Getting Off of Sugar: An Interview with Margaret Floyd

May 16, 2013 10:17 am
Posted in: Sugar
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Margaret Floyd - Author of Eat Naked

Last week I had lunch with my friend Margaret Floyd, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and author of Eat Naked.  (You  may remember her from her October Unprocessed guest posts, The Salad Dressing Formula and The Superfood Secret to Making Homemade Condiments Last for Weeks.) While we were enjoying our fish tacos at LYFE Kitchen (yum!), she told me about the Sugar Control Detox program that she’s leading next month.

You probably know I’ve been railing against added sugar lately (not just high fructose corn syrup) – and especially how it is being added to more and more foods, using more and more names.  As much as I enjoy a sweet treat from time to time, “sneaky” sugar has become one of my bigger pet peeves.

At the same time – and on a more personal note - bread, which qualifies as sugar according to Margaret (see below), has become far too large a part of my diet recently. I’ll admit it: I’ve been in a bit of a rut. So I’ve decided to participate in her program to help me re-calibrate my palate and break out of what has become my regular pattern. I’m very much looking forward to cooking her recipes.

Neither she nor I want to do a “hard sell” of her program, but I do want to bring it your attention because I think you may find it worthwhile.  And it’s not just a couple of meal plans, it’s a whole support network, including a week of prep, two weeks of meals, and a “transition” week at the end. It also includes lots of online resources, her cookbook, and access to a private Facebook group, in which all the participants can support and encourage each other. I particularly like that it’s all about real food – no powders, energy bars, meal replacements, or other junk.  Of course, that does mean it takes a lot of time and effort; it requires planning, prep, cooking, and even a fair share of dishwashing.

After our lunch, I sent Margaret a list of questions about sugar. Whether or not you’re interested in the program, I hope you’ll get something out of her answers below.

(Just FYI: The Sugar Control Detox program costs $150, and if you click the links in this post before you sign up, I’ll earn a commission. Although that’s a nice bonus for me, it’s not the reason I’m posting about it. In fact, Margaret suggested the affiliate program after I was planning on posting this interview. I encourage you to visit her site and learn more about it. Ok? Ok!)

Andrew: There are so many different things that are pervasive and harmful in the Standard American Diet. Why do you focus on sugar?

Margaret: I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions about sugar – it’s hurting us on every level. There isn’t a disease or health condition out there that isn’t exacerbated by sugar. But you could say that about trans fats as well, so why sugar? The main reason is that sugar is ubiquitous. It’s in everything processed – even “healthy” processed (if there is such a thing). When you remove sugar from the diet, by default you end up taking out all the other harmful aspects of processed foods, because you’re forced to eat strictly whole, real foods.

A: You use the term “sugar” a bit more broadly than other people. Can you elaborate?

M: When I talk about sugar, I’m not just talking about what we sweeten our coffee with. I’m talking about anything that converts to glucose (sugar) quickly in the blood, thus spiking insulin levels. In moderation, insulin is a very important hormone. But in excess, it drives inflammation, it drives fat storage, and it is the pathway to more serious blood sugar handling issues such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

So yes, I’m referring to table sugar, but it’s also anything “starchy”: potatoes, all grains (even whole grains), and most fruit. I also include anything that has an “insulinemic” effect (this means it raises insulin levels even in the absence of an increase in blood glucose) such as dairy and non-caloric sweeteners (there’s been some research showing that even the taste of sweet can initiate an insulin response).

I also include any carbohydrates that are metabolized by the liver in a way that stresses it – fructose falls into this category, as does alcohol.

A: So it sounds like you’re talking about the “Paleo” diet?

M: Well, it’s close to the Paleo diet, but not identical. For example, we allow legumes, which are typically eliminated in the Paleo diet. These are what we call “slow carbs” – yes, they’re starchy, but their fiber and protein slow down the blood sugar spike, so we include them on the cleanse. They’re a great way to get that starchy feel without the impact on blood sugar levels. And we haven’t seen any adverse reactions by including them.

A: You told me that it’s really important for someone who is getting off of sugar not to have the taste of anything sweet during their detox — so that means artificial sweeteners are off-limits, too.  Why?

M: As I mentioned earlier, there’s been some research showing that even the taste of sweet can initiate an insulin response – this means you’ll have the negative physiological reaction even without the calories or the actual sugar. But even without an insulin response, having the taste of sweet on our tongue maintains its dominance on our palate. A key aspect of any successful sugar detox is to re-sensitize yourself to flavor. One of the bonus side effects of our cleanse is that food tastes amazing. You can taste the natural sweetness in foods that previously seemed bland, and the whole array of flavor profiles – bitter, sour, tangy, sweet, spicy, salty, and so on – will come forward in a whole new way. Simply put: you’ll taste more.

This is also a key aspect of the sustainability of this cleanse. That sweet treat you love so much will be almost intolerable after the cleanse. It makes it much easier to maintain the benefits.

Also – artificial sweeteners have their own set of issues neurologically (Amazon affiliate link). Even the natural alternatives such as stevia have typically been so highly processed that they’ve lost their nutritional value, so we don’t recommend them.

A: I get this question a lot from my readers, so I’m curious to know your answer: Do you ever use added sweeteners in your food? If so, which do you prefer? Which do you avoid?

M: I do, just very minimally. It’s the exception and treat, not the rule. If it’s something cold, I like raw honey. It’s got great health benefits outside from just the sweetness. If I’m sweetening a sauce or a smoothie, I like to use a couple of raw dates. This is a trick my chef husband taught me. You get all the fiber and nutrients from the dates, as well as their sweetness.

For baking we typically coconut sugar (palm nectar, dehydrated). It’s unrefined and has a low glycemic impact.

I avoid anything highly processed like the plague. And I avoid agave nectar, which surprises a lot of people. Agave nectar – even truly unrefined, raw agave (which is extremely hard to find; most “raw” agave is anything but) – is extremely high in fructose. It’s higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup! And fructose is exceedingly damaging (Amazon affiliate link). It’s the most toxic sugar in our food supply. It is metabolized by our liver putting a tremendous amount of stress on it, and is on the fast track to fat storage in our bodies. In whole fruit and small doses, it’s fine. But agave isn’t whole nor does it have the benefit of the fiber to slow down its absorption.

A: Some folks are now claiming that sugar is as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Hyperbole?

M: It does sound extreme, but in fact sugar trigger the same pleasure centers in the brain as do heroin and cocaine, and it is exceedingly addictive. If you look at the seven criteria for substance dependence put forward by the ADA (American Psychological Association), I think you may recognize them as pervasive in many people’s relationship to sugar. They are:

  • tolerance (you need more to get the same effect)
  • withdrawal (experience physical or psychological symptoms when use stops)
  • bingeing (use more of the substance or use it longer than you intended)
  • desire or attempts to cut back or quit
  • craving or seeking (an “intense drive to self-administer”)
  • interference with life
  • use despite negative consequences

Now just like with any addiction, not everyone is going to be as susceptible to its grasp. Just like some people can have a glass or two of wine without a problem, some people can give up sugar easily. But for many, without a very specific program and lots of support, giving up sugar is no joke and exceedingly difficult.

A: How can someone know if they have trouble with sugar?

M: There are a lot of different ways to tell if you’ve got some blood sugar handling issues. The key ones are:

  • you crave sweets generally (yes, it is possible to live without sugar cravings!)
  • you crave coffee or sugar in the afternoon, and/or you get sleepy in the afternoon
  • you get irritable, shaky, or a headache if a meal is delayed or skipped. I call this ‘cranky hungry beast’ syndrome and let me tell you I know this one well
  • you wake up a few hours after going to sleep, and have a hard time getting back to sleep
  • you tend to binge or eat uncontrollably
  • you can’t imagine life without one or more of the following: dessert, chocolate, bread, rice, pasta, alcohol, coffee…

A: Hang on there. I can’t imagine life without chocolate, bread, or alcohol… Those are foods I truly enjoy and really wouldn’t want to live without those.  Do you mean I’d have to cut those out completely?  (For a couple of weeks, sure, but forever?  You may be losing me here…)

M: Haha! No, I don’t mean forever, but I do mean drastically reduced and as a special treat rather than on a daily basis. None of these things contribute much nutritional value to our diet, in fact, none of them are nutritionally required. We can live quite easily, fully, and healthfully without them (this comes as a surprise to many people). And all of them are contributing to blood sugar handling issues in their own ways.

All that said, I am a big believer in moderation and I have an 80:20 rule that I live and swear by. If you told me I could never have ice cream again I might punch you. As long as you’re steering clear of this stuff most of the time, then the occasional treat isn’t going to hurt you.

A: What advice do you have for my readers who are trying to reduce their sugar consumption?

M: You know, I’m usually a big proponent of baby steps, but with sugar you need to get aggressive. Baby steps will drag out the process in a way that makes it harder for longer. I’m a big believer in doing an aggressive sugar detox – either ours or another - that’s assisted and supported so that you have someone to go to for support along the way. I like to think of it like a chiropractic adjustment for your blood sugar handling. The majority of people are able to have major breakthroughs and results after two weeks; for some it takes a bit longer.

After two weeks without anything in your diet that converts to sugar quickly in your blood, it’s remarkable how good a person can feel.

Sugar Control Detox DietThe Sugar Control Detox is a 14-day real-food cleanse that will change your relationship to sugar profoundly and switch your body’s metabolism from being primarily sugar- and starch-dependent to fat-burning. Like a chiropractic adjustment for your blood sugar handling, this detox is the first and most important dietary step you can take to break the vicious sugar cycle. In the process you’ll lose weight, increase your energy levels, and feel better all around. The cleanse uses exclusively real food – no potions, powders, or supplements – and you’ll never go hungry. It’s a deeply nourishing, life-changing 14-days that is the beginning of a long-term real-food lifestyle.

23 Comments on "Getting Off of Sugar: An Interview with Margaret Floyd"
  1. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 10:32 am
    Lisa says:

    Great interview! I am so sick of the “hidden” sugars in things. I’ve been trying my best to eliminate processed foods from my diet the last few years but there are still things that have sugar in it that should not!

  2. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 11:29 am
    Danielle says:

    Margaret makes a great point when she says that cutting out sugar(s) forces you to eat more whole foods. I think that’s the crux of the argument for avoiding sugar. Last month I tried to see how long I could go with no sugar at all except for honey and fruit. The biggest changes I found in my diet were a lack of snacks, a more protein-based breakfast, and drinking a LOT more water! It was really, really hard to maintain a no sugar diet (socially and psychologically), but I’ve reduced my sugar intake significantly and I feel a lot better (not to mention I lost some of that pesky lower abdomen fat for the first time since I was a teenager!). I hope this program can help people.

  3. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 11:31 am
    Gina S. says:

    I’ve just started reading your blog a couple of days ago and I’ve learned so much! I have a quick question, I’ve found one of the 100 calorie healthy choice greek frozen yogurt. It comes in the frozen isle. Okay for dessert or is these a hidden sugar danger zone? I’ve been having these after dinner.

    • Comment left on:
      May 16, 2013 at 11:52 am
      Andrew says:

      Hi Gina, welcome! I just looked at the Healthy Choice website and couldn’t find the actual ingredient lists for those frozen yogurts. However, from the “nutrition facts” I can estimate that they have at about 3 or maybe 4 teaspoons’ worth of added sugar. They contain 17g of sugar in a small, 2.5 ounce portion. Some of that will be naturally occurring lactose, but if we compare, say 0% Fage Greek Yogurt, which has a total of 9g of sugar in an 8 ounce serving, you’ll get an idea of how much sugar they’re adding.

      My suggestion would be to ignore the entire label except for the ingredient list… And then take a look at this post:
      http://www.attunefoods.com/blog/2012/05/really-reading-the-ingredients/

      Having said that, I don’t want to be all negative! If this is your “daily indulgence” I think you’re doing pretty well. :)

  4. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 11:33 am
    Lauri says:

    Andrew’s eating challenge, 100 Day of Real Food, Dr. Neal Barnard’s vegan challenge…they’re all free. Why does this one cost $150?

    • Comment left on:
      May 16, 2013 at 11:43 am
      Andrew says:

      I don’t know Margaret’s exact business model, but I can say that this program does come with quite a bit more support than any of the other challenges you mentioned. There are weekly conference calls, a private Facebook support group, etc. She’s also got a slew of support videos, and includes a copy of her book. All of that takes time and/or money.

      I know Lisa @ 100 Days makes money via advertising and sponsorship on her site. I assume Dr. Barnard makes money by selling his books and via speaking appearances.

      To be honest, October Unprocessed is probably unsustainable as a completely “free” thing. Although it’s been a good way to grow my blog and reach more people, I have not made enough money through affiliate links or advertising to make it financially viable. In other words, I’ve been taking a financial hit each year I’ve done the challenge. I also haven’t been providing direct support for people, other than the occasional reply in comments.

      I personally think what Margaret has put together is a good value for the money. However, if you don’t agree, by all means don’t sign up. :)

  5. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 11:50 am
    Robin says:

    I enjoyed the interview. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with my relationship with sugar right now. It’s seriously true that the less you eat it, the less you crave it. And I’ve had some success with using dates in baked goods as sweetener. Oops, but that usually mean flour is involved. Well, I like the idea about not going berserk and totally eliminating everything, all the time. I don’t think it’s necessary. And while I am not a violent person, I think I too might punch someone if they tried to keep me from putting honey in my tea.

  6. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 12:54 pm
    Kevin says:

    Great interview Andrew! I’ve been doing a lot of research into sugar the past two weeks, so the timing of this was exceptional for me!

    I’m a big proponent of taking things slowly, but I can see why a more aggressive approach might be needed for sugar. Funnily enough, I don’t really have much of a palate for sweet foods at all, but bread is a killer for me. I’ve been telling myself for awhile that I really need to cut down on it… looks like I should listen to my own advice a bit, ha.

  7. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm
    Sandy says:

    But she also wants us to eliminate potatoes and whole grains?
    Granted, starch is “a sugar” in the chemical sense, but does she really think starches are unhealthy?
    I almost never sweeten coffee or tea (except for chai, every couple months or so). Sure, added sugar is unnatural. If she inveighed against modern, extremely hybridized wheat as opposed to emmer, kamut, century-old “heritage” wheat varieties . . . I’d see some sense to it. Altho that still leaves a lot of other, un-messed-with grains.
    And fruit? I’m going to be really rude, if I don’t shut up!

    • Comment left on:
      May 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm
      Margaret says:

      Sandy, heritage grains like what you’re describing are definitely good grain options if prepared properly (soaked and sprouted and/or fermented) but for the purpose of a sugar detox, they need to be eliminated completely for at least the two weeks. Same thing with fruit (although we do allow small amounts of low glycemic fruit such as berries or a half green apple daily). I’m not opposed to any of these things – but it’s important to realize their impact on blood sugar handling, which is a big issue for a lot of people. And often the cleanse helps bring these foods back into balance relative to other macronutrients. In moderation they are fine, but that’s not how most people are eating them. A heavily grain- and starch-based diet isn’t optimal.

  8. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Great post, Andrew! My husband and I have been researching sugar for the past few months, and you’ve really helped us figure a lot of things out with your posts on sugar, especially for OU!

  9. Comment left on:
    May 16, 2013 at 11:55 pm
    Aneta says:

    Great interview Andrew! I learn so much from you! Just wondering… I’m breastfeeding, and I wonder if I could do the sugar detox? Would it influence the breastmilk? I know general detoxes are not recommended because the toxins are eliminated through breastmilk too. Any thoughts?

    • Comment left on:
      May 17, 2013 at 3:25 pm
      Margaret says:

      Hi Aneta, great question. (and congratulations!!) I, too, am breastfeeding and it’s actually the only detox you can do while breastfeeding. Now, there are a couple of considerations that will apply to you that won’t apply to other folks – you’ll want to watch your milk supply (most of the time it’s unaffected – sometimes it reduces a little depending on how much dairy you currently consume, and we can easily tweak the protocol so that you still get results but bring supply back up to normal) and also depending on how much sleep you’re getting, the rough days may feel a little rougher. We’ll give lots of support for this situation specifically throughout the program. How many months old is your little one? I’d recommend waiting until she/he is at least 3 months old – mostly for your sake. Many moms find they love this protocol for themselves and their babies. We take out almost all the common allergens and sensitivities, so once colicky/fussy babies often do great and lose their fussiness. It’s a win win! This is very different from a typical detox where you’re not nourishing yourself fully.

  10. Comment left on:
    May 17, 2013 at 7:41 am
    Jayne says:

    Great interview! Ive just finished my first whole30 and loved it! No sugar is the way to go, (although not forever)! I just hope I can keep it to a minimum.

  11. Comment left on:
    May 17, 2013 at 11:17 am
    Macarena Ramírez says:

    Hi! This is such a great post!

    I’ve had a serious problem with sugar ever since I can remember. Last month I tried to quit and I was aware of all the other sugars (potatos, rice, pasta, etc) so I tried to quit those as well and include more protein. But since I don’t eat meat or fish, I don’t realy knew what or how to eat. I’ve read that when you eat legumes and are vegan or vegetarian you have to eat some cereal with it so it can turn into protein. Is that true? And if it is, how can I just stop eating cereal? Do you have any tips on how to do a detox being a vegetarian?

    P.S: English isn’t my native language, so I hope I made my self clear.

    • Comment left on:
      May 17, 2013 at 3:29 pm
      Margaret says:

      Hi Macarena. Yes, it’s a lot more difficult to do this detox as a vegetarian, but it is possible. (although I need to state up front that we can’t guarantee the results the way we can with meat eaters) It’s sadly just part of the deal with a vegetarian diet – it’s so heavily grain/starch dependent that it’s very difficult for some people, depending on your metabolic type, to stay away from the sugar. It’s not possible to do this protocol as a vegan, but as a vegetarian, as long as you’re willing to consume eggs and we’ll make an exception for you to include dairy, then you’ll be okay. But as I said, we can’t guarantee the same kind of results.

  12. Comment left on:
    May 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm
    William says:

    I have just finished reading Dr Lustig’s book FAT CHANCE. He also thinks sugar is toxic and should be eliminated from the diet. Except for Lactose, in Milk, which he puts on his OK list. He says that lactose turns to glucose in the liver…and that there is no fructose (which is his real culprit) involved. Lactose in milk is not an ‘added sugar’ so it is intrinsic to the food.

    Any comments.

    • Comment left on:
      May 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm
      Margaret says:

      Hi William,
      Fat Chance is a GREAT book loaded with excellent information on the topic. I love his work. I agree with him for the most part about lactose, except that for a sugar detox it’s actually important to take it out (unless you’re a vegetarian and then dairy becomes an important protein source) because it does have an insulinemic effect which is counterproductive to the cleanse.

  13. Comment left on:
    May 20, 2013 at 4:50 pm
    Keegan says:

    I totally agree with cutting out many of the sugary foods we consume. When you see the effects of eating a meal that converts to glucose quickly, you realize that it can’t be good for you. Good interview.

  14. Comment left on:
    May 23, 2013 at 10:22 am
    Miriam says:

    hi

    good article, thanks!
    I have been eating clean for a while, eliminating processed sugar but not the occasional wine glass, fruit (I keep it to a minimum) and dairy (I eat non fat green yogurt and cottage cheese.)
    The thing is that I exercise a lot, I’m training for a marathon and feel that natural sugars in moderation are good for an active person.
    I;ve still yet to lose my tummy though, but I’m afraid to stop eating healthier carbs as I don’t want my body to be deffiient in nutrients.
    And advice would be appreciated!
    thanks again.

    • Comment left on:
      May 24, 2013 at 12:32 pm
      Margaret says:

      Hi Miriam,
      I used to run marathons too so I know where you’re coming from here. A couple of things: we have used this protocol very successfully with Olympic athletes (one of whom just competed in the London Olympics) and they experienced big gains in their training – switching your body to slow burning fuel for a long distance activity like marathonning actually makes a lot of sense. But something else to consider with marathonning is that it’s actually quite a stressful state for the body and many people (especially women) actually GAIN weight when training for a marathon. This has been my experience and I’ve talked with many trainers who see the same thing with their clients. I know it’s frustrating to run that long and keep the extra pounds, but when your body is under stress it is reluctant to let go of extra pounds. Just food for thought…

  15. Comment left on:
    October 4, 2013 at 7:35 am
    Coppelia says:

    Andrew, I just read that you’ve taken a hit financially every time you’ve done the #Unprocessed challenge. I’m SO sorry! You have encouraged me, my hubby & our 2 kids to eat healthier & be healthier. You can’t put a price tag on that. I pray that God blesses your work! You’re helping a lot of people!

    • Comment left on:
      October 4, 2013 at 7:41 am
      Andrew says:

      Hi Coppelia,

      Thanks for your note! No need to apologize, though!

      This year, thanks to Bob’s Red Mill, I’m able to lead the challenge (with more than twice as many people participating so far!) without taking that financial hit. More importantly, their support has made it possible to keep October Unprocessed completely free for everyone participating. (They’re also providing coupons for everyone joining in, of course!). I’m tremendously grateful for their support and enthusiasm of this project and my blog.

      I’m so glad that you and your family are eating healthier because of the challenge. As they say in those credit card ads, PRICELESS! :)

      Thanks again,
      Andrew

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