As a kid growing up at the turn of the cable boom, nineties TV was a never ending loop of sugary treats, rammed down my throat in all its colour and glory. Those sweet cravings were tipped over daily by images of the Spice Girls in Pepsi ads and Homer Simpson eating pink-iced donuts. For nineties kids, sugar dominated everything from billboards to lunchboxes.
As an adult in the city, my sugar intake increased via a new medium; alcohol. When you’re young, you think your body is invincible, and I never really thought about annual check-ups. No, that would take away precious office or party time, two things I prioritised in my twenties.
This year I decided to get a full body MOT, and to my horror, the doctor advised that I was borderline diabetic, or pre-diabetic.
This year I decided to get a full body MOT, and to my horror, the doctor advised that I was borderline diabetic, or pre-diabetic. This meant that my blood sugar levels were dangerously close to reaching a level where I would be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
In Singapore, one in nine people aged 18 to 69 has diabetes, according to Diabetes Singapore. Diabetes is a chronic disease and if not managed well, can deteriorate steadily to cause devastating complications. These include blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, heart disease and limb amputation. I hadn’t crossed the line yet, but in order to avoid irreversible health complications, I needed to act quickly and move as far away as possible from that sticky sweet line.
Ignorantly, I always thought diabetes only happened to those overweight or elderly. At 180cm, 76kg and 34 years old, I considered myself fit and healthy. I exercised twice a week, loved salad and lead relatively clean lifestyle. It never dawned on me that the sugar I was consuming came from not only my vices, Kit Kats and cocktails, but also foods that ‘appeared’ to be healthy, like yoghurt, smoothies, white rice and cereal.
What’s more, when on the go, nutrition was the last thing on my mind. I’d rush through Gatwick or Changi, grabbing coffee and a pastry, or white rice bento and ginger ale, then sit and consume sweet snacks or processed meals on the plane. I was consuming more hidden sugar than my body could handle.
Acting fast and finding Huel
Immediately, I cleared the contents of my cupboards and fridge, and replaced everything with low-sugar options. I stayed in to prepare meals using fresh vegetables, and I searched online for sugar-free snacks to curb my persistent chocolate craving. I found So Free sugar-free chocolate, and if I needed cocoa remotely, turned to high percentage cocoa dark chocolate.
My gym-bunny pal Lizzie recently introduced me to a something called Huel a few weeks prior. It tasted awful. “There’s no way I can eat this instead of meals, you’re crazy.” I told her, though a few weeks following I found myself investigating Huel online, credit card in hand. Huel is a nutritionally complete powdered food that contains all the proteins, carbs, and fats that you need, plus 26 essential vitamins and minerals. Best of all it has just 4.6 grams of sugar per 2000 calories. For diabetics especially Huel is the ideal choice. It has a low glycaemic index (GI) at 27. GI measures the reaction of blood glucose levels to consuming a food when compared with glucose, which has a GI of 100. Foods that are classified as low GI have a GI of below 55, and cause glucose levels in the blood to rise slowly and over a long time period, compared with high GI foods of over 70, which lead to a rapid but short-lived rise in blood glucose. A low GI food provides a more sustained release of glucose into the blood, so will keep you feeling fuller for longer compared with a high GI food that will satisfy hunger only for a short time period. A low GI, along with the high fibre and high protein level of Huel, also helps satiety and stops people wanting to snack unnecessarily.
Finally with Huel on order, I had one month before my follow up with the doctor and I was determined to get fit on the inside.
Adjusting to natural flavours
The beginning was a bit of a struggle I must admit. I envied friends ordering dessert at restaurants more than anything, as that was always my favourite part of any meal. Watching a movie without a Kit Kat felt like a day on the beach without sunscreen or an umbrella—painful. However within a week, I’d gotten used to the habit of breaking off one tiny block of sugar-free dark chocolate with my tea, and loved experimenting with Huel shake flavours such as cacao and banana. When I occasionally took a bite of my friend’s double chocolate cheesecake or a sip of their vodka coke, the taste was almost too sweet to enjoy. Had my taste buds got used to natural?
Nutrition expert James Collier formulated Huel and has spent the last 25 years in nutrition and dietetics. He tells me that diabetics and pre-diabetics are turning to the nutritionally complete powdered food in their droves. “We’ve had many diabetics share their experiences of Huel as part of their diet and they have reported that their blood sugar has been well controlled. What’s more they have more energy and Huel meals are keeping them fuller for longer.” For busy professionals like myself, Collier adds that “Huel is all about convenience. The powder is light and easy to transport—all you need to do is add it to water, shake and you have a meal! We also have Huel Bars and soon will be launching Huel Ready-to-Drink.”
The result and the future
30 days since my I got my last set of results, and on a new low-sugar diet of fresh food, low sugar snacks and of course, Huel, I went back in for another blood test. The doctor concluded that my sugar levels were normal, and that I was no longer pre-diabetic. I was ecstatic. “We have looked at certain blood markers that are affected by diet and they are shown that the Hueler is healthy.” adds Collier, “Huel sells in 80 countries across the world including Asia and the response from Singapore, in particular diabetics, has been extremely positive.”
When I occasionally took a bite of my friend’s double chocolate cheesecake or a sip of their vodka coke, the taste was almost too sweet to enjoy. Had my taste buds got used to natural?
For now, I have decided to stay on my current diet centred around Huel, but adopt a more relaxed attitude toward it. First, Kit Kats are back—in moderation. Next, I accept some nights out involve booze, and some nights out involve none at all. And finally, I allow myself dessert in restaurants, but only to share. I think my life pre-diagnosis was very carefree and indulgent, and the warning gave me a much needed wake up call to the dangers of a high sugar lifestyle. In 30 days I learned to say no thank you, to my lifelong addiction—sugar.
More importantly, I discovered the wonders of Huel, and I now can’t imagine a day without mixing up a shake, adding it to unsweetened soy yoghurt, or packing a bar when I’m heading to the airport. Anyone who reads my articles or knows me in person knows very well I haven’t stopped raving about Huel since I began sugar changing journey, and I honestly think that if James Collier and co were to collaborate with Kit Kat I would need nothing else in my life ever again.
Read more from James Wong on www.boxojames.com.