We have all heard that sugar has no value from a nutritional perspective – and that is really true. Also true is that sugar, while grown naturally (sugar cane, honey, agave nectar etc). is not a food group and has absolutely ZERO health benefits. We are talking here mainly refined added sugar. So you can still eat your fresh fruits without worry. White sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, agave nectar, sweet n low, equal all bad bad bad.
But before we get into detail of how and what effects sugar has on your body let me share with you the reason for this post. I hear and see lots of people working really hard to workout and tweak their nutritional profiles for healthier eating. And that is awesome and many find weight loss, fat loss and other healthy success from those changes. But sometimes I see individuals hit a wall – weight loss stops, fat loss stops or in some cases I see individuals gaining weight not muscle but getting fat. And then the frustration sets in over time and exasperation in working out daily and managing a healthy diet but to no avail. This post is to challenge you to take that next step in tweaking your nutritional profile – sharpening that pencil just a little more. Because as many trainers are known to say, “…you cannot out train a bad diet.” So finding the hidden sugars in what you eat is a must. You must look at labels and make better decisions because when it comes to added sugar it has made its way into practically everything that we eat
Today’s Work It Wednesday post will challenge you to want to change. READ ON.
How much sugar does the average American eat?
Sugar shows up naturally in lots of foods (fructose in fruits or lactose in milk), but those aren’t the types of sugars in the spotlight. Instead, it’s the sugar in the doughnuts and sodas or even in the maple syrup that we drizzle onto our pancakes. These are the sugars that are added to foods in processing or preparation. Per the AHA’s 2009 scientific statement, the report noted that Americans consumed an average of 22 teaspoons per day or approximately 130 pounds of added sugar per year. Twenty two teaspoons are equivalent to approximately 355 calories. Eating this much sugar can create two main problems – it either adds calories to your diet or it displaces other nutritious foods.
How do our bodies process sugar?
When we eat sugar our bodies have 2 options to deal with it:
- Burn it for energy
- Convert to fat and store it in your fat cells
Depending on your genetic predisposition, your body might be better at processing sugar as energy, or you might be more likely to store it as fat. Think of this like you think of people with faster metabolisms versus people with slower metabolisms.
With sugar in our blood stream the pancreas detects a rush of sugar and it releases a hormone called insulin to deal with all of that excess sugar. Insulin is the “key” to open the “locks” of the cells to pull the sugar from our blood. Insulin helps regulate that level of sugar in our blood; the more sugar in the blood stream, the more insulin is released. But insulin can only help get so much blood sugar into the cells at a time. Insulin helps store all of this glucose in the liver and muscles as glycogen and in fat cells (as triglycerides).
Unfortunately, the more often this process takes place (the more sugar you consume), the more severe the blood sugar spike is, and the more insulin is required. This means it becomes easier and easier to skip using sugar as energy and go straight to conversion and store fat in fat cells. Insulin does a lot of good, but also insulin helps fat cells form fat. Also over time the body’s cells become resistant to the action of the insulin. The body normally releases insulin into the bloodstream in response to a meal. Insulin’s job is to help the body’s cells take in the glucose, or sugar, from the carbohydrates in food, so they can use it for energy. But when the body’s cells become insulin resistant, the sugar from food begins to build up in the blood, even while the cells themselves are starving for it. High levels of insulin tend to build up in the blood, too, because the body releases more and more insulin to try to transport the large amounts of sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
Now, you might be thinking: I’ll just eat less sugar and won’t have this issue, right? That is a great start, but that’s only half of the battle. Our bodies actually process certain types of carbohydrates in a very similar way to processing pure sugar.
You have heard of the Glycemic Index, and its lesser known associate: Glycemic Load. The Glycemic Index is the calculation of how quickly a particular type of food increases one’s blood sugar level, on a scale from 1-100 (100 being pure glucose). Harvard researchers have found that things like white bread, french fries, and other simple carbohydrates (cakes, cookies, soda, candy etc) have nearly identical effects on our blood sugar as glucose. Generally, the more refined or processed the food, the more likely it’ll be to get converted quickly to sugar in our body.
For now, hopefully you’re coming to a conclusion with something like this: “Oh, maybe fat isn’t making me fat. Maybe it’s the sugar and carbohydrates that I’m consuming…”
And unfortunately, it’s not JUST sugar, but also fake sugar. Here is a quick list of what sugar can be listed as on a label:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Organic evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Our Work It Wednesday post is educational but without action it is just words!
I challenge you to decrease your sugar intake.
I challenge you to start eating more real foods and less processed ones.
I challenge you to cut back on candy, cakes, donuts and soda.
I challenge you to only shop the outer aisles of your supermarket.
I invite you to take this challenge: Ditch the added sugar and artificial sweeteners in your diet for two weeks. For the next two weeks, choose foods that contain little or no added sugar or artificial sweetener. Here are the details:
- Choose foods that have 5 grams of sugar or less per serving. You can find this information on the Nutrition Facts label.
- Also limit natural sweeteners, such as agave, honey and molasses, to 5 grams or less a serving.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners completely.
- Add fruits — fresh or frozen — to foods to add flavor and nutrition. Fruits, vegetables and milk have natural sugars and are found on the outer aisles of your supermarket. For example, an 8-ounce container of plain yogurt has 8 – 12 grams of natural sugar (lactose). That’s OK. To figure out how much added sugar a yogurt has, subtract 12 grams from the total grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts label. What is left is the amount of added sugar.
After you’re completed the challenge, please share your experiences. How did foods and beverages taste throughout the two weeks and after? Were you surprised to see what foods or beverages contained added sugars or artificial sweeteners? Surprised to see the amount of sugar that’s added to foods and beverages? Any other interesting discoveries? Are you up to the challenge?
Remember consistency is key! Life is going to happen, live it, love it, embrace it and make a daily workout part of your plan. Until we meet again… yours in fitness
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