Slaying the Sugary Beast in 2011

Since sweets abound everywhere during the holidays, the following is being republished from last year as many were helped greatly by it. It’s much easier to resist confectionary temptations when one reads this post.  


There you are, having waded into the Holiday Eating Scene and finding yourself knee deep in Temptation City. Platters of chocolate chip cookies, lovingly-baked and fresh from the oven, coyly call to you. Servings of sherbet shimmer seductively. The creamy pie looks especially good tonight. How do you fortify yourself against these pitfalls? 

Now, I wish that I could say that if you eat a clove of raw garlic in the morning and wear a rutabaga around your neck all day, you will never be tempted by sugary desserts. (Come to think of it, if you eat garlic in the morning and wear a rutabaga around your neck, you probably won’t be getting many party invitations, anyway, so it might not be such a bad strategy after all!)

But, seriously, I have been cursed with one of the most voracious sweet tooths (is the plural of “sweet tooth” really “sweet teeth?”) in history. Until my nutritional understanding grew to a point when most sugary treats just no longer seem as appetizing to me, any dark chocolate bar or vegan cookie within arm’s reach of me was in mortal danger. Yet, they are safe in my presence now. What has armed me with such fortitude? Why don’t I eat the cookies and the devil’s food cake this year? Because I know what they are!


To arm oneself with this sword of knowledge, a little sweet chemistry understanding is called for. Sugars do taste good, and there is no problem in enjoying the naturally occurring fructose in whole, fresh fruits. The problem is in eating sugar as a food! When you are holding a cookie in your hand, a piece of cake, a candy bar, you are holding a chunk of sugar in your hand. You would not consider going over to the sugar bowl and shoveling tablespoons of the white stuff into your mouth, but here you are, actually considering eating this large chunk of sugar as a food.

If you do eat it, within minutes, your bloodstream is flooded with sugar. Soon, the structural proteins in all your tissues – the elastic fibers of your skin, the hemoglobin in your blood, the filter membranes in your kidneys, the inner lining of your blood vessels, the lenses of your eyes – all get “sticky” with sugar (the chemists say they become “glycosylated.”) In the 98.6 F metabolic “oven” of our body, the sugars and proteins melt together and oxidize, like the browning of bread crust (called the “Maillard reaction.”) These oxidized, damaged, and congealed proteins, officially called “Advanced Glycation End Products” do not function normally – the gummed-up, oxidized protein fibers break, skin cracks in the sunlight, eyes become less permeable to light, muscle proteins do not contract as vigorously, brain function dwindles – sound familiar? The aging process perhaps? EATING SUGAR AGES US!  (Remember, the acronym for "Advanced Glycation End Products" is AGE's!)

So, as my eyes fall upon the plate of cookies or candy, I actually flash the image in my mind of myself eating it, and simultaneously think, “This is a chunk of sugar in my hand. This stuff ages me. It makes my skin crack, my arteries stiff, and it leads me towards frailty and Alzheimer’s disease. Do I really want to eat it? Is it really worth it?”


I also know, after having indulged far too many times in the same, sugary seduction, that I am always physically sorry after I eat it. That is, it is guaranteed that within 15 minutes of eating the cake or candy, I will have that sickly, light-headed, slightly nauseated “I can’t believe I just ate all that sugar” feeling coursing through my body.

Nope. Not this time.

“Been there. Done that. Got the tissue aging. Don’t need to do that no more…”

It is said, “The truth shall set you free” - and the truth is, whether mixed with fat, as in ice cream, or baked into pies, candies and cakes, or dissolved in soft drinks, refined sugars are sweet poison. Like the poisoned apple in Sleeping Beauty, sugary treats taste good upon the tongue, but silently and relentlessly, they damage us.

Fortunately, if you look around, there is usually a safer, more wholesome way to appease your sweet tooth. There is most always fruit available at festive gatherings - but to make sure, bring some grapes or melon chunks in a discrete plastic container to munch on instead of the sugary seducers. (Of course, eating a hearty, ETL-style meal at home before you go out to party will make you less likely to nibble on handy but unhealthy treats while you are there.)

It also helps to remember that temptation is usually place-specific; that is, while the visual cue is right in front of you. I know that if I move away from the site of temptation and actively do something else for 5 minutes, my mind lets the sugary treat go to focus on the current conversation or task in front of me. I know that if I keep walking past the bakery or the sweets table at the party, the sights, smells and temptations will fade away in a few minutes. So, at the festivities, move to a different part of the room, have some of the food or trail mix you brought with you, strike up a conversation with an interesting person, and let your mind move on to something less detrimental to your health.

An especially powerful strategy that worked for me recently was to understand the power of commitment and abstinence. (I know what you are thinking, “Uh-oh, here comes the dreary part.” But read on; this turns out to be a joyful, empowering strategy.)

It began at the end of a talk given by Rory Freedman, author of Skinny Bitch. She said, “If you can do without a seductive food for a month, you will seriously reduce, or eliminate altogether, your desire for that substance. So, turn to the person next to you, lock pinky fingers with him or her, and both of you vow to help the other overcome their next food stumbling block over the next month.” The person to my left was Ann Wheat, co-owner of the Millennium restaurant in San Francisco, and without hesitation, we both locked pinkies and said, “Let’s both stop eating sugar!”

From that point on, we were “pinky buddies” - and whenever I would be tempted by a chocolate treat or piece of vegan devil’s food cake, I would think of Ann’s smiling face and earnest effort and say, “No, I’m going to stay strong because I know I will be talking to Ann soon, and I don’t want to let her – or me – down."

So, the month went by with this simple commitment steeling me through each moment of temptation. As the weeks sped by, my viewing of chocolate – and my desire for it – significantly changed. I saw it for the fatty chunk of congealed sugar that it is, and I lost my desire to eat it. Tastes certainly do change! So, another way to make your “sword” even more powerful is to make it through a month without eating your “problem” food, and see if you don’t feel less driven to eat it after that time.

Finally, if you do find yourself absolutely unable to resist tasting a given treat, and you do have a bite or a whole cookie, don’t panic, don’t regard yourself as a failure – and above all, don’t say, “Well, I’ve blown it now, so I might as well eat every bad thing in sight.” Rather, make it a reinforcing learning experience. Yes, you put it in your mouth and are eating it. So, taste it for what it is – congealed sugar on your tongue. Then say, “Yep, that tastes like the chunk of sugar I knew it was and I don’t want to eat any more of it.” It is OK not to finish the piece of cake or eat the entire gooey chocolate caramel. No penalty for that confirmatory bite – just fully taste it, decide you got the taste sensation you came for, and that you don’t need to eat any more of it. Put it down, find a healthier ETL alternative, and rejoice in your inner fortitude.


As you demonstrate this power to yourself over and over, you will find yourself to be like the mighty lion or lioness, who, as they stride through the forest, are not distracted by the frogs of temptation that croak at them from under the leaves.

Happy, healthy holidays!



Dr. Klaper assists in answering questions on the Ask the Doctor forum of, and is currently on the staff at the nutritionally-based True North Health Clinic in Santa Rosa, California. 




image credits:  flickr; chocolates by Hammer51012, teaspoon of sugar by ayelie

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Comments (10) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
mike crosby - November 28, 2011 11:28 AM

I love Dr Klaper. I saw him speak at this year's Health Expo and I immediately quit all alcohol.

He truly is a caring doctor and has been a great influence on my life.

Now to read and reread this article and make it part of me.

Thank you Dr Klaper.

Wendy (Healthy Girl's Kitchen) - November 28, 2011 2:58 PM

What do you guys think about a small handful of dried goji berries, goldenberries, mulberries and blueberries as an afternoon snack? Healthy or not? I know we are not supposed to eat in between meals, but sometimes I do eat in the afternoon and I would rather it be on the healthy side.

xq - November 28, 2011 5:08 PM

Dried fruit is not ideal as a snack (eating it as part of a meal, on a salad, etc. is different). It's too easy to overeat and has a high glycemic index. If you have to snack (and I do sometimes) it is better to eat whole fruit or veg.

Peter - November 28, 2011 8:54 PM

What is the difference between the sugar in fruit and the sugar from junk food? Doesn't it all end up as simple sugars in the bloodstream after it is broken down by the body?

Ginger - November 29, 2011 8:49 AM

I used to be addicted to sweets but no longer have any desire for them at all. A few weeks ago we had a dessert at a Thai restaurant that I thought was mango with coconut milk. It was soooo sweet I couldn't eat it. The picture of chocolates holds no temptation for me, but let's see how I do when my SIL sends her homemade, hand dipped chocolates and my step-mother sends her peanut brittle this year. My hope is that I'm totally over the whole sugar thing. Fruit makes a much better desert and never gives me a head ache.

Stephanie - November 29, 2011 9:58 AM

This article is great. I'm glad it got reposted.

I am about 99.9999% over the sugar thing. It was hard slogging for awhile, but now it's easy. And since I mostly eat plain ol' fruit for dessert, my tastebuds are super-sensitive to sugar; I made both Dr. Fuhrman's Pumpkin Smoothie recipe and tofu Pumpkin Pie recipe over Thanksgiving break: My mother and my sister both thought the former absolutely delicious. I liked it, but thought it was a bit too sweet. (Next time I'll cut the dates from four to two.) They thought the pumpkin pie needed to be a lot sweeter; I thought it was perfect. I used to LOVE eating dates and could eat them in quantities that were far too large--now I still like them, but I can't eat nearly as many because they taste so sweet to me.

Michael - November 29, 2011 10:56 AM

Sugar is refined junk food. It is over 1700 calories per pound and has had all fiber, water, vitamins and minerals stripped from it. Most fresh fruit is around 200 calories per pound which is lower than any other food except non-starchy vegetables and makes it difficult to over consume. One could easily consume hundreds of calories from candy, but all the water and fiber in fruit limits the amount of calories you can consume. Fruit has a lot of vitamins, mineral, fiber and water and fruit consumption is correlated with lower risks of some cancers.

Marita McDonough - November 30, 2011 2:01 AM

I had a terrible sweet tooth before starting ETL. It just simply disappeared. Or...converted, I guess you could say. I don't feel as if I am denying myself at all because the fruit smoothies I have are all the sweet that I seem to want. And, even better, they are guilt free. Lucky me!

StephenMarkTurner - November 30, 2011 4:08 PM

I was at a buffet today. The 'fatty chunk of congealed sugar' quote was very helpful when looking at the oh so beautiful desserts. I had one (sugar free) apple square and left it at that. Thanks.

AnnaB - December 7, 2012 9:36 PM

Dr Klaper rocks! what a great guy! go to his web site:

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