Breaking Up With Sugar
All foods contain some proportion of the 3 calorie-containing nutrients; carbs, fats and protein. At one time or another, in one way or another, our society’s tendency to oversimplify nutritional information, and as a result to often overstate the truths behind that information, affects each nutrient.
Look no further back than the 1990s, when fat became the enemy of the nutritional state. Everywhere you looked, fat consumption was demonized as the root of all health evils, in addition to being blamed for obesity. The truth is that some fats, in excess, are bad for us, and the scientific community is partly to blame for overstating the impact of fat and cholesterol on our health during that era. But…
The main driver of the “fat is bad” media storm was none other than the sugar industry! Look here for more details! It’s only gotten worse over time – look here for details. More recently, evidence has shown that, in fact, sugar is to blame for much of the obesity epidemic in the USA, and for the diabetes and related diseases (e.g., heart disease) that can accompany that. But, it’s critical to recognize that “sugar” is a bit different than “sugars!!”
“Sugar” is table sugar, or sucrose by its chemical name. It, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), are the most widely used sweeteners on the market. The cheaper product is HFCS, and it’s inserted into most every prepared and processed food on the market. In fact, HFCS, and its derivatives, are what is used to flavor foods in the absence of fat, the nutrient that usually carries the flavor of food best. In either case, the sucrose and/or HFCS that are added to foods are made worse in their effect by the fact that the processing of food, which is done to prolong shelf life, also removes many of the nutrients and fiber from the naturally occurring food. As a result, the connection between processed foods that contain high amounts of added sugar causing health problems is valid.
The problem is that the implication that, since sucrose and HFCS are sugars, then all sugars, as well as all foods containing sugars, are bad. In this meaning, “sugars” is the general name for “carbs,” and there are many kinds of carbs. So, sucrose and HFCS are sugars, but not all sugars are sucrose or HFCS!
It’s gone so far that the recommendation to avoid pastas, noodles and rice, as well as fruit, because they contain sugars/carbs! The advice is based on the idea that, since these contain carbs/sugars, and since sugar is bad for you, and makes you gain weight and compromise your health, fruit, pastas, noodles and rice will do the same. But, wait a minute. The leanest, healthiest cultures on the planet, in fact in the history of the planet, include Asian and Mediterranean cultures whose diets have very high use of the same foods! How can that make sense?!?!
Well, because it doesn’t! Fruit, pastas, noodles and rice, in their whole-grain, unprocessed forms, also carry many other benefits, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, as well as protein and fat (in some cases), and the pastas, noodles and rice are rarely eaten without accompaniment in these cultures. Overall, then, their effect is, for the general population without allergic or other contraindications, very beneficial.
What’s lost in all this is that the processed, prepared, sugar-added foods are the culprit, not the carbs per se. These foods are very quick to digest and pack a high calorie punch, a double whammy that does, in fact, contribute directly to obesity and health issues related to it. So what are we to do to improve our health, wellness and lifestyle choices? It’s fairly simple – at the extreme, you can avoid any food that comes as a whole meal item in a package. Realistically, you can limit these choices, making, for example, a granola bar something you eat as a snack at the end of a meal rather than a snack on an empty stomach. Avoid HFCS-containing items as much as possible, and especially on an empty stomach. Why the “empty stomach” rule? Sucrose and HFCS, taken as the overwhelming calorie representative, in a food devoid of much else nutritionally, are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. This causes a huge rise in insulin levels, and much of the meal gets quickly driven into fat stores. That being said, a slice of white processed bread, in a sandwich, has a different effect because its processed sugar content is mixed in with all the meat and toppings in the sandwich. There are better nutritional choices than white bread, for sure, but you don’t have to be extreme, especially all at once, unless your health or waistline dictate otherwise!
A great number of foods touted as “natural” or “healthy” are anything but, so be careful. Smoothies are one example. Made in your home, with a blender, a liquid (e.g., OJ or milk or yogurt) and several pieces of fruit, they’re good and good-for-you. Bought over the counter in most settings, they’re loaded with sucrose/HFCS and fruit-flavored syrup, which is also loaded with HFCS and, perhaps, contains a slice or two of fruit in the 20oz drink. Most cereals have more sugar/HFCS in them than the grain from which they’re supposed to be made. The list goes on, but to keep it as simple as possible, avoid foods that list sucrose, HFCS, honey or brown sugar/raw sugar as the first ingredient. Keep the food you eat looking as close to its natural state as possible – if it looks like what it did growing in the ground, it’s a carb you can afford to eat in most cases, without risking weight gain from the content of the food. Finally, make sure you’ve taken advantage of our service to help you match your overall calorie intake with your activity level and goals. Eating an apple a day keeps the doctor away, as the they say, but eating enough apples (if it was possible) to exceed your daily calorie needs by several hundred calories is going to make you gain weight, for certain! As always, consider us a resource. We welcome your questions.