“This is ridiculous. I can’t even walk up one flight of stairs without having to rest,” Courtney Allen-Gentry sighed. For months, she had been battling unexplained exhaustion, and now when she glanced down, Courtney noticed a new health concern: Her ankles were very swollen.
A former registered nurse, Courtney knew this could be a sign of heart trouble. She immediately thought back to the physical she’d had a few months earlier, when she’d started flight attendant school.
Her blood pressure had been higher than usual. Courtney attributed it to the stress of changing careers and figured it would return to normal once she settled into her new job.
But now, when she went back to the doctor, to her shock, her blood pressure had soared to 150/120. The doctor also confirmed the swelling and her fatigue were signs that her heart was being stressed.
Fear gripped Courtney. Both of her parents had died of heart disease. I’m not going to be another statistic, she thought, as the doctor wrote out a prescription.
But while the medication did lower her blood pressure, Courtney developed an aggravating cough. And of the other medicines she tried, each had its own troublesome side effects. But with her life on the line, Courtney realized, I have to learn to live with one of them.
The Surprising Fix
Then one day, Courtney was chatting with a pilot about her blood pressure issues, and he told her that he’d gotten his own numbers down by eliminating high-fructose corn syrup and processed sugar from his diet.
Because she was already eating a healthy diet that included plenty of vegetables and lean meats, Courtney didn’t think a dietary change could help.
But when she started reading labels, she was shocked by how much processed sugar was in foods deemed healthy like yogurt, peanut butter, or cottage cheese. It was even in her coffee creamer, fruit juice, and condiments like ketchup.
She decided to give the pilot’s remedy a try. Thankfully, her doctor agreed to let her wean off the medicine to test the effect of her dietary changes. But he stressed she needed to do daily home readings, and if her blood pressure inched up, she’d need to go back on medication.
To Courtney’s surprise, that never happened! Almost immediately, her blood pressure began to fall. Elated, she stuck with her new diet plan. And though it was hard at first — she especially missed her sweet snacks — after a few months, Courtney’s palate changed, and fresh fruit satisfied her sweet tooth.
Today, Courtney, who has returned to nursing, has average blood pressure readings of 100/60. “I feel amazing,” she beams, noting that at 57, she’s full of energy and has no trouble keeping up with her twin 7-year-old grandkids. “There’s just no stopping me!”
3 Healthy Sugar Swaps to Try
Raw honey steadies blood sugar! Sweetening with raw honey slows sugar absorption in the intestines to cut the risk of blood-glucose spikes by 50 percent, per research in the Journal of Medicinal Food. Tip: Sub in 3⁄4 cup of honey for each cup of sugar in recipes, then add a pinch of baking soda to hide its acidity.
Maple sugar sharpens focus! It has 30 percent fewer calories than table sugar yet tastes twice as sweet! And each 1⁄4-cup serving has 100 percent of the RDA for focus-enhancing manganese. Jazz up oatmeal, yogurt, and BBQ rubs, or use it in recipes in place of brown sugar (use 3⁄4 cup for 1 cup of brown sugar).
Coconut sugar boosts energy! Made from coconut blossom nectar, this extract is 35 percent less likely to cause blood-glucose spikes compared to table sugar, say Australian researchers. It also contains 400 times more energizing potassium. Simply use it to replace white sugar in recipes in a 1:1 ratio.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.