I’m an Addict

Hi, I’m Bera, and I’m Still an Addict

– Bera Dordoni, N.D.

“I Have a Choice!” is more than just an idea or book title for me. It’s my daily mantra, my own way of combating the sugar addiction that almost killed me nearly 30 years ago.

I wish more folks would pick up that mantra, because I keep running into people who were born here in McKinley and Cibola Counties and claim they don’t have a choice about what they eat or drink.

“This area is too poverty-stricken for healthy foods,” they say.

Bull hockey.

Living on limited means is no excuse not to reach for something healthful in the produce aisle. Truth is, fresh foods are actually less expensive than packaged products.

“But I can’t afford organics!” is their follow-up cry.

So what? Any kind of fresh fruit or vegetable is healthier than the best processed food-like substances, most of which contain little or no nutritional value whatsoever. Consider the difference between a family-sized box of macaroni and cheese and a serving of fresh baked yams. Both fill empty tummies, but only one supplies actual nutritional value from real food, not from laboratory additives.

And the yams are cheaper, taste better, and satisfy longer.

I like the ones I grow myself best. Not only do I derive an incredible amount of satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment from growing my own food, nothing from a grocery store can ever taste as delicious.

“Yeah, but if it tastes bad, it’s got to be good for you, so if it tastes good, it’s probably bad for you,” grouse the naysayers among us.

More bull hockey! The better any fresh food is for our body, the better it tastes. Our bodies were designed naturally to like those foods that nourish and support it. Fresh-food deliciousness is hard-wired into our tongues and synaptic pathways.

Fresh foods. Not junk foods or fast foods or chemical-laden food-likes substances built in laboratories to stimulate the taste buds so we’ll buy more, eat more, and need more medical services. I’m talking fresh foods.

Fresh foods are the answer to helping your school-aged children avoid the diabetes and obesity problems so prevalent in our area, a direct result of the popular American diet built on processed, fast, and junk foods. “Fresh-food and good health” are as much a cause-and-effect reality as “junk foods and poor health.”

As a reformed sugar addict, I wish it wasn’t that simple.

But it is.

And it really is a choice: mine, yours, everyone’s.

We can spend our money on fast, easy meals that do nothing to nurture our children’s bodies, minds, or souls, or we can spend it on a garden that nourishes them in every way: from the joy of watching their plantings burst forth from the soil and reach for the sun, to the satisfaction of growing their own food from a handful of seeds, to the nourishment of eating delicious, fresh produce. Talk about your win-win-win situation!

Full Disclosure

After I nearly destroyed my immune system (and just as nearly lost my life) back in my early 30s, I educated myself about that tasty sweetness known as sugar. This is what I learned.

When the 1970s studies on the harmful effects of fats came out, people began replacing fats with sugars. It seemed like the ideal solution to the high-fat American diet, until metabolic diseases began to skyrocket as a result of the resulting boosts in LDL (the bad) cholesterol.

  • Harvard Professor Louis Cantley says sugar can cause sudden insulin spikes, which then acts as a catalyst to fuel some types of cancers. Breast and colon cancers, for example, live on sugar!
  • Sugar releases dopamine in the brain the same way cocaine does—no wonder it’s so addictive! Our bodies react to sodas and highly processed sugary foods just like a junkie’s body reacts to drugs: they build up a tolerance for it, so we always crave more and more and more.
  • In “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” a YouTube video, UC San Francisco Endocrinologist Robert Lustig, M.D. calls sugar a toxin. He recommends men ingest no more than 150 calories and women take in no more than 100 calories per day from what he calls “added sugars” – table sugar and processed food with hidden sugars. He believes sugar can be traced to heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type II diabetes, cancer, and/or strokes.

So what about the sugars in fruits and vegetables? That’s called fructose, and it’s safe when its fiber is intact—that is, when you eat the whole fruit. But simple fructose without the fiber—used in so many so-called “healthy” snacks– activates the enzyme fructokinase, which in turn activates another enzyme that causes cells to accumulate fat. Yup, your mother was right: it’s the sugar that makes us fat. Not the fat, not the healthy carbohydrates, not the meat or the eggs or the buttered yams—the sugar.

Simple sugars set off a cascade of chemical reactions that keep us hungry and craving—what else?—sweets!

But I Don’t Eat That Much Sugar

Sure you do. We all do. The average person consumes 130 pounds of sugar every year, often unwittingly–or what Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a featured contributor to 60 Minutes, believes is equivalent to consuming straight toxins.

In a study, people who did not normally consume the average amount of sugar had elevated blood levels of LDL cholesterol within two weeks of eating typical American ‘sugary’ foods. An overloaded liver converts sugars to fats. The fats become plaque and cause heart attacks.

In other words, the typical American diet is actually killing us.

Are Artificial Sweeteners the Answer?

Absolutely not. Not only are they not a healthful alternative to sugar; they stimulate our appetite, increase our cravings for carbs, and create fat storage and weight gain. In fact, research now shows that diet sodas double the risk of obesity!

Why? ‘Cause our bodies aren’t dumb!

The body knows when it’s being deprived of the calories sugar provides and being fed the empty calories of chemical or food-like substances. The body responds to deprivation by storing fat for survival.

It gets worse: aspartame-type sweeteners (NutraSweet®, Equal®, Splenda®, etc.) are not only carcinogenic, they account for more adverse-reaction reports than all other foods and food additives combined, including kidney problems, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological disorders. Splenda®, specifically, wreaks havoc with the healthful bacteria in the gut and has been linked with migraines, muscle spasms, heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, weight gain, insomnia, seizures, slurred speech, vision problems, hearing loss, memory loss, nausea, irritability, depression, joint pain, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and much more.

More? Do we need more?! Well, we’ve got more!

  • Diet sodas are suspected of increasing the risk of stroke.
  • Aspartame has been linked to brain tumors, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lymphoma, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and more.
  • Authors James and Phyllis Balch list aspartame in the “chemical poison” category in Prescription for Nutritional Healing.
  • Research published in the 2008 Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health notes that Splenda® reduces the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50 percent, increases the pH level in the intestines, and affects a glycoprotein in the body that can have crucial health effects, particularly in combination with certain medications, causing drug-rejection in chemotherapy, AIDS treatments, and heart-condition treatments.

What are the Healthful Alternatives to Cane or White Sugar?

Xylitol, a polyol sweetener made from birch trees, tastes similar to sugar with no aftertaste. Xylitol is a boon for diabetics, because it does not require insulin to metabolize it, so it produces a lower glycemic response than sucrose or glucose. It’s widely used in some countries for diabetic diets, but consult a doctor or health professional before incorporating it into yours—and don’t share it with your dog. It can be as deadly as chocolate for your canine companion.

Stevia, a sweet herb derived from South American stevia plant leaves is completely safe in its natural form and can be used to sweeten most dishes and drinks.

Lo han (or luo han guo), an African sweet herb similar to Stevia, is a bit more expensive and harder to find.

Agave syrup tastes great in its raw, organic form. Avoid the processed syrup, because it is very high in fructose.

Honey in its raw, unfiltered, natural form has many health benefits when used in moderation. When processed, it, too, becomes high in fructose and is no better than sugar. The word ‘pure’ means processed, so don’t look for “pure honey,” the nutrients are all in raw honey.

Grade B maple syrup and blackstrap molasses contain many good-health minerals when used in moderation.

Coconut sugar made from coconut nectar is a wonderful 1:1 replacement alternative to sugar. Coconut palm trees produce 50 to 75 percent more sugar per acre than cane sugar and only use 20 percent of the resources. Produced from flower buds of the coconut tree, coconut sugar contains magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, B vitamins, and amino acids.

Brown Rice syrup and Date syrup are smooth and delicious, and gluten-free. Brown rice syrup enters the bloodstream slowly and is used by the body like a whole food, so it won’t spike your blood sugar and then cause it to plummet shortly thereafter.

Barley malt syrup is similar to the brown rice syrup when it reaches the bloodstream. Both slow to assimilate, neither will cause the crashes simple sugars create in the body. However, the barley malt syrup is not gluten-free, so it does not fits into a gluten-free diet.

Awareness is the Key

I readily admit it: I’m still a sugar addict. Once an addict, always an addict. But I don’t want to be a statistic like the 172,900 New Mexicans diagnosed with diabetes. According to the state Department of Health-Diabetes Prevention Control Program (http://diabetes-obesity.findthedata.org/d/d/New-Mexico and http://nmhealth.org), the diabetes rate in McKinley County is 10.4 percent, the obesity rate is 26.8 percent, and the rate of residents who claim they eat very few fruits and vegetables is 72 percent. Cibola County is even worse with a diabetes rate of 11.3 percent, an obesity rate of 29 percent and a whopping 82.9 percent of no-fresh-food consumers.

You’d almost have to be blind to not see the association between the illnesses and eating habits, don’t you?

I’m not blind, so I maintain control of my addiction by repeating my mantra: “I have a choice.”

So do you.

I never walk down the middle aisles in grocery stores that have nothing but refined foods high in sugars. If I want something sweet other than whole fruit with its fiber intact, I reach for a healthful, satisfying fat, such as an avocado, a few olives, some coconut milk, or raw pecans or almonds.

In times of great cravings, I make something that won’t harm me as much as those highly processed, addictive candy bars that called to me when I was a kid.

My current favorite vice is homemade macaroons. They not only have all the wonderful benefits of coconut, they taste great.


2 cups shredded coconut
½ cup coconut flour
¼ cup grade B maple syrup
½ cup virgin coconut oil

Smoosh ingredients together by hand. Roll into 1” balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake in oven for only 5 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven, cool slightly, and enjoy. ______________________________________________________________________


Dr. Bera “The Wellness Whisperer” Dordoni, N.D.

Specializing in immune system rehabilitation, restoration, and maintenance through nutritional counseling, life-style coaching, and the laws of attraction. To purchase I Have a Choice?!, schedule a private consultation, or learn more about her next workshop, wellness retreat, or natural-health class, visit www.bastis.org or call 505-783-9001.