Welcome back to You Are What You Eat!
Today and this week is all about sugar, specifically added sugar. This week we'll talk about sugar, how it affects our body, and how to spot it on a food label. If you've taken You Are What You Eat in the past, you'll recognize this topic!
You Are What You Eat!
Lesson of the Week: Sugar Sugar!
So, why exactly do we like sugar so much?
This is a good question! Our bodies are programmed for survival. Long ago when food was scarce, our bodies wanted to make sure we consumed enough calories so we appear to have developed cravings for sugar to help prevent starvation. Luckily, starvation was more of an issue when we were hunting and gathering. Today, for most of us, our hunting and gathering consists of going to the grocery store, hunting down a shopping cart and gathering our food from the shelves. Or, simply opening the fridge.
There's another reason we like sugar. When our bodies are under stress and our fight or flight reaction is activated, our bodies will want energy that is easy to use so that we can fight or flee when under stress. Well, sugar is a simple carbohydrate and the easiest form of energy for our body to utilize. Just think of how quickly you get an energy boost when you consume a simple carbohydrate like candy or a sugary drink. This energy boost is also why we crave sugar when we're tired. We get a super quick energy burst.
Riding a Roller Coaster
This super quick energy source,however, can put us on a sugar roller coaster. Once this initial burst of energy fades, typically a lack of energy, fatigue and cravings for more sugar follows it. What's our natural inclination then? Get that energy back. This is the blood sugar roller coaster so many of us can find ourselves on in life.
A way to get off of the roller coaster is by consuming less refined sugar and refined carbohydrates (pastries, white bread, cookies, etc). Instead, consume more complex carbohydrates which contain more fiber and less sugar. Our energy remains more constant and we feel great!
Glucose, often called blood sugar, is our main source of energy.
Our bodies absorb glucose from our digestive tract into our bloodstream. Insulin then helps that glucose to enter our cells so that we can manufacture energy. Extra glucose gets stored in our muscles and liver as glycogen and also as fat. Glucose is also essential for our bodies to metabolize fat stores. A fact drilled into my brain during exercise physiology is that fat burns in a carbohydrate flame. Meaning, glucose is essential to turn fat into energy. Interesting, right?
I'm sure you're seeing why our bodies REALLY like sugar! There is also a lot of research happening right now that is examining what happens in our brains when we consume sugar. Research has shown that when we consume it, we get a rush of dopamine, the brain chemical that rises when people initially fall in love or become addicted to a drug. A little sugar isn't a problem for dopamine levels but if we have too much, too often, problems can arise. If you have 5 minutes, a neuroscientist and leader in the field of research on food and our brains, Dr. Nicole Avena has created this How Sugar Affects the Brain video.
What are the other effects of sugar?
We all know that if consume too much sugar, we can gain weight. Too much sugar has other effects on our body as well.
Too much sugar is another cause of the inflammation that we discussed last week and also taxes our immune system. Studies have also linked too much added sugar to:
- Heart disease
- Worsening of conditions such as depression and anxiety
- Memory and learning difficulties
- Increase in triglycerides
- Lower levels of HDL
In fact, a 2014 study in JAMA views overconsumption of added sugar as anindependent risk factor not only for cardiovascular disease but also for diabetes, dementia and liver cirrhosis. Added sugar does not include naturally occurring sugars that we find in foods like fruit and milk. Rather, the study looked at added sugar in items like soda, candy and other added-sugar foods like bread and pasta sauce.
The study recommends keeping sugar to less than 15% of your total calories each day. This would equate to 75 g of sugar if you consume 2000 calories per day. The American Heart Association and the World Health Organization go a little further and recommend no more than 6 tsp/day of added sugar or 24 grams (1 tsp= 4 g). For comparison, a sweetened soda or juice can have between 20 and 40 g in just one cup.
Why are we concentrating on added sugar?
We're concentrating on added sugar because naturally occurring sugar like the kind we find in an orange isn't as concerning. For one thing, we usually don't hear people say they can't put down a bag of oranges like we hear people describe their reaction to, let's say, a bag of candy. And, while an orange contains naturally occurring sugar, an orange is also packed with fiber, antioxidants and vitamins. All the good stuff in life! So, In other words, we're concentrating on sugar that we put in an item.
The "Bliss Point" and Sugar
No surprise, food companies have figured out how to capitalize on our love of sugar. In the book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Companies Hooked Us, Michael Moss explains that food companies work to discover the "Bliss Point" in foods. The "Bliss Point" is the level of sweetness where our bodies and brains like a product the most. In fact, when Prego made a big change to its recipe, one of the biggest changes was that it added a LOT of sugar. Presto. Sales went up! They have actually changed the recipe again though in response to people wanting reduced sugar. So, today, sugar has been reduced in the sauce and is no longer the next ingredient after tomatoes. Consumers' voices make an impact!
How can you spot an added sugar on a food label?
'Added sugars' was going to be mandatory on food labels beginning in July, 2018. However, this has now been put on hold so we'll have to keep relying on our skills as master food label readers to spot added sugars. This can sometimes be tricky but here's a guide to some of the common aliases that sugar has:
- Invert sugar
- Corn syrup
- Cane sugar
Remember, the ingredient that appears the most in the food is listed first and the ingredient that appears the least is last. Food manufacturers have tried to outsmart the label by using different types of sugars instead of just one type. This way, the ingredients will appear lower on the ingredient list. You're going to be hip to this game now!
Are other sources of sugar better?
Though still sugar, less refined sweeteners tend to have more antioxidants and may also have more flavor so that you use less of them. Here are some examples:
- Maple Syrup
- Agave nectar
Wondering how to reduce your added sugar this week? Here are some tips:
- Look at those labels even ones you don't expect. We expect added sugars in cookies and cakes. But, we're often surprised by the amount of added sugar that can be items like oatmeal, yogurts, cereal, sauces, soups, bread, and salad dressings to name a few.
- One of the big questions I get is, "what do I do if I have a birthday party?" If you have a special occasion like a birthday and want to have a piece of cake, go for it and enjoy it. You can also reduce your portion size, not finish the whole thing or even skip it. I promise you'll still have fun at the party.
Be on the lookout for sugar's code words on food labels. If it ends in an -ose, say adios. It's probably sugar. Here are those other names for sugar:
- Glucose Solids
- Maple Syrup
- Agave Nectar
- Invert Sugar
- Cane Sugar
- Cane Juice
- Corn Syrup
- Skip sweetened drinks and choose water. Add some flavor to your water by tossing some fruit or cucumber in your water. If you like gadgets, there's a product called a Zinger to help you flavor your water on the go.
- Choose unsweetened cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, etc and add your own sweetener. You'll use much less than the food manufacturers will put in the item.
- Use spices like cinnamon, vanilla extract and cardamom to add flavor so you'll need less sweetener
- Craving dessert? Try some berries. If you really need something sweet, top your berries with some 70% or more dark chocolate which has less sugar.
- Are you using sugar as a reward? Notice if you're using a sugary treat as a reward for getting through a tough day or something else that you didn't want to do. If you do notice you're doing this, think of an alternate reward.
- Don't buy it. A great way to make sure you don't eat sugary items is to simply not bring them into your house. Then, you won't be tempted by that ice cream bar staring at you in the freezer.
That's the scoop on sugar! Remember, you can still enjoy a little sugar each day. It's up to you to find your own bliss point of where you feel your best!
Now let's put all of this knowledge to work! Since we want to reset our cravings and figure out what we're really craving when we're not on a sugar roller coaster, try to remove as much added sugar from diet as possible this week.
In addition to your challenges from last week, your assignment for the week is to
- Reduce or eliminate added sugar in your diet. Aim for less than 6 tsp/day of added sugar (1 tsp- 4 g.)
Have a sweet week!!
Good luck with your homework! Don't forget to check them off on your checklist.
I'll see you on Tuesday with your first quiz of the week!
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