Food Intolerances Part 2: Sugar / by lee tilghman

Hi Everyone!

I was blown away by the outpouring of support (and interest) in my last post about food intolerances. I was pretty nervous about sharing my negative experience with bananas since the very foundation of my instagram was built upon "the smoothie bowl".

However, it felt so good to put it out there, and I was met with nothing but grace, compassion, and so much goodness! So, thank you all for your loving comments and opening up about your own experiences.

In the second installment of food intolerance talk, I want to move the attention away from myself, and more towards a non person, sugar and food intolerances. Today, I interviewed 3 highly respected friends in the health and wellness world. Ksenia Avdulova of Breakfast Criminals shares her holistic approach to whole body health, Annah Kessler of Shadowbox NYC shares a glimpse into the life of a sugar addict, and Jeff Egler, M.D. and Director of Medicine at Parsley Health LA answers all our questions about food intolerances.

I decided to direct this post more towards sugar because through the elimination diet and discovering my intolerance to bananas, I realized that I was "intolerant" to sugar, and by intolerant, I mean, that my body doesn't like it! Not one bit.

Sugar was the root cause of a lot of the issues I was facing. Anxiety, chin acne, stomach bloat, lack of sleep, low energy in the morning, cravings, afternoon crashes, and worst of all, sugar caused all my hormones to go extremely out of whack and I truly believe it caused my PCOS. Since reducing my sugar intake most of my PCOS symptoms have vanished.  And the best part is that removing sugar from your diet COSTS NOTHING. No gym membership, no expensive food programs, no doctors or hospitals. How about that for a FREE life makeover?

I want to be clear that I have not BANNED sugar from my life. I still eat it in small quantities here and there. But my days of huge bowls of fruit (and JUST fruit, no fat) are long gone. Over the past few months, I've become extremely interested and passionate about how cutting back on my sugar has made me feel, mentally, emotionally, and physically. These three folks will be sharing their own take on food intolerances, what the deal with sugar is, and how removing it can do wonder for their bodies, naturally. 

Ksenia: Breakfast Criminals

You may know Ksenia Avdulova from Breakfast Criminals. Her blog and instagram is sprinkled with things like uplifting quotes, acai bowls in heart bowls, and tips on how to stay present in this current crazy day in age. Ksenia, like me, ate smoothie bowls for a while until she realized that maybe she should start eating more savory breakfasts. I talked to Ksenia about this experience. 

Me: So, tell us your story. 

Ksenia: I started Breakfast Criminals 3 1/2 years ago. It all started with smoothie bowls and acai bowls, that's how my blog became popular. I never, not once, took my sugar intake into consideration. Not even the natural sugars found in fruit. I mean, Freelee The Banana Girl eats 20 bananas a day and I only ate 2.

In December 2015, I decided to go off birth control. I had been on it for 10 years for the reason a lot of girls go on it: to help control my acne. I had really bad acne when I was younger, it was so embarrassing! I used to style my hair so that it would cover up my acne. I wouldn't even want to leave the house! So you can imagine how nervous I was by ending the birth control cycle. It [getting off birth control] can be really intense for our bodies. I knew that the acne would come back but I needed to find a holistic, long lasting approach that targeted the acne itself and didn't just cover it up. 

Me: How did you get to the bottom of your skin issues?

Ksenia: I started seeing some doctors at Parsley Health and they told me to eat less carbs and sugars and up the protein. Under Parsley Health's guidance, I eliminated gluten, processed sugar and dairy, and had super positive results.  

Me: What was the straw that broke the camel's back?

Ksenia: I knew I had to focus on reducing my sugar intake when I found out I had a tooth infection. My dentist told me I needed to get a huge procedure done, and get my tooth removed. I did some research research and realized that all these issues (skin and teeth) stemmed from a weak immune system. Instead of putting temporary patches on my issues, I needed to pay attention to my immunity. 

Me: What kinda stuff did you find?

Ksenia: I started reading books by Weston Price, this researcher and writer in the 30’s or 40’s. He focused on teeth health and nutrition. He was all about bone broth, meats and high quality dairy promote healthy teeth and bones and our immunity. 

It blew my mind. Once we eliminate sugar and processed foods, our health automatically increases. I eliminated sugar and all fruit completely for 28 days and my acne healed and so did my tooth. People told me my skin was glowing. It was crazy. I noticed an improvement and so did other people, just in 30 days. With no medicine, no nothing. 

Me: So what is your diet like now?

Ksenia: I have more savory breakfasts and lunches, and dinners surrounded around greens and veggies.

These days, I don’t even want a smoothie bowl, I just want a nourishing bowl with eggs and vegetables! And then yesterday in Sante Fe I had a bowl of acai and i loved it.  It was a treat. 

I had some issues with my instagram since people came to my page for photos of sweet breakfasts like smoothie bowls and all that. When I started eating more savory breakfasts, I'd post a photo of eggs and people would unfollow me. Some vegan activists said to me, “eggs are horrible, they are chicken periods. how could you eat this?" (laughs)

Me: And what's your food ideology these days?

Ksenia: I want people to know that it is okay to have a smoothie bowl or sweet fruit every now and then. I am not against smoothie bowls. It's just important to look at every case individually. If you're having skin issues, get to the root cause. Smoothie bowls and big sweet breakfasts should be thought of as a treat, not a complete meal. Just ask yourself, "What does my body need? What is it going through? What can i feed it and nourish it with today?"

Me: Do you consider yourself intolerant to sugar?

Ksenia: Not severely, but yes. I am convinced that reducing sugar has improved my health, and can have positive effects on everybody.

Annah: Shadowbox NYC

Annah Kessler is an instructor and co-creative director of Shadowbox NYC, the hottest boxing gym in New York City. When Annah's not at the gym working out, she's hard at work at her desk designing logos, working on websites, and helping out with the general (creative) direction of the gym. All around badass, you might call her.  Once a self-titled sugar addict, Annah figured out the culprit of her sugar cravings was actually sugar itself.

Me: How would you describe your diet in general?

Annah: Since I have a small stomach and am active for a living, I need to make sure that the food I eat is extremely nutrient-dense.

My diet is mostly veggie and fruit based. I struggle with uncontrollable cravings for sugar. I can go 2 weeks without sugar, and then I'll go 1 week of eating it every day. However, if I’m craving something, I'll give it to myself, even if that means 1 brownie every day for a week. 'Cause hey, I might go 3 months without even thinking of a brownie.  I stay away from diets. I believe food is an experience.

Me: What sort of symptoms were you experiencing pre-sugar awakening?

Annah:  Oh man. My sugar crashes in the afternoon were so bad. At 3pm I'd reach for a coffee and a cookie, and then just feel like super crappy all afternoon. I had horrible gas (hope that's not too much information, but it's true). Also, I suffered from really bad IBS. If I had a sweet yogurt and coffee for breakfast, I'd run to the bathroom within 2 minutes of finishing it. It was so uncomfortable. Now, for breakfast I have an almond milk smoothie with seasonal berries, coconut oil, omega 3 oil, protein powder, and almond butter or a green powder-y type thing. No IBS issues anymore. 

Me: So, you did the elimination diet through the Clean program, yeah? That's where you eliminate gluten, dairy, processed sugar, coffee and alcohol, right? What made you do that?

Annah: Yep. So I did the elimination diet through the CLEAN program. I knew I had to change my diet because pre-clean, every time I was hungry, I would put sugar into my body. I’d order the sweet smoothie, reach for the croissant, or the sweet breakfast.  I felt so gross. I didn’t feel like I was fueling my body properly. I needed to train myself to not crave sugar or other processed crap when I was hungry.

Me: Did you do the program alone?

Annah: I did the Clean program with a coworker. It's great to do it with a friend because it's nice to have someone hold you accountable. We are together for a majority of the day. It was so helpful to have someone who I could share recipe ideas with.

Me: What was the hardest part of the elimination diet?

Annah: Cutting out caffeine and sugar. I had horrible migraines for 3 days and was knocked out on the couch. My head hurt. But after those 2 days passed, I didn’t feel bad at all. 

Me: What is your relationship to sugar like now?

Annah: I'll always have a complicated relationship with it, its never going to be something that I will 100% stay away from. I don’t deny myself the things I love. But I have found better ways to get my sugar fix in. It's a huge thing for me to reach for a pineapple than a pastry. I know it's an evolving process and i will continue to grow. 

Me: How did you feel after you completed the Clean Program?

Annah: Pretty great. I didn’t feel like I needed to binge on everything I had been avoiding for so long. I felt more balanced. I was surprised by how much I didn't even miss gluten or dairy. I didn’t feel the urge to re-introduce dairy at all, so now I'm dairy free. I resumed eating gluten but more mindfully. 

Me: How does sugar affect you now?

Annah: I don’t have sugar crashes anymore. I used to have sugar crashes multiple times a week. If I want a brownie it can’t be my only snack. It needs to be with something healthy like an avocado or a protein-rich low-sugar smoothie. 

Me: What are some of the foods you can eat to help control blood sugar?

Annah: NUTS. I always carry raw unsalted nuts with me. My favorites are almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts. I always have them on me and a bar. Right now I love RX bars and Go Macro too. I always have those with me so that when I do have an energy crash and I need something, I can reach for those and don’t get tempted to get something less healthy. 

Me: So has your food philosophy changed post CLEAN program?

Annah: The biggest thing for me is to be conscious of what I am eating, but not to the point of letting it control my plans or seeing my friends. It's all about having a good balance of enjoying food and fueling my body with what it needs. I love going out to dinner with friends and splitting food with people and not being limited by my diet. I will always love going out to dinner and will always enjoy that time with a friend and trying new food. 

Jeff Egler: Parsley Health

Lastly, we have Dr. Jeff Egler from Parsley Health. he is a board certified family practice physician with specialty training in preventative, functional medicine. Trained a the University of Colorado in Denver, he completeled a fellowship in Academic Medicine at UCLA and has been certified by the Institute of Functional Medicine. He is a frequent speaker on the subject of health, disease prevention and optimal performance. 

Me: What is a food intolerance?

Jeff: A food intolerance just means you have a bad reaction to a particular food.  For example, a food could cause gas or bloating, abdominal cramps or even diarrhea. Think about lactose intolerance - people who are lactose intolerant lack the proper amounts of lactase, a digestive enzyme, that breaks lactose down leading to digestive issues when they eat milk and cheese.

More specifically, a food sensitivity, involves the activation of the immune system. A food allergy being the more severe reaction and sensitivity being less severe. A common example is gluten sensitivity which can cause rashes, acne, brain fog, and joint pain, because the immune system is reacting to gluten.   

Me: What are some of the most common food sensitivities that you see?

Jeff: The most frequent food sensitivities I see in my work as a functional medicine physician at Parsley Health are to gluten, dairy, soy and sometimes corn. I also see sensitivities to a group of vegetables called nightshades - these include tomatoes, peppers, white potatoes and eggplants. People with these sensitivities can have a really wide range of symptoms - the only way to know is to cut the food out for at least 3 to 4 weeks.

I also see people who are something known as histamine intolerant - they aren’t good at breaking down histamine, a protein in foods like red wine, red meat and certain cheeses, and so they get flushing and headaches.

Me: Do you think it’s possible to become intolerant to a food after eating too much of it?

Jeff: Yes.  Eating too much of certain foods, particularly processed or poorly digestible foods, can lead to breakdown of the lining of the gut.  This leads to the condition known as leaky gut syndrome.  A leaky gut exposes the immune system to many proteins that would have otherwise been kept out by an intact gut barrier.  This can lead to overstimulation of the immune system and subsequent food sensitivities.

Me: Do you think most of the population is really gluten intolerant?

Jeff: Gluten intolerance can cause headaches, joint pain, fatigue, brain fog, gas, bloating, acne, eczema and other symptoms. I commonly see people in my practice who remove gluten from their diets and see huge improvement in these areas. It makes sense that like anything in the body, there is a continuum, and something like gluten is not a black or white issue, not a Celiac or non-Celiac issue, but a spectrum of response severity.

Me: My aunt states that she is gluten intolerant here in the states, but when she travels out of the US to places like England and Italy, she can consume gluten with absolutely no issue. Why is this?

Jeff: The wheat that is used in Europe and perhaps most of the world is not as highly processed as it is in the United States.  Our wheat is so genetically and otherwise modified that it is almost unrecognizable from wheat of the preindustrial era.  Its rate of change from genetic engineering or even simply modern farming processes has far outpaced our evolutionary pace as humans.  Our bodies don’t recognize it and so don’t tolerate it.  Strains of wheat in England and Italy likely have gluten that is more recognizable and tolerable to our immune systems.  

Me: What are some of the strangest food intolerances that you see?

Jeff: Apricots, Spirulina, Collard Greens, Lime, Turmeric, Cocoa Beans, Peppermint.

Me: How can or do we get food intolerances?

Jeff: Food sensitivities occur because of a breakdown of our healthy gut barrier leading to leaky gut syndrome.  Processed foods can lead to such a breakdown in the lining of our intestinal walls.  This exposes the immune system to a much larger variety of substances that hyperstimulate it and cause it to become intolerant to foods we previously tolerated.

At Parsley, we provide easy ways to restore the health of the gut and to prevent further breakdown.

Me: Why do we get food intolerances later in life?

Jeff: Food sensitivities occur more frequently later in life because of the breakdown over time of mechanical barriers, critical anatomic structures or vital functions in the body.  Lactose intolerance, for example, can be acquired because of the eventual reduction of the cells that produce lactase or their ability to produce adequate amounts to deal with the dietary load.

Me: Can you get food intolerances by eating too much of something?

Jeff: Yes.  

Me: How do you know if you have a food intolerance?

Jeff: Eliminate the food or foods that you think may be the offending agents and see if the symptoms resolve.  Then you can add them back to see if the symptoms return.  It can be as simple as that.

Antibodies, which are the proteins that your immune system makes when it reacts to foods, take around 21 to 23 days to turn over, so if you don’t quit things to which you’re sensitive for at least that time, you won’t get the full effect of eliminating them.

Me: What’s the most inexpensive way to find out?

Jeff: Experimentation with an elimination diet as described above.  Accurate results.  Great correlation.  Zero dollars.  

Me: Why is it important to know and learn about food intolerance?

Jeff: Food intolerances very clearly can significantly affect a person’s quality of life.  A better understanding of and ability to identify and deal with food reactions can help to improve life quality, reduce unnecessary discomfort or disability and to eliminate unnecessary health risks.


So, there you have it. Everything you really have ever wanted to know about sugar and food intolerances. 

This post was so much fun to write. If you have requests for other health posts not related to recipes, comment what you'd like to see below. I am always open to suggestions!

ALSO: If you are interested in doing the elimination diet under guidance, my readers can take advantage of the Founding Member opportunity to join Parsley Health in LA. If you do, you will not only get access to what is usually $15,000 up front in concierge medical fees for $1,000, but you will be joining a community of people who care as much about their personal health, fitness and vitality as they do about the clothes they wear, the places they travel, and the places they eat. That’s 40% off the standard membership and a rate you keep for life.  Bonus: If you put my name down when you register, you’ll get $50 in the Parsley Health store! Visit parsleyhealth.com or click here to sign up for a free consultation.