Foods That Act Like Sugar (but aren’t sweet)
- Mel’s weekly food pick: Birch Benders Paleo Pancake Mix
- Mel’s weekly recipe pick: Strawberry Pancake Mini Muffins
We all know that sweet-tasting foods contain sugar, and when we eat too many of them, something eventually suffers in our body.
Perhaps you’ve experienced one of the following warning signs:
- A few pounds “magically” appear overnight.
- Your annual blood glucose reading is a few points higher than last year, qualifying you as a new member of the pre-diabetic club.
- Your skin appears less supple and youthful.
- Cholesterol numbers creep up near dangerous levels.
Typically what happens next is, you cut back on sugar and the pounds melt away.
But why do those last 5, 10, 20, or 50 pounds still hang on for dear life like that mass of tangled necklaces in your jewelry box? Why did your blood sugar or cholesterol numbers come down some, but not enough to be out of the woods?
Ah…that’s where those not-sweet-tasting foods that act like sugar, come into play.
- Frozen meals
- Snack mixes
- Pizza crust
- Pasta sauce
- Condiments like barbecue sauce, ketchup, salad dressings, salsas, etc.
- Bread (no matter how cleverly it’s marketed to appear “healthy”): includes pita, bagels, buns, wraps, etc.
- Any food made with wheat. Understand that all-purpose flour is made from 100% wheat and is therefore 100% wheat. You don’t have to look far to find one of the many gazillion foods made with wheat flour– just stroll up and down the aisles of your local grocery store.
Notice how the above are, for the most part, all processed food. Now add to this list, any and all foods that actually taste sweet.
What you need to understand about blood sugar, body fat, and appetite
You may think you’re doing a good thing by chowing down on that innocent 100-calorie snack-size bag of fat-free pretzels, but your blood is telling an entirely different story.
Foods such as those mentioned in the above list have one thing in common: they are all loaded with simple carbohydrates that your body breaks down into sugar, also called glucose. So yes, while they are not sweet to the taste buds, they act exactly like sugar beneath the skin.
So why is this a concern?
Processed carbohydrate foods devoid of natural fibers– such as the fiber nicely packaged in Earthfoods like broccoli, kidney beans, lentils, nuts, and raspberries– stimulate your pancreas to produce insulin, a fat-storage hormone. Insulin’s job is to shuttle glucose out of your blood and into your cells for energy and storage.
In addition to sugar, meals and snacks made up of highly refined and processed foods, like pizza (i.e. wheat), sub sandwiches (i.e. wheat), frozen meals (likely containing wheat), and pasta (i.e. wheat), stimulate a constant production of insulin. Over time this can cause insulin resistance, resulting in increased hunger, cravings, and weight gain. So you see, even though your calorie-intake may be low, your body is resisting weight loss like a stubborn mule. This is why calories mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G to me…and why I secretly cringe when I hear a well-meaning person talk about them as if they are the Holy Grail.
So why do I focus so heavily on blood sugar?
What about cholesterol and other measures of heart health? Don’t these blood markers matter just as much as blood sugar?
Of course they do! I focus on blood sugar because when that gets out of control, it can trigger a cascade of consequences in your body– from diabetes, stroke, nerve damage, and kidney disease, just to name a few. And furthermore, the foods that tend to raise blood sugar also cause an imbalance in cholesterol, particularly elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and lower HDL cholesterol (that’s the one you want to be higher). When it comes down to it, you are one big system, therefore eating for one covers all bases.
Wait! I thought wheat was good for you?
I’m reading a quite profound book called Wheat Belly. While the name itself is telling, author and cardiologist Dr. William Davis lifts the veil on a likely key player in many conditions plaguing the western world today, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and dementia.
Yep, you guessed it, according to Dr. Davis, wheat (along with all products containing wheat) is one of the main dietary-offenders. Although he doesn’t let sugar and other highly refined foods off the hook, he does shed light on exactly why wheat in particular is so concerning, especially since it’s found in millions of processed foods.
One of the main reasons wheat is causing such a ruckus is due to its dramatic change over the past fifty years. Modern wheat (called “dwarf” and “semi-dwarf” wheat) bears little resemblance to the “amber waves of grain” wheat our grandparents grew up on. The product of breeding to generate greater yield and characteristics such as drought and heat resistance, today’s wheat has exploded to more than 25,000 varieties, virtually all of them the result of human intervention. And we all know what happens when we pesky humans mess with Mother Nature.
As a result, small changes in wheat protein structure are thought to be responsible for the classic immune responses displayed in conditions such as celiac disease, as well as intestinal inflammation, diabetes, and cholesterol abnormalities.
If you think wheat could be part of your problem (or if you’re a nerd like me and this sort of thing fascinates the pants off of you), I highly recommend you check out Wheat Belly.
Don’t you dare think of taking away my bread Mel!
Are you freaking out right about now? Loosen your grip, I’m not going to show up at your front door and snatch away your beloved loaf of pillow-soft white bread. Nor am I even calling the above foods “bad”, because that will only make you feel bad about eating them. I’m not even telling you not to eat them…because if I do, how much do you want to make a bet that you’ll deliberately, unconsciously, or habitually eat them before the week is up?
The truth of the matter is, when eaten on a regular basis, these foods are point-blank unsupportive for the majority of the population. And even when you do see that freakishly-fit person chowing down on a double pepperoni pizza or eating a sub sandwich every day for lunch, there’s no telling what’s going on beneath their skin.
I know because that used to be me!
What the heck is TOFI?
There was a time in my life when I was classified as “TOFI” (thin-outside-fat-inside). I don’t know what it’s like to be physically overweight, however I’m quite familiar with what it feels like to be of “normal” weight, but with high triglycerides (fat in the blood), high LDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and pre-diabetic. Yes, there I was, a 110-pound seemingly “healthy” woman…who was a total and complete metabolic mess on the inside.
What people didn’t know, was that every evening behind closed doors, I was like an addict getting her “fix”. Processed foods were my drug of choice– and I wasn’t picky either, sweet, salty, fatty…if it came in a box, tube, can or carton, I was game.
It wasn’t until I shifted my mindset and then my food choices, that I healed my body. And it didn’t happen overnight either; far from it.
In order for this to work for me I knew I’d have to do it slowly, otherwise I’d give up and jump feet first into my familiar oasis of donuts, cookies, mac-n-cheese, and Jif on Wonder Bread. I started by simply eating more vegetables– about three cups each day. When my body got used to that and began to crave it, I traded my diet sodas for water. And on and on I went, down the yellow brick road to a healthier me.
Yes, it was a very slow process, but the changes I made were both doable and long-lasting.
What the hell is there left for me to eat Mel?
Oh my goodness– if you only knew how many amazing foods are out there just waiting to be discovered, you’d be blown away!
First things first: I wouldn’t recommend cleaning out your entire kitchen and starting from scratch. You might go into shock and feel deprived, which will only result in sinking back into old behaviors. Instead, do what I did and take it slow. Here are some simple swap ideas to get you started:
- Traditional frozen meals → upgraded frozen meals such as Wildscape and Love the Wild
- Snack mixes → make your own trail mix using a mix of nuts, seeds, coconut flakes, and goji berries
- Cereal → opt for regular or flaked quinoa mixed with nuts and berries
- Rice → quinoa
- Chips → Coconut Flour chips
- Pretzels → pistachios or almonds
- Crackers → Flacker’s crackers
- Pancakes → Birch Benders Paleo Pancake Mix or make your own from scratch using this recipe
- Pasta → bean-based pasta
- Gatorade → unsweetened coconut water
- Pizza crust → cauliflower pizza crust
- Pasta sauce → Mia’s Kitchen sauce
- Condiments → look for those with no added sugar, like the Primal Kitchen line of condiments. Make your own simple salad dressing with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.
- Bread → try a sprouted, gluten-free variety like this one
- Sandwich wraps → try Siete Almond Flour Tortillas or make your own wrap in three minutes using this recipe!
Next, make a conscious decision to eat REAL food every day. Real food is food without labels– whole, single-ingredient foods like Earthfoods (click HERE for a list). Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to give up meat– just downsize your portions and make wiser choices, such as organic free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, wild fish, and free-range eggs.
What Mel eats…
To give you an idea, a typical day for me looks like this:
Breakfast: sunny-side up egg cooked in coconut oil with avocado slices and berries or a Peace of Health Shake.
Lunch: often a high-quality nutrition bar with a 3-cup container of raw veggies and a piece of fruit.
Dinner: typically a BIG leafy green salad with sprouts, salmon, roasted veggies, toasted almonds, a handful of berries, sprinkle of raw goat cheese, and assorted raw chopped veggies– all tossed with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar.
Need some ideas? You’ll find loads of upgraded, better-for-you, delicious-tasting recipes on my recipe page.
You have a choice!
I want you to understand that all of this is about freedom of choice, coupled with how strongly you desire to make a change in your health.
Let me tell you something, if you want it bad enough, you will find a way to improve your health. And if not, you’ll find every excuse in the book not to change. Yes, sometimes we need to be struck by a bolt of lightning in order for this to happen, like being told you have alarmingly high triglycerides and your doctor is inches away from prescribing a cholesterol-lowering drug.
It is my hope that you don’t wait that long. And if this does happen to be your current reality…you have the power to change it.
Make a move.
Mel’s weekly food pick:
Birch Benders Paleo Pancake Mix
Every once in a while I have a taste for pancakes. To keep them grain and gluten-free, I typically make a small batch using coconut or almond flour and serve them with a side of nut butter mixed with just a touch of raw honey or pure maple syrup for flavor (see this recipe for Fiber-Rich Pumpkin Coconut Pancakes).
When short on time, I use Birch Benders Paleo Pancake Mix— a grain-free pancake mix that’s much better for you than traditional wheat-based mixes (i.e. Aunt Jemima, Bisquick, etc.). It’s made with cassava starch, coconut flour, and almond flour. Cassava is a nutty-flavored, starchy root vegetable native to South America, which has a lower glycemic response compared to grain-based flours.
All you have to do is add water– can’t get much simpler than that!
For a quick breakfast on the run, I like to bake the pancake mix in a mini muffin pan, and enjoy a few with a smear or three of nut butter and a hard-boiled egg. To try it for yourself, check out this week’s recipe pick for Strawberry Pancake Mini Muffins. Birch Bender’s website has lots of fun recipes using their mixes too.
Mel’s weekly recipe pick:
Strawberry Pancake Mini Muffins