Most of us have a complicated relationship with sugar. While we crave it and tend to indulge in treats that are high in sugars, we have an underlying assumption that sugar is terrible for our health.
There are many different kinds of sugars, and yes, some sugars can have detrimental effects on our health. However, some natural sugars can satisfy our sweet tooth without harming our immune system. Let’s take a look at how you can use the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet to determine if sugar is a trigger for your thyroid symptoms.
The autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet aims to manage your autoimmune disease symptoms through food. The theory behind the AIP diet is that certain foods trigger inflammation and consequently exacerbate autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease. The AIP diet helps you to identify and eliminate all foods that may trigger autoimmune symptoms.
The first part of the AIP diet is a strict elimination of foods that are known to damage the gut and cause inflammation in the body like grains, dairy, and sugar. The elimination phase should last several weeks before you gradually start reintroducing foods. When you begin to reintroduce foods, we recommend one new food every three days and keeping a detailed food diary to track symptoms. Strict reintroduction allows your body time to adjust and helps you accurately determine any foods that may have caused an autoimmune flare-up.
Refined and processed sugars are not allowed in the AIP diet. Examples of sugars that are not allowed on the AIP diet include:
In general, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and natural sweeteners that do not have calories (such as stevia) should be avoided, especially in the elimination phase of the AIP diet.
Fortunately, some sugars are allowed on the AIP diet that also have some health benefits. A good rule of thumb is to eat sugar in moderation and only occasionally, like when you need a little indulgence. In general, it is ideal to limit your fructose intake to 20 grams or less per day. However, if you have health conditions such as diabetes, you may not be able to tolerate this amount of fructose.
Some natural sweeteners contain micronutrients that can add value to your diet. For example, white sugar has no vitamin and mineral content. In contrast, honey includes vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B and C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and selenium. It is important to note that the micronutrient content in these sweeteners is minute, so it will not contribute meaningfully to your recommended daily intake for these nutrients.
The following are generally agreed upon AIP-compliant sugar alternatives if you are craving a sweet indulgence:
Ideally, you will want to use local raw honey to get the most benefits from this natural sweetener. Honey contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6. Minerals found in honey include magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, and zinc. Natural honey also contains digestive enzymes that help you improve your digestion of some foods. Finally, honey contains prebiotics that may support the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
Micronutrients in molasses include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, manganese, selenium, and some B vitamins.
Like honey, it is best to purchase pure maple sugar or syrup. Refined or altered maple syrup loses its micronutrient content and also puts potentially harmful additives into your system. The micronutrient content changes based on whether you use maple sugar or syrup.
One teaspoon of date sugar can give you 2% of your daily value of calcium and iron. Many people also use dried dates or date paste to sweeten treats like protein balls.
Like date sugar, one teaspoon of coconut sugar can contribute to 2% of your daily value of calcium.
Small servings of low-sugar fruits can also help satisfy your sweet tooth. Most fruit is generally allowed on the AIP diet in small quantities, so select a gratifying and easy-to-digest fruit like a handful of berries.
There is no clear answer whether or not artificial sweeteners cause or aggravate Hashimoto’s. We do know that artificial sweeteners and refined sugars can affect the pH of the gut and alter good digestive bacteria, which plays a significant role in the immune system. Maintaining a healthy gut ecosystem can help ward off chronic health conditions and inflammation.
Inflammation is a hallmark characteristic of autoimmune disorders, including Hashimoto’s. In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the immune system destroys the thyroid gland through chronic inflammation, resulting in the organ’s eventual failure. Some studies have found that controlling inflammation and mediating the immune system through diet can slow damage to the thyroid.
In one study, a woman diagnosed with Hashimoto’s after consuming high doses of artificial sweeteners for 14 years eliminates artificial sweeteners for weight loss. After removing artificial sweeteners from her diet, her TSH and thyroid antibodies returned to normal, and she was able to stop taking levothyroxine as she was clinically euthyroid.
While this study does not suggest that removing artificial sweeteners will cure Hashimoto’s, it does highlight the importance of using a holistic approach when treating autoimmune thyroiditis.
If you struggle to manage your Hashimoto’s symptoms while taking thyroid medication, consider working with a thyroid nutritionist. Nutritional coaching may help you identify dietary triggers and reverse nutritional deficiencies that can aggravate your immune system.
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