Taming Sugar Cravings and Balancing Blood Sugar: What I Learned at Monica Pope's New Food-as-Medicine Dinner

Photo by Mai Pham
A salad of steamed rainbow chard and pickled red cabbage is beautiful, nutrient rich, and won't cause your blood sugar to spike.

"If there's one thing you remember from tonight, remember 15 grams," said Ali Miller, a registered dietitian who practices functional medicine. It was the inaugural dinner for the new Food-as-medicine dinner series she'd designed with chef Monica Pope at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop, and we were about half-way through her lecture on how to tame sugar cravings and balance blood sugar.

My ears perked as I committed her message to memory: "I want you to think of 15 grams of carbs as a virtual slice of bread. So if you look at the label on that yogurt you're planning to buy, and it says 45 grams, it means you're eating three slices of bread; and if you have a milkshake that contains 90 grams of carbs, it's like eating seven slices of bread."

Photo by Mai Pham
Nutritionist Ali Miller (standing left) gives a lecture on how to balance blood sugar and tame sugar cravings.

I found myself repeating this information to one of my friends the very next day. Over the last year, she'd started gaining significant weight, and though I'd tried to discourage her from indulging in large cups of her favorite sugared drinks (she loves to drink those Taiwanese bubble teas), when I pulled out Miller's virtual slice of bread analogy, it was like a light popped off in her head. "Ohhhh...." she groaned in dawning comprehension, as she realized how her pounds had easily added up. "That's crazy."

Did you know that in 2010, the average person consumed 175 pounds of sugar per person, per year? This equates to 42 teaspoons of sugar per day, up from the 17th century average of four pounds per person per year. It's the reason why our nation has seen an increase in what's being coined as "diabesity," in which obesity and diabetes are linked together, because when we eat excess carbs, our sugar levels spike, and this stimulates our body to store fat.

My family has a history of diabetes, so I already knew a lot of this information. Still, it was good to hear it reinforced as she discussed the root cause of sugar cravings, the evolution of processed foods to stimulate sugar cravings, and the concept of "dysglycemia," which signifies an imbalance of sugar in the body.

This story continues on the next page.

Location Info

Sparrow Bar + Cookshop

3701 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help

Cool piece, and great idea for a teach-in; high blood sugar and sodium are killers, so this is really timely.

I wish Sparrow had more customers too. It's going the discount Groupon route to keep the restaurant side chugging along. Sad for someone so talented to be charging half price.


I've heard that Monica Pope has had trouble getting any traction with Sparrow, and has turned her focus more toward supplying hospital patients and hospice patients with food. Very considerate of her, and smart too, that area is hyper competitive for restaurants and bars.


@kriskindle  I think part of the problem is that her restaurants are quite expensive for the kind of food they serve.  When I went there I thought the food was alright but not good enough to justify the high price. Say what you will about the Breakfast Klub, but they have no problem pulling in the customers.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

@Vergess  I didn't see any evidence of that the night of the dinner (nor have I heard anything to the effect). The dining room was packed the night of the event (Monday night) -- I think it was pretty much a sold out crowd. Monica has always been committed to sustainability and working with local farmers, and from what I could gather, this series is just a continuum of her whole ethos as a chef.


@Mai Pham  

I should have said **special events & classes** in addition to her medical emphasis. 


@Vergess @Mai Pham  her location, her cooking, her cozy place, I'm surprised she's not full every day. maybe i should count my blessings, would want sparrow to be like breakfast klub next door, but a few more folks would be nice

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