Since March, my diet – as in what I eat on a daily basis, not a restrictive, depriving regimen – has undergone some serious changes. I’ve gone from eating a ‘healthy’ Canada Food Guide / USA Food Pyramid / UK Eatwell Plate diet of complex carbs, lower protein and little fat, to a very primal diet with a high fat, moderate protein, and low carb intake. The original goal was to follow a ketogenic diet and coach my body into ketosis, but with constant running and half marathon training, ketosis wasn’t in the cards. I would like to try to get into ketosis, but this summer and autumn call for more training, and ketosis can take a few weeks, and I don’t want another Balmoral disaster on my hands. In the mean time, I’ve gone what some term #notstrictpaleo or #primal: I eat the LCHF (low carb, high-fat) paleo staples like grass-fed beef and other meats and fish, coconut oil, coconut milk, avocados, ghee, bacon, vegetables and some fruit, but also include the keto-friendly full fat dairy, butter, xylitol for sweetener, nightshades (aubergine – eggplant and tomatoes), peanut butter and some sweet potatoes, Basmati or brown rice on occasion, in very small portions. Processed food and sugar – even paleo-friendly honey and maple syrup – doesn’t pass my lips.
I’ve had several positive changes: I’ve lost 8kg (17.6 lbs or 1 stone 3), I feel so much better, I no longer have cravings and I’m not constantly hungry. I’d say going LCHF has been a roaring success…. roaring like the sabretooth tiger cavemen used to have to deal with… bad joke?
With the inner and outer changes, people have started to take notice, both through social media and at work. I’m now often asked about what I did, and many people want me to email them information, food plans, resources to get them started. Part of me is happy to do this because I want to spread the LCHF word and help change the way society looks at healthy eating. The other part of me feels like saying ‘I’ve done my research, you have to do the same.’ I realise not everyone has time to do that, and/or wouldn’t even know where to begin, making their attempts at an LCHF or sugar-free life fruitless. I also think it’s important to really learn everything there is to know about a primal way of eating to help people make more knowledgeable food choices, to keep costs down and to educate oneself about what healthy eating actually is.
This post will hopefully be an LCHF and going-sugar-free information starting point to help get you, and anyone else you know, on your journey to a truly healthier, more energetic, slimmer and knowledgeable you. Keep in mind I’m not a registered dietician or nutrition specialist, I’m just someone who was eating ‘healthy’ but gaining weight, and educated herself on a new way of eating. I may one day pursue the registered dietician bit though 😉
Before starting your sugar-free journey, there are some things you need to think about to help you decide what you ultimately want to achieve. Simply going sugar-free, and cutting out ‘refined’ sugars for ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ sugars may not yield the results you’re looking for. Some things to consider before embarking on a sugar-free journey:
– Are you doing it to simply lose weight?
– Are you doing it to feel better?
– Are you doing it to stop cravings? To prevent constant hunger pangs? To get rid of bloating?
– Are you doing it to follow a low-glycemic way of eating?
– Are you doing this because you have (serious) health issues that could be tackled from a diet perspective and you don’t want to be on medication for the rest of your life?
Some food for thought to help you decide what you want your sugar-free life to look like
Keep in mind that all sugars – white, brown, cane, Demerara, coconut, honey, maple syrup and agave nectar, organic or mass-produced – all have the same thing in common: they raise your blood sugar level, no matter how ‘healthy,’ ‘unrefined’ or natural the sugar may be. I use quotation marks for healthy and unrefined because those words are at the point where they have been overused and have become such clichés. Whenever you hear someone talk about their healthy eating regime, those words inevitably pop up. Back to sugar. You may have read in my post 40 days and 40 nights that raised blood sugar is toxic, and your body releases insulin to lower it. Insulin is also known as the fat-storing hormone, meaning that with prolonged and frequent exposure to raised insulin levels, your body effectively stores more fat over time, resulting in you gaining weight. It also suppresses leptin, your satiety hormone, and blocks signals from your fat cells telling your brain that they are full and satisfied, and instead, you will keep eating to the point where you overeat. The good news is that eliminating sugar will help keep insulin levels lower and more stable, thus keeping leptin more stable.
The bad news is that sugar isn’t the only thing the raises our blood sugar levels: carbohydrates do as well. Any carb, whether complex or simple, is processed by our body on a molecular as that very thing you’re tying to avoid – sugar. The wholegrain bread / jumbo porridge oats / wholegrain pasta / legumes that are labeled ‘healthy’, along with many fruits, will also raise your blood sugar levels, causing the same insulin response and leptin suppression. Worse, carbs stimulate ghrelin, our hunger hormone, in ways fat and protein don’t. Have you ever noticed that eating a meal of just carbs, or a carb-y snack, doesn’t keep you full for long? This is because carbs initially suppress ghrelin , getting rid of hunger pangs, but only for a little while. Then hunger creeps back with a vengeance! And you consume more carbs (aka more sugar), the insulin comes, you store more fat, etc, etc, etc.
From a health perspective, as mentioned, sugar in any form raises your blood sugar levels causing an insulin response. This is something especially dangerous for diabetics. They need to eat foods that are lower on the glycemic index to help stabilise blood sugar. Following a ketogenic diet, despite what doctors, nurses and registered dietitians say, can actually get diabetics to drastically reduce their medication and keep their blood sugar levels stable. Sugar also causes inflammation in our cells, and inflammation is the source of disease. By eliminating all sugar, you’d be effectively decreasing your health risks.
Another thing to think about when eliminating sugar is that your body is most likely dependent on it: it’s what causes your cravings and frequent hunger. These aren’t a result of adult life. Since eliminating sugar and the majority of carbs – and unfortunately having to go through sugar withdrawal – cravings aren’t a part of my vocabulary anymore. They just don’t happen. Even if you cut out just sugar, you’d still be eating a lot of sugar in the form of complex and simple carbs, which means that cravings would still happen and you’d need some serious willpower to combat them. This is the reason why low-fat diets or calorie restriction to lose weight don’t work: as long as sugar is still there, you’ll feel deprived and ready to devour anything in your sight, and sooner or later, willpower will collapse. By simply cutting out actual sugar, and not changing other aspects of your diet, it’s safe to assume that this sugar elimination will be short-lived. You need a more lasting solution.
For me, that solution was to eat a lot more fat, more protein and a lot less carbs. Once I educated myself on the science behind getting fat, and what sugars and carbs do to our bodies, I didn’t look back. I also did research to find out what I could eat, what I couldn’t eat, and what to start cooking. It has been quite a journey so far, and below are some of the resources I used to get me started.
Keto-Adapted: Maria Mind Body Health: the place I first learned about a ketogenic way of eating and the health issues associated with a high-carb diet. Maria also has some incredible recipes, like our favourite keto Moussaka, Chicken wings with blue cheese dressing, and Chicken Lasagna, both made with regular ingredients you can find at the grocery store.
Authority Nutrition: my favourite go-to website for REAL nutritional information, by Icelandic LCHF-er Kris Gunnars. This website is research-based and aims to debunk the numerous ‘healthy-eating’ myths out there, as well as providing sound information for health trends. I also like it because everything is present in lists, and I like lists. Check out this list for the 20 most popular articles on this website, including the Top 11 Biggest Lies of Mainstream Nutrition and the Top 5 Contenders for the Worst Nutrition Advice in History. Authority Nutrition also has a page on how to become LCHF, something you might want to check out.
Nom Nom Paleo: my favourite paleo website by far! Michelle creates more ethnic recipes, which I was really looking for once I switched to a primal diet. Sometimes, you get sick of omelette, moussaka and lasagna, and want some Chinese or Thai food. I also just think Michelle is a pretty cool lady with a cute blog, who’s also on Instagram too. My favourite recipe from here is probably Bacon Pancake Sandwiches, paleo, naturally. Recipes aside, there’s also so much information on a paleo way of life.
Diet Doctor: My latest LCHF website find by Dr Andreas Eenfeldt, who’s representing that large Scandinvian LCHF contingent (it’s huge up in those countries!). He offers information and advice from a medical perspective, as well as including testimonies from people who have switched to an LCHF way of eating and reaped the healthy health benefits of it. He also includes an LCHF for Beginners page, FULL of information, tips and foods, some of which I’ve written about.
Civlized Caveman Cooking: My newest paleo blog find, with the best paleo Cinnamon Chocolate Swirl Banana Bread ever! I’ve just recently come across this website, so I can’t give you as much info. What I’ve seen so far, however, I like! You can also follow George on Instagram. I do.
Whole 30: While I didn’t do the Whole 30 elimination programme, it’s a good place for complete information and a programme to get you started. Nom Nom Paleo also has many Whole 30-friendly recipes too.
In my LCHF journey, I’ve purchased and read the following books, all chock full of nutritional information.
By Maria Emmerich: (aside from nutritional information, all include a plethora of recipes).
– Keto-Adapted: Your guide to accelerated weight-loss and healthy healing
– Nutritious and Delicious
– The Art of Healthy Eating: Sweet
– The Art of Healthy Eating: Savoury
By Gary Taubes:
– Good Calories, Bad Calories: an incredibly in-depth look at the history of nutrition dating back to the 1800’s, as well as that massive joke that became mainstream nutritional thinking. All backed up with science and studies to boot. It will take me the rest of the year to finish it, it’s like a university textbook!
– Why we get fat and what to do about it: a more condensed, easier read than the above book. I’m almost finished this one.
– The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff S. Volek and Stephen D. Phinney
– The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff S. Volek and Stephen D. Phinney for us athletes!
I think they also have a book for triathletes too.
– Pure, White and Deadly by John Yudkin. Also, check out this web article on John Yudkin, a British scientist who was effectively blacklisted in the 1970’s by the scientific community for his theory that sugar was the reason we were getting fat and sick, not fat, a VERY good read.
– Nom Nom Paleo cookbook by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong. Not only does it have the most delicious recipes, but also tons of information about a paleo lifestyle, and cooking in general. I’ve learned so much about food and cooking from this book in the last month than I have in the last year anywhere else! And I highly recommend the Peruvian Chicken with Aji Verde sauce, as well as the Magic Chicken Wings; you can’t beat chicken wings baked in ghee!
The Big Fat Fiasco by Tom Naughton. I’ve only inserted part 1, but the remaining parts will come up once each segment is finished. A must-see for your primal journey. Although it’s not about the diet itself, it does contain all the information that primal/paleo/keto people preach. It also helps you become a more informed reader of scientific studies, and you’ll be more informed and able to differentiate between an article on valid science vs. the total crap you find on Yahoo and the Huffington Post. As my Iron(wo)man blog friend Erin wrote “there have been many good things to come out of the University of Minnesota; Ancel Keys is not one of them.” Preach.
The Complete Skinny on Obesity by Robert Lustig, who is a pediatric endocrinologist (hormones guy) that is continuing where John Yudkin left off.
In the end
I believe that not only does primal LCHF actually lead to a much healthier you – not a ‘healthier’ #healthyeating you – it helps you get to know your body in ways you never thought possible. I used to think I didn’t have any food intolerances, but now after eliminating many neolithic foods from my diet, I’ve since observed that there were many foods that were causing me issues. It’s up to you where you want to go on your sugar-free journey. I, nor anyone else, can persuade you on what to do. You ultimately need to decide what fits best with your lifestyle, what changes you’re willing to make and what you ultimately want, or need, to achieve. And in the mean time, inform yourself.
Are you going to go sugar-free?
What carb do you think you couldn’t go without?
What food intolerances do you have?
I’m wheat and strawberries have caused me issues recently.