The best thing I’ve ever done for my digestive health was to break my sugar habit. It allowed me to rebalance my biome and heal my irritable bowel syndrome 16 years ago and counting.
Sugar addiction is one of the hardest addictions to break due to social pressure. Sugar is a celebrated part of the Western diet, and an integral part of gatherings.
Social and cultural influences are not the only reasons it’s hard to tame the sugar dragon. A high-sugar diet feeds yeast and pathogenic bacteria in the gut. These microbes demand sugar to survive. When their primary food source is cut off, they excrete endotoxins as they die. This can be experienced as flu-like symptoms, increased sugar cravings and moodiness/irritability.
To reduce bacterial or fungal overgrowth, moderate carbohydrate intake is key. Going too low carb can damage hormones, reduce energy and starve beneficial bacteria. While, too much sugar and carbs can feed infections, boost inflammation and destabilize blood sugar and mood. Taking the “goldilocks” approach of moderation with sugar and carbs is a smart and balanced approach.
Social pressure, cravings and physical withdrawal are reasons why people fail to kick sugar with a “cold turkey” approach. But there is another way.
As a digestive health coach, I suggest slowly weaning off sugar, processed carbs and inflammatory foods/treats. The slow path is less shocking to the system and more sustainable long term.
You can have your cake and eat it too, without feeling awful
While many people with digestive issues tend to be extremist, the all or nothing approach is too hard, especially during the holidays or special occasions, when treats are celebratory and traditional.
Train your taste buds to like treats that are less sweet. Do this slowly by rebalancing your microbiome to reduce sugar cravings. First, remove inflammatory foods like gluten, anything processed/junk food, dairy and in some cases, grains. Then slowly raise fiber in the diet. The slower you go the easier it will be. You won’t shock your body into a state of withdrawal.
Your biome is shaped by what you eat and also determines your cravings. When you feed it with healthier foods it will have healthier cravings. My experience was that regular treats started tasting overly sweet.
Feeling successful with baby steps in sugar reduction will drive motivation and consistency, which are key to achieving difficult goals. Healthy substitution trumps discipline, so swap your regular treats for healthier ones to avoid feeling deprived and tempted.
What are healthy treats? I wrote a cookbook with more than 60 of them. I’ll explain my criteria below.
What’s a healthy treat?
Healthy treats avoid white sugar, wheat and other gut irritating grains to calm the gut. Swap grain-based flours with flours made from cassava, nuts, seeds or coconut. I add gut-supporting ingredients like prebiotic fibers, secret veggies and gut-soothing collagen to make my treats even healthier.
Making your own treats allows you to slowly reduce sweetener each time. Go as quickly or slowly as you want. Remember, slower is better. No pressure.
The goal is to eventually reduce sweetener to a few tablespoons of maple syrup or honey per recipe. This way, you can enjoy and indulge without guilt if you eat that extra muffin.
Here are few examples of ingredients to add to your treats to help stabilize blood sugar, rebalance the biome, tame inflammation and mend the gut lining.
Hydrolyzed collagen – adds protein and helps mend the intestinal lining
Cinnamon – helps balance blood sugar
Coconut flour/butter/oil/water or flakes – antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.
Green tea – kills bacteria and feeds beneficial bacteria
Turmeric – tames inflammation
Cranberries – feeds akkermansia, a keystone bacterial strain in the gut
Cassava flour – nut free, grain free, resistant starch feeds anti-inflammatory bacteria
Flaxseed flour – feeds beneficial bacteria and a great detox binder
Tigernuts – a nut-free and coconut-free alternative for making milk
Food is not everything, but it’s a foundation for healing the gut. Turn that “restrict and binge” cycle into the joy of baking your own low-sugar treats.
The way you feel about your food is important. Emotions like guilt, fear and shame affect digestion negatively. The opposite is true for pleasure and gratitude.
Remember to always listen to your body and “treat yourself well” with recipes like these pumpkin bread pudding bars below.
Pumpkin bread pudding bars
The seasonal flavors of pumpkin meets creamy bread pudding. Pumpkin is easy to digest and full of safe fiber. Start with 2 tablespoons of sweetener and slowly work down to 1 teaspoon, even if it takes months.
- 2/3 cup of pumpkin seeds ground up in a food processor to release the oils. Grind for 2 minutes, scrape the sides and repeat about 4 times.
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
- 2 sliced bananas
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup of pumpkin puree
- 1/2 teaspoon of Pumpkin Pie Spice (a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and all spice)
- Optional: 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom
- 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1/2 cup of tapioca flour
- 3 Tablespoons of apple butter or applesauce
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 3 Tablespoons of butter or ghee or coconut oil or shortening (your choice)
- 1/3 cup of chocolate chips (optional)
- 1.5 apples, diced into small chunks
- Optional: 1 Tablespoon of coconut butter (pulverized and sprinkled on top of the batter)
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Grind the pumpkin seeds in the food processor for 8 minutes, stopping every 2 minutes to scrape the side (or just use store bought nut butter). If you want the pumpkin seed butter to be creamier, process for longer but this will still work great if the texture is still a bit crumbly/grainy.
- Melt your oil of choice (I used butter)
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with a hand mixer or a spatula/fork
- Bake for one hour. I used a 9 by 13 inch pyrex to bake mine. If you are using a smaller container the dough will be thicker and needs to be baked longer.
- Let cool, slice into bars and enjoy!
Note from Jini: I tried this recipe myself and while it is certainly delicious, I found that since my bananas were already very sweet, the maple syrup made the whole thing just too sweet. In future, I would use 1 tbsp. of maple syrup (if any) and if using honey, then use even less. Remember, it’s always easy to add sweetness by sprinkling coconut sugar on top, or drizzling honey/maple syrup on top of the bars – but you can’t take sweetness out. So you might want to err on the low side the first time you try this recipe.
Author Bio: Angela Privin suffered with irritable bowel syndrome for 6 years and could not get good help from her doctors.
She reversed her symptoms and healed her gut 16 years ago using diet, supplements, detox and lifestyle changes. Her experience inspired her to become a holistic health coach. She helps people with digestive issues and IBS.
IBS taught Angela to cook and in her free time she recently wrote a book of treat recipes and nutritional advice for people with digestive issues. Part nutritional bible and part permission slip to enjoy what you eat, Treats That Heal, shows how to make easy treats that lower inflammation instead of triggering it. The variety of recipes offer some low FODMAP, nut free, egg free, sugar free and coconut free options.
Jini Patel Thompson is an internationally recognized expert on natural healing for digestive diseases. She healed herself from widespread Crohn’s Disease and has remained drug and surgery-free for over 20 years. Jini has appeared on numerous podcast, TV, and radio shows throughout the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia, giving people hope and vision for how they can heal their Colitis, Crohn’s, Diverticulitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), using entirely natural methods. Her books on natural healing for digestive diseases have sold worldwide in over 80 countries.