are centered. Aside from impaired impulse control and the inability to delay gratification, this alteration may also increase the risk of mental health problems in children and adolescents.
The good news is research shows reducing added sugars from an average of 27% of daily calories down to about 10% can improve biomarkers associated with health in as little as 10 days. This occurs even when you don’t change the amount of calories or carbohydrates you eat.
While this sounds simple enough, it can be tricky if your diet consists primarily of processed foods. According to SugarScience.org, added sugars hide in 74% of processed foods under more than 60 different names. For a full list, see SugarScience.org’s “Hidden in Plain Sight” page.
If you find yourself struggling with sugar cravings, intermittent fasting can help. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. In this respect, it’s not a diet in the conventional sense but more of an eating pattern.
These are the most popular methods:
- The 16/8 method: This involves skipping breakfast (or dinner) and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 8am – 4 pm or 1–9 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from after breakfast or dinner one day until breakfast or dinner the next day.
- The 5:2 diet: With this methods, you consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days.
For optimal results, you’ll want to replace the calories from sugar and non-vegetable carbs with vegetables and healthy fats, as this will help reset your body’s metabolism, allowing it to effectively burn fat for fuel again. When sugar is not needed for your primary fuel and when your sugar stores run low, your body will crave it less.
According to the American Dietetic and Diabetic Association, increased sugar consumption is the leading cause of degenerative disease.
Cut sugar out of your diet and you might also reduce:
- Acid reflux
- Irritable bowel
- Anxiety and stress
- Joint pain
Cleveland Clinic suggests a ten day detox:
- Make the decision.
Commit yourself to this 10-day detox. These changes will reset your brain and body.
- Quit cold turkey.
Stop all forms of sugar: white flour, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated fats, MSG and pre-packaged foods.
- Don’t drink your calories.
No sweetened teas and coffees, and no juices other than green vegetable juice.
- Add protein to every meal.
Include nuts, seeds, beans.
- Eat the right carbs.
Only non-starchy veggies: asparagus, green beans, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, tomatoes, fennel, eggplant, peppers, etc.
- Include good fats at every meal.
Go for nuts and seeds, avocado and coconut.
- Manage your stress.
When you’re stressed, your cortisol shoots up. This will drive up your hunger and can fuel sugar cravings.
- Quit gluten and dairy.
It’s not easy, but after two or three days, you will have more energy and fewer cravings.
If you get less than 8 hours of sleep a night, it can drive you to eat more calories.
You can break the sugar habit! Doing a detox doesn’t mean you never eat another cupcake. But it does give you control over your cravings and your health.
The almond that we think of as a nut is technically the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, a medium-size tree that bears fragrant pink and white flowers. Like its cousins, the peach, cherry and apricot trees, the almond tree bears fruits with stone-like seeds (or pits) within. The seed of the almond fruit is what we refer to as the almond nut.
They are native to the Middle East, but the US is now the world’s largest producer. The almonds you can buy in stores usually have the shell removed, revealing the edible nut inside. They are sold either raw or roasted. They are also used to produce almond milk, oil, butter, flour or marzipan.
A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of almonds contains:
- Fiber: 3.5 grams
- Protein: 6 grams
- Fat: 14 grams (9 of which are monounsaturated)
- Vitamin E: 37% of the RDI
- Manganese: 32% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 20% of the RDI
- They also contain copper, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and phosphorus.
This is all from a small handful, which supplies only 161 calories and 2.5 grams of digestible carbohydrates.
Almonds are also high in phytic acid, a substance that binds certain minerals and prevents them from being absorbed. Please refer to the blog posted on June 26, 2019, Soaking Seeds and Nuts to learn how to make almonds more bioavailable. Phytic acid reduces the amount of iron, zinc and calcium you get from almonds.
Almonds have a high oxalate content. Oxalates are naturally occurring organic acids found in a wide variety of foods, and in the case of certain medical conditions, they must be greatly restricted to prevent over-accumulation inside the body.
Tree nuts, such as almonds, are among the eight food types considered to be major food allergens in the U.S., requiring identification on food labels.
Almonds are are good source of antioxidants which help protect against oxidative stress. The powerful antioxidants in almonds are largely concentrated in the brown layer of the skin. For this reason avoid blanched almonds, those with skin removed.
A clinical trial in 60 male smokers found that about 3 ounces of almonds per day reduced oxidative stress biomarkers by 23 – 34% over a four-week period. These findings support those of another study which found that eating almonds with main meals reduced markers of oxidative damage.
Almonds are among the world’s best sources of vitamin E, with just 1 ounce providing 37% of the RDI. Vitamin E is a family of fat-soluble antioxidants. These antioxidants tend to build up in cell membranes in your body, protecting your cells from oxidative damage.
“We have identified a unique combination of flavonoids in almonds,” said Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., senior scientist and director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at Tufts University. “Further blood tests demonstrated that eating almonds with their skins significantly increases both flavonoids and vitamin E in the body. This could have significant health implications, especially as people age.”
Nuts are low in carbs but high in healthy fats, protein and fiber. This makes them a perfect choice for people with diabetes.
Almonds contain a high amount of magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral involved in more than 300 bodily processes, including blood sugar control. The current RDI for magnesium is 310–420 mg. A handful of almonds provide almost 150 mg of magnesium.
25 – 38% of people with type 2 diabetes are deficient in magnesium. Correcting this deficiency significantly lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin function. People without diabetes also see major reductions in insulin resistance when supplementing with magnesium. This indicates that high-magnesium foods such as almonds may help prevent metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
The magnesium in almonds may additionally help lower blood pressure levels. A deficiency in magnesium is strongly linked to high blood pressure regardless of whether you are overweight.
High levels of LDL lipoproteins in your blood is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. A 16-week study in 65 people with prediabetes found that a diet providing 20% of calories from almonds lowered LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 12.4 mg/dL. Another study found that eating 1.5 ounces of almonds per day lowered LDL cholesterol by 5.3 mg/dL while maintaining HDL cholesterol. Participants also lost belly fat.
If you’ve been reluctant to add almonds to your diet because of their high calorie count, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition may help convince you to give these nutrient-dense nuts a try.
In this study, the normal eating patterns of 43 men and 38 women were followed for 6 months. Then they were told to eat approximately 2 ounces or one-quarter cup of almonds daily but were given no other instructions about changing their diet, and followed for an additional 6 months. By the end of the study, a number of very beneficial changes were seen to naturally occur.
While eating almonds, study participants’ intake of health-promoting monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vegetable protein, vitamin E, copper and magnesium significantly increased by 12 – 43% over the course of the trial.
At the same time, their intake of trans fatty acids, animal protein, sodium, cholesterol and sugars significantly decreased by 9-21%. Both sets of changes in nutrient intake closely match the dietary recommendations known to prevent cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
How to Buy
Almonds that are still in their shells have the longest shelf life. If purchasing these, look for shells that are not split, moldy or stained. Shelled almonds that are stored in an hermetically sealed container will last longer than those that are sold in bulk bins since they are less exposed to heat, air and humidity.
If purchasing almonds in bulk bins, make sure that the store has a quick turnover of inventory and that the bulk containers are sealed well in order to ensure maximum freshness. Look for almonds that are uniform in color and not limp or shriveled. In addition, smell the almonds. They should smell sweet and nutty; if their odor is sharp or bitter, they are rancid.
Whole Foods now has soaked/dried almonds available in bulk, as do many local local health food stores.
How to Store
Since almonds have a high fat content, it is important to store them properly in order to protect them from becoming rancid. Store shelled almonds in a tightly sealed container, in a cool dry place away from exposure to sunlight.
Keeping them cold will further protect them from rancidity and prolong their freshness. Refrigerated almonds will keep for several months, while if stored in the freezer, almonds can be kept for up to a year. Shelled almond pieces will become rancid more quickly than whole shelled almonds. Almonds still in the shell have the longest shelf life.
How to Cook
Whole shelled almonds can be chopped by hand or can be placed in a food processor. If using a food processor, it is best to pulse on and off a few times, instead of running the blade constantly, as this will help ensure that you end up with chopped almonds rather than almond butter.
To roast almonds at home, do so gently – in a 160-170°F oven for 15-20 minutes to preserve the healthy oils.
I don’t recommend blanching almonds because blanching nuts removes their skin and they are no longer considered a whole food.
Some ideas to incorporate almonds into your diet:
- Add a handful to plain yogurt by mixing in some chopped almonds and dried fruit.
- Sauté curried vegetables with sliced almonds.
- Add some almond butter to a breakfast shake to boost its taste and protein content.
- Almonds or almond butter and apple slices
- A cold rice salad with almonds, fresh garden peas and currants.
Almond Bread (Gluten Free and Vegan)
- 1 1/4 cup ground almonds or almond meal – I like the texture of Bob’s Almond Flour
- 1 1/4 cup gluten-free flour blend
- 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt to taste
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or sub any other plant-based milk)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar -The vinegar is crucial as its acidity reacts with the alkali bicarbonate of soda. If you don’t have vinegar you can substitute it with lemon juice.
Optional – Sprinkle the top with mixed seeds.
Add to the batter:
- Chopped nuts such as walnuts or pecans
- Dried fruit such as dried cranberries, raisins, chopped dates
- Chopped chestnuts
- Make it savory by adding grated garlic and chopped herbs
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Place the ground almonds, gluten-free flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and mix well
- Add the milk and vinegar and mix again
- Transfer the mixture to a loaf tin (I used a one-pound loaf tin) lined with greased baking paper
- Sprinkle over mixed seeds to decorate, if desired
- Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until risen and an inserted skewer comes out clean
- Leave to cool on a wire rack before putting away to store
Make sure to leave the bread to cool down completely on a cooling rack before packing it away to store because otherwise the steam from the warm bread will get trapped and you’ll end up with soggy bread.
The bread keeps well covered in the fridge for a good few days. If not eaten on the day it’s made, it’s best toasted before eating.
If you’re freezing it, you can slice it and put the whole thing in the freezer. Then when you want to eat it you can just put the slices of bread in the toaster straight from frozen.