Sugar Consumption and Inflammation

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So after my diagnosis of bone spurs, spinal stenosis and disc degeneration, I decided to do a Whole30. Actually a “Whole14,” since I did it for 14 days. The only difference between this Whole30 and the others I’ve done was that I took out coffee and I eliminated all fruit for the first week, and the 2nd week only introduced a bit of apples and an occasional piece of banana. I felt great. My back was doing awesome, I started Whole Family’s Burpee Challenge, and was moving along swimmingly.

After my 14 days were up, I  started to introduce some “Paleo” baked goods and treats. I love to bake and love to come up with new sweet treats, and I really want that to be a part of my life. I was careful to only eat a little bit each day so I wouldn’t overload my system, and I actually did fine with them! I cut down the amount of sweetener I used (typically maple syrup or honey). I didn’t feel any joint pain, back pain, headaches or fogginess. I even started using butter again and an occasional piece of raw milk cheese. Then, a few days ago, I indulged in some frozen yogurt (LOVE this place!). The next day, my good streak was over. My wrist and fingers were feeling tight again. My back felt like it was going to give out, it was hard to bend over, my neck hurt, and the shooting pain down my leg returned. I’m still suffering the effects of that indulgence almost 3 days later. So, what does this tell me? Mostly what I already knew but didn’t want to admit: I don’t do well with sugar. I think dairy in its purest forms are ok for me.

But what is it about sugar that would cause my joint pain to flare up and a cloud of depression to rest over me? Seriously, I am a happy person. After eating sugar (and I mean that in the “regular” sugar sense–I seem to do fine with most of the Paleo treats I make), I start to be plagued by a sense of despair and hopelessness. I can get through it, but it sure is hard to get up in the morning. Last night, Superman was the best and took the kids out so I could have an hour of quiet to myself at home to recollect my thoughts. But I shouldn’t be in that spot. The ice cream? It so wasn’t worth it this time. Sometimes I’ll indulge in something and feel a bit foggy, and I figure it was worth the deliciousness I enjoyed, but this time, no way.

There is a direct connection between sugar, inflammation and joint pain. Inflammation is our immune system’s response to restore the affected area in your body to normal following an injury, irritation or infection. However, in response to high sugar intake, which includes simple carbohydrates, the body is flooded with insulin and stress hormones. These inundate your blood supply, triggering the inflammation process which creates stress and pain on your organs and joints. The less sugar you eat, the less inflammation you will experience, and the stronger your immune system will be to protect you from infectious and degenerative diseases.

THIS article about sugar and inflammation does an excellent job of explaining the effects of sugar and why it’s so hard to give it up:

“According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a 5000 year-old wisdom of self-contained knowledge of healing, we all need sweetness in our life. We need six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, astringent, bitter and pungent to stimulate the taste buds on our tongue at main meals, in order to experience satiety.

Satiety and cravings are the result of imbalances in brain chemistry and have nothing to do with fullness of the stomach. When foods hit our tongue, our taste buds relay the bio-chemical information to the brain, stimulating various parts of the hypothalamus – the ‘satiety center’. The tongue is also a mini representation of the body, just like in reflexology, and contains points that stimulate all the organs in the body. Avoiding sweetness would be unnatural and unnecessary, as this will inevitably lead to imbalances and sweet cravings. This is why people have such a hard time giving up sugar; it is almost impossible to get children to stay away from it.

Many people really try hard to avoid sugar, and do not sweeten their tea or coffee, yet they crave sugar in some other form, such as chocolates, cakes, ice cream or even fruit – dates and figs…When a person is in metabolic balance they do not crave sugar. If they do, it is a sign of a metabolic imbalance and it can be corrected without having to consume sugar.” *

One thing I’ve realized is that if I add some protein in with my sweets (i.e., almond flour or eat a boiled egg right after eating sweets or something of the like), I feel much better. It’s when I eat a chocolate bar by itself, or a bowl of ice cream that I notice the most pain return.

So, that’s what I discovered this time on my “Whole14.” I need to stay away from refined sugars. The good news is that I can still enjoy my “Paleo” treats within moderation. So how about you? Do you suffer any ill effects of sugar consumption?

*After a reader comment, I removed a portion of this quote as it seems the estimation of fructose in dates may have been exaggerated. I think maybe the author was citing the fact that dates are 98% carbs. You can see that HERE. Although I don’t necessarily agree with using xylitol as a sweetener as the author suggests, I do like a good portion of that article, and quoted the portions I agree with. Pull what you like from it, and definitely find out what works for you!
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  1. V says

    I know, I know. Of all the things mentioned here, this is what bothered me (I blame my recent FODMAP food studies):
    “Dates are 99% sugar, in the form of fructose.”

    Medjool date:
    Deglet noor date:

    I don’t know where the author was getting that information from, but dates are not 99% fructose. And I have to wonder about the processing of xylitol to get it as refined as we do sucrose (since the article itself seemed mostly an advertisement for xylitol).

    Despite being less than thrilled with your reference, I like your approach of reducing refined sweeteners overall and being moderate with your sweet treats. Congrats on finding something that works for you!

    • says

      Thanks, V. I updated my blog post, and although it seems that dates are as high as 66% fructose, 99% was definitely an exaggeration. Thanks for pointing it out!

      • V says

        That makes so much more sense–I could not figure out how the author came to 99%, but I think you’re likely on the right track there. Good thinking!

        Without taking over your comment space with the full break down, I still couldn’t come up with anything close to even 66% (50% by percentage of total sugar with the deglet noor variety was the highest I’d calculated). Would you mind explaining how you came to that number? Sorry if this seems nit-picky or something; I’d recently spent a good amount of time trying to work out how suitable dates, as well as other fruits, might be for those with fructose intolerance, and I’m wondering what I may have missed!

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