My regular diet usually doesn’t include a lot of refined sugar; however, I find my intake has gone up this past week because of Halloween. I had my share of Halloween candy over the weekend, so I decided to stay away from refined sugar this week to get it out of my system, and get back to my regular diet.
I picked the wrong week for this. I work in an office so candy is literally EVERYWHERE. However, what’s helped me stay away from the white stuff is a ‘sugar chapter’ that I just read in my book, “Optimum Nutrition for the Mind” by Patrick Holford. I know we’re told that refined sugar is bad for us, but do you know why? Do you know what it does to your body when you eat too much?
Sugar that has been refined means that it’s gone through a process that “isolates the sweetness in a food” and discards the rest. Refined or concentrated sugar includes white sugar, brown sugar, honey, malt, syrups, and glucose.
These types of sugars have a high ‘glycemic load’, and when consumed; trigger “a rapid increase in blood-sugar levels.” Our body reacts to the sugar in our blood by releasing the hormone insulin, which moves the sugar into our cells, where it can be used by our bodies as energy. If we eat too much, our cells move the excess glucose (now called glycogen) into storage (our liver & muscles) to use later. However, when we continuously eat too much sugar; the storage areas become full, and our bodies start to store the sugar elsewhere (aka on our butt, thighs, arms, stomach, etc.) as fat. Sorry if that was too technical – basically, eating too much sugar on a regular basis = fat.
Not all sugar is bad though. Fruit contains a type of sugar called fructose, which has to convert into glucose before we can use it as energy. This conversion process prevents our blood-sugar levels from spiking, and as a result; “slows down its effect on the body.” This means our bodies have time to burn away the sugar in fruit, and not store it as fat. And, fruit contains fibre, which also slows down the release of sugar, allowing our body to burn it as energy for a longer period of time; preventing the excess sugar stores (aka fat).
Fruit juice & dried fruit have a higher concentration of sugar, because the water & fibre has been taken out; just leaving the sugar, which means they will cause your blood-sugar levels to spike. Also, dried fruit is smaller and less filling so you end up eating more. The healthiest choice is to eat the real thing – an apple vs. apple juice or dried apple pieces. That being said, if you are going to eat dried fruit, pair it with a protein, healthy fat or fiber to slow down the absorption of sugar into your blood.
To keep your blood-sugar levels in check it’s important to be aware of the glycemic load of different foods, and to avoid the ones that score high. Here are some examples of foods with a high glycemic load, and some low glycemic food options to choose instead.
– a white bagel with jam, choose a whole grain sprouted bread or bagel with natural peanut or almond butter with real blueberries or sliced banana on top
– corn flakes & sugar, choose natural oatmeal with berries & real maple syrup
– white rice, choose brown rice
– pretzels, choose healthy microwave popcorn
– packaged candy & desserts, choose dates, apricots or other dried fruit with a healthy fat like almonds or walnuts
A good rule of thumb: choose unprocessed food as often as possible (fresh fruit & veggies), avoid candy & milk chocolate (70% or more dark chocolate is a good choice), look at the ingredients & choose items that have 10g of sugar or less (per serving), and items made with whole grain whole wheat flour instead of refined white or wheat flour.