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Why Sugar Makes You Anxious

Sugar is a thief. It steals your nutrients, your energy, and your health. And it makes you anxious.

Here are just 3 of the many ways eating too many sweetened foods can upset your mental health:

It robs you of magnesium. It takes 28 molecules of magnesium to metabolize one molecule of sugar! Since magnesium is needed for relaxation, this puts your ability to calm yourself in jeopardy.

It upsets the balance of microbes in your gut. When pathogens outnumber probiotics, the nerve signals from the gut to the brain are ones of distress. Did you know that for every message the brain sends to the G.I. tract, the gut sends 6 signals back? And since pathogens feed on simple sugars, whereas probiotics eat complex carbs, it’s easy to get an overgrowth of harmful yeast or bacteria if you are loading up on sweets. These, in turn, send messages to your brain that something is not right.

It starts an adrenaline cycle. Not having a balanced plate and eating carb-heavy means your blood sugars are going to swing drastically up and down. When they drop, your brain becomes alarmed, for it must have constant fuel to direct your body’s activities. It recruits cortisol and adrenaline to increase blood sugars. These stress hormones increase your heart rate, quicken your breathing, and tighten your muscles. You become a walking candidate for an anxiety attack as soon as the next stressor comes along.

The solution to reducing anxiety starts with reducing the foods that spike an insuin release in your body.

Swap your refined carbs (pop, pasta, bread, chips, cookies, pastries, cake, tortillas, juices, condiments and sauces) for smart carbs (properly prepared whole grains and legumes, abundant vegetables, and whole fruits).

Second, watch food labels. Sugar is ubiquitous. It’s in so-called health foods like yogurt, protein bars, and even some flavored waters. Your intake of carbs in terms of grams should not be much higher than your intake of protein, so if an energy bar touting 8 grams of protein is 32 grams of carbohydrate, with 14 grams of sugar, it’s not a good choice. Learn to make foods from scratch. For example, spaghetti sauce can be quickly stirred together from tomato paste, bone broth, fresh garlic, and a few spices, avoiding the high fructose corn syrup often included in the canned version of this product.

Next, make sure you are getting adequate amounts of protein and healthy fat. Women should get a minimum of 50 grams of protein per day. Men need closer to 70 grams. Natural fats – everything from nuts and seeds to butter and coconut oil – help slow the absorption of carbohydrate into your blood stream, and give you a slow-burning fuel to maintain energy and stave off cravings throughout the day.

While sugar may give you a rush when your feel blue, in the long run you will be more optimistic and peaceful if you skip this sweet saboteur.

 

Hidden Stressors

Tense relationships. Unpredicted changes of circumstance. Too many demands on your time. These are stressors you can see. But there are changes inside your body that are stressing you out!

Any time your body perceives a threat to its homeostasis (stable equilibrium), it requires extra energy to bring balance back to itself, so it releases cortisol to supply that demand.

Common physiological triggers for the cortisol response are:

  1. Low blood sugars. When you don’t eat enough fat or protein to carry you through to the next meal, your blood sugars plummet. Your brain, which relies on a non-stop stream of fuel 24/7, sounds the alarm for cortisol to raise blood sugars immediately.
  2. Chronic infection – not just recurring viruses, but perhaps an overgrowth of yeast, bacteria, or parasites in your gut that you can’t see; the kind of thing that triggers cravings, creates constipation and/or diarrhea, feeds your vivid bizarre dreams, shows up as a coating on your tongue, makes you feel sick in a musty environment, instigates yeast infections or athlete’s foot or jock itch, create foul-smelling body odors including gas, makes you cramp, and gives you dark circles under your eyes. These are signs that your body is challenged and needs help!
  3. Toxicity. Toxins can come from heavy metal exposure, pesticides and herbicides that you breathe in or ingest, cosmetic products that contain parabens and phthalates and synthetic colors or fragrances, cookware and food or beverage containers made with BPA and PFCs…the list goes on. These disrupt your normal body functions and require extra energy to detoxify them.
  4. Food sensitivities. When you eat something that your body is intolerant  to, you release histamines to inflame the area where the offender is found so that white blood cells can more easily penetrate the tissue to surround and destroy this substance. Cortisol is then released as a follow-up anti-inflammatory – like the clean-up crew after the hurricane that has opened everything up.

Last week, in our post, Quit Stressing!, we discussed five different ways to counteract chronic cortisol output. If you are employing these methods and still feeling anxious, it’s time to see a nutritional therapy practitioner to delve into hidden causes of stress.

Quit Stressing!

Every stress response is a blood sugar response.

When there is stress, there is a demand for increased energy to deal with it. That’s why you have adrenal glands. They secrete cortisol, a stress hormone that increases glucose (sugar) levels in your blood. You need that glucose to provide fuel for the crisis.

But if stress is constant and chronic, the high cortisol output and the resulting high blood sugars are very damaging in at least 8 different ways:

  1. You crave refined carbs. To supply fuel for the constant triggers, you look for a quick way to get sugar into your bloodstream. The need for instant energy displaces the need for nutrient-dense whole foods, and your literally starve your body of minerals while eating excessive calories.
  2. You develop insulin resistance. Since every stress response is a glucose response, it is also an insulin response! (Insulin is the escort that shuttles glucose into the cells, where it is converted into energy). Just as an over-taxed mom tunes out the noise of her boisterous youngsters to protect her sanity, the cells stop listening to insulin after a continuous barrage. Even on a low-carb diet, you can become insulin-resistant, just from stress, and that means fatigue! If the cells are not receiving fuel, you are running on fumes!
  3. Your blood pressure rises because cortisol has a constricting effect on blood vessels.
  4. You get sick. Your ability to fight fight bacteria, viruses, parasites, and even cancer is hand-cuffed by this hyper-cortisol output. Immune functions operate in “rest-and-digest” but are shut down by “fight-or-flight.”
  5. Toxins build up. Detoxification isn’t a drink you consume; it’s a cellular process that occurs 24/7. Your cells are continuously exposed to both internal and external waste. But cortisol inhibits “housekeeping” because the demand to manage the crisis trumps the need to sweep up the trash. We do most of our detoxification at rest.
  6. You have trouble sleeping. Cortisol slows the pineal gland’s production of melatonin. You must have melatonin to drop into a sleep state.
  7. Your digestion turns sour. Stomach acid production, bile flow, enzyme production, and peristalsis are all slowed, to save energy to handle the stress. Next thing you know, you have heartburn, bloat, constipation, irritable bowels, candida overgrowth, or some other issue related to poor gut health.
  8. Your adrenals give out. In spite of a need for cortisol, you just can’t keep producing it, much the way an ocean or forest is damaged when it is over-harvested. So you feel constantly depleted, with even the smallest trigger tipping you over the edge in an inability to cope.  You become edgy and anxious.

You can reverse the effects of chronic stress in two-minute increments throughout your day. Build pauses into your life to take yourself out of “fight-or-flight” when you wake up, when you eat, when you drive, when you get ready to sleep, when you have been sitting at your desk for more than an hour, and when you finish an interaction with a spouse, a child, a boss, or a co-worker. Use this time to get out of your head and re-connect with your body and your surroundings. Here are some actions you can take during those pauses:

  1. Breathe deeply and exhale slowly. Stress makes you take shallow, quick breaths.
  2. Express love and appreciation. When you connect with others, you bring yourself back to a para-sympathetic (regenerative) state.
  3. Notice the little things. Stress is deadline-conscious, task-focused, tunnel-visioned. It’s about doing, not being. When you stop to feel the sunshine on your cheek or spot a spider on a blade of grass, you are breaking free of the constricting influence of stress.
  4. Create a sensation. Literally, make room to feel something – a ball of clay in your hand, sand in your toes, shade across your face, cushioning under your seat, or wind caressing your skin. Stress is future focused. Sensations are in the moment.
  5. Stretch. Stress tenses the muscles. Deliberately and systematically loosen up different areas: your calves and hips, your shoulders and jaw, your back and neck.

If you are in the Pocatello area and would like to learn 25 instant, effective stress hacks, consider attending this class.

Carob Hazelnut Power Bites

Mmmmm! Rich! Satisfying! Guilt-free! You’ll feel like a queen. Just one will nip those cravings and carry you through until meal time. Loaded with healthy fat, they’ll give you the energy to pull through that 2 p.m. coma. And with a great blender, you can have them made in just minutes! Throw a few in the freezer to have when “hangry” sets in.

Ingredients

2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes

2 c. raw hazelnuts (may also use raw almonds, cashews, walnuts or pecans)

1/2 c. honey (may also use pure maple syrup, date paste, or fig paste)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. roasted carob powder

1/2 tsp. vanilla powder

optional add-ins: additional coconut flakes, any chopped nuts, seeds such as chia, sunflower, pumpkin or sesame

Instructions

Blend coconut flakes until they release their oil and form a paste. Scrape into a mixing bowl. Do the same for the nuts. Add remaining ingredients. Press into a square pan and chill before cutting into squares, or just roll into balls. Stores best in the refrigerator or freezer.

 

Like this recipe? You can find more in our Balanced Bowl Cookbook.

No Spunk? Feeling Stuck?

” I eat clean – no junk – but the weight won’t come off.”

“When I try to push my endurance, I inevitably bonk.”

If I delay my meals, I’m terribly ‘hangry!'”

These may be signs that you are a sugar-burner, not a fat-burner. That means the stored fats in your body and the fats you eat are not available for fuel, leaving you to run on metabolic “kindling,” rather than “logs.”

Assess yourself on this simple Sugar Burner Checklist:

  • My energy fluctuates and doesn’t flow evenly throughout the day (classic Wired or Tired Syndrome).
  • I fight cravings and don’t feel satiated, even after eating. It’s as if something’s missing from the meal.
  • I’m either revved up after a meal, or just plain tired.
  • I find it very diificult to fast. The need to snack is overriding.
  • I run out of steam during endurance activities.
  • I am unable to shed excess weight.
  • I feel irritable before mealtime.

Human physiology is biased toward fat-burning. It provides sustained energy, creates fewer free radicals, is more efficient, and takes away cravings.

Benefits of being a fat-burner include freedom from dizziness, brain fog, and mood swings.

 

So how do you change your metabolism? Try adjusting your eating rhythms in this manner: After dinner, don’t consume anything else for the rest of the day, except water and herbal tea.

The next morning, eat only fats and proteins, such as avocado with eggs. See how long you can go on that energy. Don’t eat again until your fuel drops off. Then have a meal and call it lunch. You may have carbs, but try to limit them to vegetables: For example, enjoy a salad with wild-caught salmon and a homemade vinaigrette of olive oil, vinegar, herbs, and perhaps mustard.

Refrain from eating again until your next experience of hunger. Then eat your dinner. It should be your smallest meal of the day. You might try something like grass-fed steak, and organic sauteed vegetables in butter. Now, don’t eat again until breakfast.

This regimen is challenging because it demands no snacking, but it re-regulates your blood sugars and enables you to get off the energy roller-coaster. After a couple of weeks, when you are feeling a renewed sense of wellness, you can experiement with bringing more natural carbohydrates moderately into your diet, such as whole fruits, or soaked and sprouted grains and legumes.

Power Up Your Picnic!

I love a picnic! Sunshine, fresh air, laughter and food – all the ingredients to create wholesome and delightful nourishment – are abundant even through autumn. But are you sabotaging your health with the lunch you pack?

Here’s a typical American picnic:

  • Sandwiches
  • Pop
  • Fruit
  • Chips
  • Cake or cookies

It’s appealing fare for all ages, but it’s a great mis-adventure for your physiology! Without realizing it, you and your loved ones are becoming so imbalanced in your nutritional needs, you are likely to be blind-sided by energy deficits that can someday become chronic health challenges, such as food sensitivities, chronic fatigue, weight gain, mood disorders, hormone imbalances, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, and even auto-immunity.

Let’s dissect this picnic. Given that the sandwiches are either made with 2 ounces of thin-sliced deli meat, or peanut butter and jelly, the meal stacks up at approximately 66% carbohydrate (with all but the fruit as simple, refined carbs), 32% fat (none of which is natural, nourishing fat), and 2% protein. I’m sorry, Beautiful, but 2% protein is NOT ENOUGH to make your hormones and hemoglobin, your enzymes and anti-bodies, your skin and your tissues. And if you keep putting soybean, cottonseed, corn and canola oil through your gall bladder, it will be as congested as a CD player with a pancake in it!

I’m not anti-carb. I just believe in real foods, properly balanced! So what can you do?

Try out any of these ideas:

  • Fill a whole grain wrap or pita with meat and veggies, allowing you to get more filling and less fluff. Or pick up some dolmathes from a nearby Greek restaurant.
  • Substitute real whole milk, herbal tea, or flavored water for your soda. You might even try a homemade electrolyte drink, such as these or these. 
  • Need some crunch and some flavor? Try nuts and seeds instead of chips. Just make sure they are raw so the fats are not oxidzed. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are cheap and satisfying.
  • How about some cheese with your fruit instead of cookies? I’m partial to herbed chevre spread on apple slices.
  • Cut veggies with hummus make a great filler. Cherry tomatoes and petite bell peppers might be more add interest to celery and carrot sticks. Throw some olives in, too!
  • No time? Grab a container of ceviche from the market along with an avocado, and don’t forget to pack a knife. At your picnic site, slice the avocado in half, fill with your seafood salad and serve. If you don’t like crab and shrimp, you might try this Mexican-themed chicken filling instead.
  • Hard-boiled eggs and jerky both travel well and add extra protein. By the time you eat them, along with the other ideas here, you won’t even want cake!
  • Proscuttio goes well with melon. You could even put some on a skewer with cantaloupe balls before you leave home to moderate the insulin surge you get from eating carbs without fats and proteins.
  • Use jars to transport non-finger foods. For example, you could layer toasted oats and almonds with plain coconut yogurt.
  • Make a cookie that uses coconut or almond flour, rich in natural fats, instead of grain flour. If you use honey in place of sugar, you can cut the amount of sweetener in half.
  • Try a dessert recipe from our cookbook that uses only unrefined ingredients and has balanced carb-fat ratios.

Best Sesame Snacks

I couldn’t help giving you this sneak peek from our newly-released cookbook! These sesame squares make up in a snap and truly hit the spot when cravings strike. Easy and satisfying, the snack bars travel well for hiking, car trips, and picnics. They taste sweet, but have plenty of natural fat to prevent a blood sugar spike. As a bonus, they are gluten-free, casein-free, soy-free, and nut-free. (For those who have an allergy to egg, flax or gelatin can be substituted.)

Like the other recipes in our book, they use whole foods, not ingredients you can’t pronounce. (Get your copy of the cookbook here!) Best of all, they don’t require any previous cooking experience – your kids could make them! Just mix and spoon into your baking pan. In less than two minutes, you can leave them baking in the oven while you hustle up your backpack for an adventure!

Ingredients

1 c. tahini (sesame seed butter) or sunflower seed butter

1/2 c. honey

2 c. toasted sesame seeds

2 eggs (or use 2 Tb. chia seed and 6 Tb. water OR 2 Tb. unflavored gelatin and 6 Tb. water*)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Directions

Mix everything together and press into a greased 9″ x 9″ baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees until browned and set, about 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

Awake Again?

Your rough nights may be a sign that your blood sugars are skewed. Waking up a few hours after falling asleep, then struggling to get back to sleep is a classic red flag for low blood sugar. But when you lie in bed for hours and can’t even get to sleep in the first place, you may have high blood sugar.

True, you might have other considerations interfering with restful nights, such as a serotonin/melatonin imbalance or too much blue light exposure at bedtime. But most often, when people just like you talk to me about their disrupted sleep patterns, there is something crazy going on with their cortisol. Blood sugar fluctuations and cortisol output are kissing cousins.

Here’s what happens. (If you can’t stand explanations and just want a solution, skip to the last section.) Cortisol secretion is triggered when there is a perceived threat to the body, such as:

  • emotional stress
  • a physiological menace, perhaps toxins or food sensitivities
  • plummeting blood sugars

Cortisol’s task is to mobililze you for action – to supply you with immediate energy to fight against the threat. It does so by signalling your muscle tissue to release amino acids and fatty acids that the liver can convert into glucose (blood sugar) in a process called gluconeogenesis. As these acids are switched into ready fuel, your breathing and heart rate speed up and your muscles engage for movement – a state incompatible with sleep.

When you find yourself rousing between 1 and 3 a.m., it’s highly likely that your blood sugars dipped. Falling blood sugars threaten your brain, which must maintain a steady stream of glucose for its function, so your body releases cortisol to keep you safe. That cortisol spike wakes you up.

On the other hand, when you go to bed then toss and turn for hours with sleep evading you, that’s a pretty good indication that emotional and physiological stressors have kept that cortisol pumping all day, not letting you wind down and slip into regenerative repose. And as long as cortisol is being released, blood sugars will stay high. You’ll feel restless, need to move, and have speeding thoughts. This is the classic “tired but wired.”

To achieve more restful sleep

  1. “Bank your fire.” Eating a high-carb meal provides plenty of fuel, but like kindling, carbs burn hot and fast, then are gone in a flash. To keep an even burn for hours that runs slow and low, use plenty of natural fats along with complex carbohydrates in your meal. These will metabolize like a big log on a campfire and prevent you from crashing in the night.
  2. Coax your body into a para-sympathetic state. It’s easy to get stuck in the task-and-deadline focused mode that drives most of your actions throughout the day. You can persuade your body to ease up by engaging in deep breathing exercises; drinking an herbal tea such as ashwagandha, rhodiola, or holy basil; humming; soaking in an epsom salt bath; journalling or sketching or coloring; diffusing essentials oils such as lavendar, ylang ylang, or chamomile; practicing yoga; listening to binaural beats;  or perhaps getting a massage.
  3. Get checked out by an NTP (Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) who will be able to evaluate you for food sensitivities and toxin-producing gut dysbiosis that may be driving cortisol levels up round the clock. NTP’s can use an online assessment to graph your bio-individual profile. You can ask for your profile here.

Wait! Spinach is A Carb?

Yes, baby, spinach and carrots and bananas and plums are all carbohydrates. Did you think they were proteins? They certainly aren’t fats!

I know it’s confusing at times. People say those leafy greens (you know, spinach and kale and collard) have a lot of protein. Well, compared to white cane sugar, they sure do! Sugar is pure carbohydrate, 100%. But nature’s foods aren’t so simple. Real foods come from plants and animals which are made up of cells. The building blocks of cells are proteins, so whole foods inevitably have some protein. Fats are present in the semi-permeable membrane surrounding the cell, allowing both water-soluble and fat-soluble nutrients to pass into the cell and wastes to be transferred out.

In reality, therefore, whole foods contain a tiny bit of all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. When we assign a category to a food, it’s because that food has heaps more of one macronutrient than any other. Back to spinach. While it is primarily carb, 30% of its calories do come from protein. That’s a lot more than, say, a potato, which is only 7% protein, calorically.

But a whole cup of spinach is only about 7 calories – and only 2 of those calories come from protein. It would take literally mountains of spinach, baby, to make your hair and nails and muscles and skin and cartilage, and even your red blood cells and hormones. That’s why we can’t count it as a protein. It serves as carbohydrate because it is primarily a source of energy. When your tummy digests it, all those bright green leaves are converted into glucose to keep you crawling and cooing.

My point is that you can’t think of carbs as just pasta and potatoes. Yes, chips and crackers and croissants are carbohydrates, but so are all of the fruits and veggies and legumes and seeds. And remember Pooh Bear and his honey pot? Yeah, that’s how his belly got so round. Even milk is between 30 and 56% carbohydrate by calorie, depending on its fat content. That makes it taste sweet to you. (Only one-fifth of the calories in milk come from protein!)

So…I won’t EVER endorse a smoothie with skim milk and 3 or 4 fruits in it. It’s just too much of a sugar-rush for your precious body! I don’t care if you add spinach to make it healthy – it’s still an insulin tornado.  I only want you to be vibrant and have vitality! And don’t tell me you use almond milk – it’s worse! For every 16 grams of carbohydrate (64 calories), there is only 1 gram of protein (4 calories).*

The bottom line is you can be a carb-loader if you eat lots of fresh produce and never even touch refined sugar, or grains either, for that matter. When I say you need to balance your plate, please understand that I’m serious about adding healthy fats and animal proteins to your diet. Believe me, I’m trying to save you from insulin resistance before it’s too late. Here’s my rule of thumb: For every “handful” of carbohydrate, eat a thumb-size portion of natural, unrefined fat and a palm-size serving of protein. You have too much of life ahead of you to feel fatigued and fat, or to experience fitful sleep and flat moods.

If you’re already there, suffering from that 2 p.m. coma every day, I can help! Contact me.

*May vary from brand to brand.

 

Fab and Frosty Treats

Simple and sweet, from whole foods and healthy fats, these soft-serve ice creams whip up in minutes and leave you satisfied, not sick. Bursting with flavor, they need no artificial ingredients to engage your taste buds!

Blend or process until smooth:

  • 1 c. frozen fruit
  • 2 servings of natural fat (such 1 avocado, 1/4 c. nut butter,  or 1/2 c. coconut millk)
  • 1 Tb. citrus juice (or other liquid)
  • 1 Tb. natural sweetener (such as honey, pure maple syrup or coconut sugar)

Winning combinations

  • raspberries, avocado, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and honey
  • peaches, coconut milk, and orange juice concentrate (no sweetener needed)
  • cherries, 1/4 c. almond butter, pomegranate juice (may need water or ice for blending)
  • bananas, cashew butter, almond milk, and pure maple syrup
  • Pineapple; coconut milk; lemon, lime or orange juice; and coconut sugar

Find more treats and satisfying recipes here.

Photo credit: Mordi Photographie

 

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