By Summer Rayne Oakes
I never thought I could nix my sweet tooth. I just figured it’s something that you’re born with. To a large extent, that’s actually true. Not only are humans programmed to prefer sweet over bitter, (which is no doubt an evolutionary advantage, as many bitter tastes are actually poisonous), but by the time we’re born and as we’re growing, our taste is already fairly developed.
The latter part is courtesy of a number of factors, including what our mother chose to eat while we were in utero, whether we were breastfed vs. formula fed, and even now—some studies suggest—what our dads and even grandparents ate. The last point I made is not one to gloss over. If the evidence, still being investigated today, is correct, then the food choices we put into our bodies today will affect several unborn generations after us. In sum, we’re making health decisions for people who are yet to be born!
With all of our advances in medical care, we must ask ourselves: why is life expectancy dropping for the first time since 1993 and why is diabetes—a disease once only prominent in adults but now prevalent in children—now the #1 health care expenditure in the U.S., according to a recent study published in JAMA?
Something has to be amiss.
About three years ago now, I began working in the world of “good” food. We were experimenting with how we could get farm-fresh food into people’s fridges more efficiently. When working so closely with farmers and foodmakers, you inevitably home in on what you’re eating—and how it makes you feel. I always considered myself a healthy eater in general. My parents, who both grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, were health-conscious and we largely grew our own food on five acres of land. Unlike my parents, however, I struggled with a sugar habit–one that has left me with many memories of hoarding sweet things. I finally had the time to ask, “Why?” and to begin to probe how this one ingredient has seemingly snuck its way into 3 out of 4 products on our supermarket shelves.
This curiosity and the need to know how to overcome my seemingly innate sugar habit led me on a Nancy Drew-like investigation; I began researching all I could about our relationship to the sweet stuff, and started documenting my “sugar cleanse” via sugardetox.me, which later led to an easy-to-follow, empowering program to help others do the same and most recently, a cookbook and guide on the very topic.
Sugars, and particularly free sugars (or sugars not bound by fiber), have become so prevalent in our food that the average American might not even realize that he or she is consuming over two to three times the recommended upper limit. This particular ingredient has a way of also changing one’s brain chemistry, so it keeps us hooked. Not to mention, it’s culprit #1 in skyrocketing diseases like non alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) and metabolic disorders like Type 2 diabetes.
It’s really amazing how prevalent the ingredient has become in our foodstuffs. All you need to do is turn to the back of a nutrition label at the supermarket or challenge yourself on taking an inventory of what you eat and drink over the course of the day. Or, if you were recently at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim (arguably the premier conference for natural food, beauty and wellness products in the states) you may be shocked how much the ingredient is in our “health” products. Walking the floors of the expo, one could easily fill one’s coffers and kitchen cupboards with many snacks and food stuffs. But if you were walking the floor selectively looking for food or drinks without added sugar or added sweetness, well then you’d have a paltry selection to choose from, as the vast majority of food that was displayed had some form of free sugars—agave, honey, sugar cane…it didn’t matter—it was in there. It’s become the most indispensible ingredient in our food.
As those of us who have begun to eradicate it from their diets know, you begin to taste real ingredients again. Our taste buds have plasticity, renewing themselves and adjusting taste preferences to the food we feed our bodies and our cells. A freshly-picked summer tomato is sumptuously sweet–but to those of us who are used to overdosing on a hyper-stimulating cola, the best sun-ripened tomato from the farm might seem fairly bland.
Our appreciation for real food is within our reach—if we give our tastebuds time to acclimate from that which is hyper-stimulating. It’s not impossible to curb your sweet tooth, as I have found out. We are, after all, masters of our own destiny. Some of us have to contend with more challenging, uphill battles—but when we have the curiosity and will to understand our body’s needs and wants, then we’re already primed towards a path to better health. I encourage and invite everyone to take the time to explore their own personal cravings and relationship to food, as none of us have the same story or experience. I assure you that when you’re able to put your own puzzle pieces together to see the whole picture, you begin to feel empowered to discover the path towards health that is right for you!
Spicy Zucchini Soup
Time: 10 minutes
My mother would often make zucchini bread or fried zucchini, but it wasn’t until I had it raw and lightly sautéed that I really began to appreciate zucchini for what it is. At the height of its growing season, you do begin to wonder if you can possibly eat any more of it—and try to peddle it to neighbors, coworkers, and the guy at the gas station—but pureeing it with a handful of kale, coconut milk, and chiles gives you a new and exciting way to eat zucchini. You can freeze this soup as well, so that once zucchini season has passed you can thaw, simmer, and serve it warm.
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 medium zucchini, diced
- 2 cups vegetable broth,
- 1 cup curly kale
- ¼ cup fresh mint
- 1–2 teaspoons red chili paste
- ½ can (6.75 ounces) coconut milk
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon
- sea salt (optional)
- Heat the coconut oil in a medium saucepan. Add the zucchini and saute for 2 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and simmer over medium heat for 4–6 minutes.
- Add the kale, mint, and chili paste. Cover the saucepan and cook the broth for 2 minutes, then blend the mixture with an immersion blender or regular blender until it’s green and creamy.
- Add the coconut milk to the soup, blend it some more, add the lime juice, and taste. Add salt, if necessary. Top the soup with a little swirl of olive oil and serve.
About Summer Rayne Oakes:
Summer Rayne Oakes has taken an unlikely career path, having parlayed her background in environmental science and entomology from Cornell University with a successful career as a fashion model and entrepreneur. Most recently she launched SugarDetox.Me—a guided 10-day and 30-day sugar detox plan and her recently published book SUGARDETOXME (Sterling Epicure, March 2017). She is deeply passionate about helping people find healthier options in life through what they eat, what they wear, and how they live. www.summerrayne.net