By Cara Henderson, MS, RDN
I am an avid cook. I especially love baking in all of its forms. Cookies, cakes, pies, homemade bread, rolls, pastries, crackers – you name it, I’ve baked it. There is something about homemade baked goods that cannot be delivered by any other type of food on the planet, in my opinion. Baked treats are the epitome of comfort food. (Besides mac and cheese, if you ask my 7-year-old!) So you can imagine my extreme disappointment when I received the results of my food sensitivity test a few weeks ago. The backstory on this is that I have two autoimmune conditions (more on that here) and have been adhering to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet for the past 6 months, with great improvements in my health and a significant reduction in medication. However, I was still experiencing some joint pain, swelling, and fatigue, so I decided to visit a functional medicine doctor to see if there could be any underlying factors contributing to my symptoms. A few tests were run to check the state of my microbiome and inflammatory markers. I was so excited to see the results of the food sensitivity test! (I forgot to mention that I’m also a registered dietitian and a full-fledged “food nerd.”) Alas, my excitement rapidly evaporated when the doctor pointed to the lines for honey and sugar – the highest levels on the entire test. I literally felt like crying. For someone who loves food, loves to cook, and yes, loves sugar in all of its delicious forms, this was horrible news! A high level of IgG in the blood in response to eating a certain food means that your body’s immune system recognizes that food as an invader and marshalls immune cells to attack and rid the body of it. The visible result, which manifests in different forms for different people, is inflammation. For me, this inflammation shows up in my hands and other joints that swell painfully. The pain is often accompanied by fatigue. For others with different autoimmune conditions, it may look like skin flare-ups, respiratory reactions, trouble sleeping, and a host of other symptoms. The bottom line is that if a food sensitivity test confirms an inflammatory reaction to a certain food, that food is not doing your body any favors.
I would like to add here that there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding food sensitivity tests. This test, which measures IgG and IgA, as well as the standard food allergy tests that measure IgE, can both have false positives. The gold standard, the only way to know for sure if you are allergic or intolerant to a certain food, is to eliminate it from your diet for at least 3 weeks, monitor your symptoms in the meantime, and then reintroduce the food and monitor again to see if any symptoms return. In my case, since I had eliminated so many foods on the AIP diet for the past 6 months, I decided to go ahead with the IgG test knowing its limitations. I figured that any foods that were significantly high could give me a clue as what else might be causing inflammation in my body.
Back to the depressing drama of the sugar intolerance. I was shocked to learn that my body was reacting to sugar so strongly. When you have already cut out over 50% of your former diet going on the AIP, learning that you are still allergic to some of the foods you’re eating is hard to take. And I had drastically cut down on sugar when I began the AIP. I thought I was doing such a good job, but now I realized that I had to buckle down and eliminate the sugar completely. No more half a teaspoon of coconut sugar in my hot tea, or a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup in a cookie recipe. Nope, I would have to make an attempt at complete healing by avoiding the sweet stuff altogether and allowing my body to rest from the inflammation.
So I bit the bullet, as the old-timers say. I put away all of the sugar and tried to stop thinking about the great treats I could be making with just a little bit for some flavor! And you know what? It worked. Within 2 days, the swelling in my hands went down and I could get my rings back on again. And my energy began to return. I breathed a sigh of relief as I started to see that this would be possible, and well worth the effort for regained health.
Because I am a self-described food lover and aficionado of all things yummy, and the yummiest things in life are, of course, sweet, which things I can no longer enjoy, I have spent the last 3 weeks on a quest for substitutes for the oh-so-slightly-sweet AIP treats that I used to enjoy. Yes, I could (and probably will soon) make cookies without the sugar. But, as exciting as that sounds, I also needed some other snacks that weren’t even trying to masquerade as treats, just healthy foods that tasted good and would help me to forget about my long-lost sweet treats. So here they are, my favorite foods to satisfy those cravings that were satisfied with sugar in the past. (Please note that nuts, listed below, are not strictly on the AIP diet. I have been able to successfully reintroduce them. If you cannot tolerate nuts or are in the initial phase of AIP, substitute nut butter with coconut butter.)
I hope you enjoy these ideas. Please share your own in the comments section!
- Carrot sticks, zucchini sticks, and/or sliced apples with cashew butter
- Dried coconut, nuts (if you can tolerate them), and dried unsweetened cranberries
- 2 Tbs. pureed pumpkin, 2 Tbs. coconut butter, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Melt the coconut butter and stir all ingredients together until smooth. You can refrigerate this mixture and it will harden into a fudge-like treat, or use it at room temp for a dip for veggies or fruit.
- Yes Peas! These are delicious little pea crisps that taste like chips, with no sugar whatsoevah!
- Tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole
So there you have it, some inspiration for delicious snacks when you’re mouth would love some sugar but your body just can’t take it. There is indeed life after sugar!