Ep. #20: Should You Quit Sugar

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding sugar. Is it a natural substance that’s fine to eat, or is it killing us? This episode shares new insights on how sugar affects wealth. It can cause dementia along with a host of other problems that made me decide to quit sugar once and for all. Listen and see how you feel.


Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you get more bank with less bulk. Today’s episode is for every listener who is wondering about sugar—how bad is it really, and should you cut it out entirely? I’m Kelly Hollingsworth and I’m happy you’re here because we’re going to talk about sugar: the good, the bad, and the ugly, so you can decide for yourself if it’s something you’d like to quit.

If we’re going to discuss quitting sugar, we should begin by nailing down exactly what we’re talking about. I recently read one woman’s account of quitting sugar for a year, only to get to the end of the book and read that every recipe she used during the year was liberally doused in brown rice syrup, which is of course a form of sugar. It has syrup in the name, for Pete’s sake.

And that’s not a game that we’re going to play in this episode. Sugar means sugar in all of its forms. Some people make distinctions between glucose, which is the type of sugar found in brown rice syrup, vs. fructose, which is the type of sugar found in fruit that’s been bastardized into high-fructose corn syrup, vs. regular table sugar, which is a combination of glucose and fructose. They make these distinctions because fructose is processed differently in the body than glucose, and fructose seems worse because it goes straight to the liver and causes non-alcoholic liver disease and is thought to perhaps have a greater contribution to insulin resistance, but both types lead to weight gain and poor health effects, so in my mind this discussion, this comparison between these two types of sugar, is akin to a debate on which is worse, heroin or cocaine. It’s just not a useful distinction in my mind.

A big reason that I don’t think distinction is useful is because of the way sugar—all forms of sugar–affects our brains. We’ve all heard about sugar and diabetes and sugar and obesity, but most of us haven’t heard about sugar and what it does to our brains and how it causes dementia. There’s a fairly new book out on this, called The Better Brain Solution, by Steven Masley M.D. In this book, he writes about “how to reverse and prevent insulin resistance of the brain, sharpen cognitive function, and avoid memory loss.”

Notice something important here. He is writing about “how to prevent insulin resistance of the brain.” To understand why this is so damaging, first we must understand insulin and insulin resistance. Dr. Masley writes in his book that when we eat carbs, any kind of carbs, our bodies convert the carbs to glucose and that passes from our intestinal tract to our blood stream. And from there, every cell in our body, even our brains, can use glucose for energy, and to get this energy into our cells, our bodies produce insulin. Insulin’s job is to push glucose into our cells. And this is why insulin is called the weight-gain or fat-storage hormone. Often it’s pushing glucose into our fat cells where it’s stored for the future.

What should happen with our cell is that they should be sensitive to the insulin pushing the energy into our cells and that the cells should response. And so what this means for our muscle cells is that they should take in whatever amount of glucose that they can store, and our fat cells would in turn take the rest and store it as fat where it can be used for later.

But what happens in practice, what’s going wrong with all of us, is that we’re eating too many refined carbs, of course this means sugar. Dr. Masley also mentions flour, and these refined carbs—the sugar and the other refined carbs that we’re eating, cause a huge blood-sugar spike because it’s absorbed so quickly, and the insulin surge is also huge. And then the insulin keeps trying to cram all this glucose that’s in our blood stream into our muscle cells, and our other cells, but the cells are full, so they stop paying attention to the insulin. The cells become insulin resistant. Dr. Masley says it’s like a hotel that’s full—there aren’t any rooms available, so front desk clerk eventually stops answering the phone. There’s no room at the inn for anyone else.

The muscle cells are the first cells in our bodies to stop answering the phone when we become insulin resistant. The muscles cells can only hold so much, and the stop paying attention to the insulin’s demands that they accept more. And if this keeps happening, if our blood sugar surges and our insulin spikes repeatedly, meal after meal, day after day, pretty soon all of our cells—not just our muscles, but all of them–stop paying attention to the insulin. They all become insulin-resistant. And this is horrible for our brains.

Dr. Masley writes that if oour brains cells are insulin resistant, that means they’re ignoring the insulin’s signal for the cell to take in energy and they can’t use their own stores of glucose as energy. What does this mean for our brains? It’s not good. He writes, and I quote, “Insulin resistance literally stops you from using your brain.” He writes, “[t]hink of the brain as a motor requiring fuel. With insulin resistance, it’s almost as if someone has put dirt in the gas… and the motor won’t work.”

The scariest part of all? This is not a temporary problem. “Over time,” he writes, “this leads to brain cell death, shrinking brain volume, and dementia.”

Let’s go over that again. Brain cell death. That is very bad news because it’s impossible to reverse that process. As our brain cells die, the volume of our brain literally shrinks. It doesn’t work the way it did before. It becomes an old, dried out wad of gum. That’s how I envision it. Dementia is the inevitable result. What’s more, he writes, “What most people don’t know is that insulin resistance starts years before blood sugar levels are even mildly elevated.”


This, too, is wroth repeating. You can be insulin resistant a long time before you start showing signs of insulin resistance, which is high-blood sugar. And moment when you start becoming insulin resistant, even before you even know it, is the beginning of the brain’s deterioration into dementia. Dr. Masley writes that this process once it starts takes about 20 years. At first the decline is undetected. Then we begin to notice that our mental performance is a bit sluggish. We experience brain fog. We feel forgetful. Our friends may describe us as absent-minded. And then as the problem worsens, we’re no longer performing at full capacity. We can get through our day-to-day lives without assistance, but our high-level cognitive functions start disappearing. we start losing track of more important things. We struggle with memory. We struggle with processing information. He calls this stage mild cognitive impairment, and once it occurs most of us progress to full-blown dementia and disability within 5 to 8 years.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. We are 100% in control of what we put in our mouths and when we change what we’re eating, we can decrease our bodies’ production of insulin and improve the way our brains function. In Dr. Masley’s research—he used diet modification as well as exercise stress-reduction techniques, he found that the test subjects “increase[d] their overall complex information processing and executive function by 25%.” They “increase[d] their attention and focus by 40%.” They reported feeling “mentally sharper and able to accomplish more in their day. They also “lost 10 pounds of body fat in 10 weeks.”

So what does this tell us? What can we glean from Dr. Masley’s work? I think the most important thing is that sugar is a one-two punch to our wealth. It’s a straight path to broke and bulky. It messes with your brain which messes with your earnings, and that’s a great reason to consider eradicating it from your life.

If you want to watch the deterioration that is caused by sugar, there’s a great documentary on this. it’s called “That Sugar Film.” In it, actor and activist Damon Gameau decides to clear up the “constant confusion over its effects on our health.” Is it a natural substance that’s okay, or is it killing us? He had given up sugar for three years and felt great, and decided to document in this film the effects of consuming a high-sugar diet for 60 days.

He decided to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar per day, but he didn’t do it with desserts. Ice cream, soda, or candy–foods where the sugar is obvious, were not part of his plan. Rather, he changed his diet of unprocessed foods—meat, fats, and vegetables—and began eating more processed foods that are sold to us as healthful but where the sugars are hidden. Things like smoothies, protein bars, flavored yogurts. These foods are often what we reach for and load up on when we’re trying to lose weight and eat healthfully. He kept his daily calorie intake the same, just changed the composition of those calories– and the deterioration in his health was visible and profound. In 60 days, he went from looking lean and alert—the picture of health—to  bleary-eyed and bloated. By the end of the film, he’d begun developing fatty liver disease and pre-diabetes, and he’d gained 8.5 kg, which is almost 19 pounds. He also reported a serious toll on his mental function and well-being, and in my mind the effects of this deterioration was visible. He looked strung out like a junkie.

Now, this film wasn’t met with universal praise. There were many critics. Some said he was consuming far more sugar than the average person did, so of course he would have deteriorated. The Sydney Herald, for example, said that Gameau’s experiment on himself was “not rigorous enough to prove anything at all.” And then of course there was the argument that he was eating the wrong kinds of sugar. If he’d just loaded up on honey or agave instead of the kinds of sugars he ate in the film, he would have been fine.

To this, all I can say is that this is how they get you, isn’t it? We’re all struggling with weight. We’re either overweight or we’re struggling to keep our weight in check. We’re all suffering from brain fog. We all want to feel more powerful and leaner and healthier. But 80% of the foods we buy in the supermarket have added sugar in them. Scientists and other experts assure us that sugar is fine. It’s calories that matter. That’s all you have to pay attention to. This entire analysis is further complicated by sugar-sensitivity, which varies widely among individuals. Melania Trump reportedly eats seven pieces of fruit per day. If I ate that much fruit, I’d be strung out like a junkie just as Damon Gameau was in his documentary. There are also powerful lobbies and commercial interests in place working to convince us that sugar is fine, when quite probably isn’t. And our sugar-addled brains aren’t helping. Notice what happens if you tell your brain that you’re going off sugar. For most of us, our brains start melting down like a two-year-old lost in a grocery store, and that means they’ll do just about anything to convince us that sugar is fine. They do this in the same way that they convince addicts that a little bump of cocaine is fine.

I think the important thing to notice here in all of this controversy and conflicting information is that you are an experiment of one. It doesn’t really matter what works Melania Trump, or a controlled group of test subjects in a randomized food trial, or for society at large. The only thing that matters is what works for you.

I, for one, know that sugar doesn’t work for me. When I’m off sugar—and I mean completely off sugar—my brain is clear and I feel purposeful and calm. When I’m on sugar, I feel foggy and whiny and anxious. The ceiling feels lower and the corners go dark. I find everything irritating. Thinking is difficult, and articulating what I’m thinking feels impossible. I do not like my experience of the world when I’m on sugar. There’s also a swing of 20 or 30 pounds.

So I’ve decided I’m going to eradicate sugar from my life once and for all. No more going off sugar for a period of time to lose weight and then trying to sneak some in here and there for the sake of “living a little.’ What I’ve decided for myself is that sugar doesn’t feel like life. It feels like death, and I’m declaring myself done with it. I did this with alcohol and I’ve never regretted it. Same thing with caffeine. With both substances, I said I was done, and doing so, eradicating it from my life, has made me happier and infinitely more productive.

Now sugar is on the chopping block. It’s the next thing to go, and this isn’t going to be easy. I’m known as a dessert hound among my friends. At every birthday party, they cut me a giant piece of cake—way bigger than the piece anyone else gets, and as soon as my cake is gone they give me another piece. I’ve already talked about my notorious Ben & Jerry’s benders in this podcast. But I’m tired of waking up with a sugar hangover, and I’m worried about my brain, and I’ve decided it’s time to go cold-turkey. Eradicating sugar from my life completely and once and for all is something I need to do right now. It’s got to be all or nothing because what I’ve noticed is that for me, a little sugar begets a lot.

So here’s my plan: I don’t eat many processed foods anyway, but I’m quitting any food that has added sugar. If there’s an ingredient on a label that ends in “ose”—dextrose, sucrose, fructose, etc.—“ose” is code for sugar, by the way–all of that is out. Any syrup or sweetener is out, whether it’s hidden inside the food or poured on top, is out. So this means sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, brown rice syrup—all forms of added sugar–and all artificial sweeteners, too, because for me, they just make me want the real thing.

I don’t advocate this next step for everyone, but I’m also eliminating most fruits. I’m’ keeping avocados and peppers. I’ll eat those as much as I want because they act more like vegetables than fruits, and by this I mean that although vegetables do have some sugar in them, it’s so little relative to the fiber that they don’t cause a blood sugar spike in me. Melania Trump can get away with fruit, apparently, but I can’t. With me, fruit definitely spikes my blood sugar–I can feel it happening—and I’m sure there’s an insulin surge that accompanies that. At some point I may add back in certain low-sugar fruits in very limited quantities, such as pears or berries or melon, but I know that I’m very sensitive to sugar, so much that even eating a little fruit just makes me want more fruit, and more of every other kind of sugar. For myself, I’m not too worried about not eating fruit because I eat tons of vegetables, and I tend to think that whatever any particular fruit can do for me, there’s a vegetable out there that can do it better.

So that’s my plan—no added sugars, and no fruits except for avocadoes and peppers–and it starts today, the publication date for this show, which is Friday July 13th, 2018.  Today is a very interesting day to begin because we’re having a big party at our house tonight. It’s our neighbor’s 80th birthday party, and he’s having a live band and at least a hundred guests, so we’re hosting our own function in our own backyard to piggyback off of his music. He warned us that it’s going to be really loud in our backyard, so we figured we may as well enjoy it vs suffer through it or complain about it. And we’re serving at this party white sangria, loaded with fresh fruit—I’m going to be chopping up all of it–and I’m also making brownies and my special cookie recipe, Kelly’s Rich and Famous Chocolate Chip cookies. Making and serving this food, without eating it, is going to be interesting to say the least, and a huge opportunity to manage my mind. That’s half the fun of this challenge—to see if I can do it. The other half is to see what happens with my brain and my body the deeper I go into a sugar-free life.

If you’d like to receive updates on how this sugar-free adventure is progressing, you can get on my sugar-free email list by texting one word: sugarfreeupdate to 44222. By signing up, in addition to the weekly updates on how I’m doing with a sugar-free life, you’ll also receive tips, tricks, mind-management tools, and offers that can help you live a sugar-free life for yourself. I’ll probably include recipes as well, and they won’t be bogus “sugar-free recipes” that are loaded sugar like brown rice syrup. The one exception to sugar in the recipes could be that I might send you my recipe for Kelly’s Rich & Famous chocolate chip cookies, because if you are going to eat some sugar, it’d better be delicious and amazing, or why bother? And these cookies, I think, are delicious and amazing. But the very first thing you’ll receive if you sign up for this list is ten questions to help you figure out if you’d be better off reducing or eradicating sugar from your own life. So if you’re at all concerned about sugar and what we talked about in this episode, definitely sign up for this list. You can get it by texting sugarfreeupdate to 44222.

Please do this, because what I’d really like you to take from this episode is that sugar is probably having a much bigger effect on your wealth than you realize. We feel better, think better, look better, and earn more when our brains and our bodies aren’t all gummed up with sugar and other sweeteners.

And with that, I’m going to close so I can go get ready for my party. I hope you have a great week and I look forward to connecting with you next time.

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