The Real Benefits of Reducing Refined Flours and Sugars from your Diet
Michael Shaw, from No Flour, No Sugar Diet, has graciously offered to write a post for my site describing some of the health benefits you can expect by reducing, or even eliminating, refined flours and sugars from your diet. I very much enjoy his writing, and hope that you all find this article useful. Thank you, Michael!
* * *
Over the last couple years, I’ve initiated a campaign to decrease refined flours and refined sugars from my diet. Prior to that, over the last decade and a half, I have gone from giving up red meat to giving up chicken (and other fowl) to, most recently, about a year and half ago, giving up fish, which has been the hardest. It’s obvious that I didn’t choose to stop eating fish because it’s not healthy; quite the contrary- most fish is exceptionally good for us, thanks to its high protein and omega levels. Rather, I gave up fish for environmental and ethical reasons that I think outweigh its health benefits.
But refined flours and sugars?- no real ethical or environmental issues there…the reasons to reduce them, if not eliminate them, are strictly health concerns. As wonderful-tasting as the many foods that are made with processed and refined flours and sugars can be, they make up an entirely unessential part of our diet. But it’s hard to give them up; for one, there isn’t any clear environmental concern or the like that’s going to be influencing our decisions. When it’s just about your health, you just have to do it for you, and if you’re not someone who especially notices the effects that certain foods are having on your mind, your body and your energy, you’ll likely be reluctant to make any big changes, let alone even thinking about adopting a No Flour, No Sugar Diet.
But there are big personal rewards to be gained from reducing the white flours and the white sugars so prominent in our Western diets. Better weight maintenance is one of the most clear-cut benefits.
Several years after my mom was diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease, I was beginning to suspect that I may have some gluten-sensitivities myself, so I decided to try eliminating gluten from my diet – or at least dramatically decreasing my intake – to see what would happen. What happened was that the allergy-related issues I had been experiencing almost completely went away, and I lost some weight without even trying to. The starches that most of us consume daily via breads, muffins, pastas and desserts add a lot of extra calories that we don’t need. Notice that the now-famous Michael Pollan mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” doesn’t include ‘breads.’ Those starches don’t do our energies wonder either. Sure- I’ve done bread and cheese in Paris, and it was great; but I was in my early 20s; bread, especially white bread, is not a healthy diet to live on long-term, especially as our metabolisms slow.
Refined sugars are another beast entirely, aren’t they? Added sugar is in just about everything you can buy at the supermarket, from cereal to juice to salad dressing to catsup to even almond milk. And if you’re cutting down on gluten by going with gluten-free breads, be careful there, as many include sugar. In my mind, sugar’s always been a little trickier even than refined flour: we’re so used to it because it’s been a part of our diet for so long in both subtle and completely unsubtle ways, that we only notice it when it’s taken out of our diet.
So why cut out sugar then, aside from dental health and weight health? Depending on how much you have, there’s also of course diabetes, and then there’s Candida, which, if acquired, will demand an even more restrictive diet than a diabetic one to rid yourself of it. But as with gluten and refined flours generally, there are also energy issues associated with moderate and higher sugar intake; many who have cut down drastically on sugar or given it up altogether have sung the praises of their renewed energy levels, so that’s a solid reason to bank your choice on.
Meanwhile, if you’re going to add sugar to anything – primarily your coffee or tea, which I realize is a habit many of us will never give up – at least do your best to transition to using unrefined sugar, anything from raw honey (not the processed version) to molasses, to maple syrup, to stevia, the latter of which is both all-natural and has no glycemic effect.
No one said dramatically reducing your consumption of refined flours and sugars would be easy – at least I didn’t – but there are a lot of benefits to reap, and you won’t be able to experience them without some hard work. But some of it can be fun. My partner and I have been tooling around with some sugar-free ice cream recipes lately. We’re still in the experimental stages, so I can’t provide you with a definitive recipe, but I can offer some basics that will set you well on your way:
Super-basic, Easy, and Sugar-Free Homemade Banana Ice Cream Recipe (makes 2 delicious servings)
For mixing, you’ll need either a Vitamix or similar blender
- 2 or 3 ripe (spotted, but still firm) bananas, peeled and frozen
- milk, nut-milk, or other non-dairy milk (optional)
- maple sugar, honey, stevia, or other non-refined sweetener (I recommend dates – Siobhan) (optional)
Drop frozen bananas into a Vitamix/other blender; use tamper and be prepared to tamp down on bananas immediately as you turn on the power and gradually increase blender setting.
At this point you may be totally set or, depending on level of thickness, you may want/need to add a little milk to get banana to blend better and become less frozen – either skim milk, low-fat, whole-fat, or cream; or almond milk, soy milk, rice milk or goat milk. This choice all depends on your personal milk preference, and too how much fat you’re willing to include in the recipe (cream is clearly the least healthiest option, yet it’s going to produce a result that’s the closest to store-bought, familiar ice cream).
Add a tablespoon of milk and blend again; keeping adding milk until you have the right consistency.
Note that not all bananas are created equal; since some are sweeter than others you may want to sweeten up the ice cream with a little honey (use raw) or pure maple syrup. Go easy, starting with no more than a teaspoon, and then add in half-teaspoon increments until you reached desired sweetness (but don’t go crazy).
Serve. It’s that easy. You can also adapt this recipe by adding other fruits, such as blueberries, cherries, or peaches, though add each in moderation at first to test them out.
Nutritional Breakdown (per serving – assuming you use only the bananas) [nutritiondata.com]
This food is very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Vitamin B6.
Glycemic load – 12 (relatively low; for a sweet dessert that’s fantastic; adding unsweetened almond milk will lower it further)
4 grams fiber
2 grams protein
Vitamin C – 22% DV
Vitamin B6 – 26% DV
Magnesium – 10% DV
Potassium – 16% DV
Manganese – 21% DV
* * *
Michael Shaw is a freelance writer and blogger who hosts the site No Flour, No Sugar Diet, where he analyzes many sugar-free and gluten-free trends, as well as describing healthy pancake recipes and doing protein bars reviews.