We are what we eat and what we eat affects how we feel and how we behave. Some foods can impact our physical and mental state much more dramatically than others. Sugar is one of those foods, and it’s an unfortunate part of many health issues in mind and body because it has become such a pervasive ingredient in the typical diet. The more you understand sugar and how to avoid it, the easier it is to break free of mainstream habits and live a healthy life.
Sugar, sugar, sugar
So, what exactly is sugar? You probably know it best as a small, white granule that sweetens foods, specifically desserts and soda. Sugar actually comes in many forms, and it’s a classification of carbohydrate that has a sweet flavour. It’s likely that any sweet-tasting foods you consume contains sugar in one way or another from refined cane and alcohol sugars to naturally occurring sugars in honey, fruits and even vegetables. Your body can break sugar down very quickly for use as energy. However, this doesn’t mean you should turn to sugary foods and beverages anytime you need a quick pick-me-up. It may taste sweet, but sugar alone doesn’t contain any beneficial nutrients, and it can have some pretty “sour” effects on our bodies.
Inflammatory effect. It's a complicated process for sure how our bodies react to sugar; the short not so sweet version is this; Sugar in ALL forms can raise our insulin levels and trigger our body’s inflammatory responses, leading to chronic, low-grade inflammation. Think about how just these two effects of sugar can really impact our mind and body. A rise in blood sugar can cause you to feel jittery, followed by feeling tired as you “crash" but how is this affecting us internally, what else is going? Chronic inflammation is said to be at the root of many disease states from chronic to mild whatever we have going on in our unique bodies every time we eat sugar sweet foods we can be adding fuel to the fire as such and further impacting our health and wellness.
Issues with blood sugar and inflammation may also be linked to numerous long-term problems, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. It’s a prime example of how your food choices can have a lasting impact on your health.
Sugar Sugar Everywhere. Unfortunately, even though it has no intrinsic nutritional benefits and can lead to many serious health conditions, many food products contain sugar in various forms.
- Refined sugar: When sugar cane or sugar beets are processed to extract the sugar, the result is sucralose, which can be found in products such as the table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup that are added to hundreds of packaged foods. When you eat these foods your body breaks down the processed sugar so quickly that your blood sugar and insulin levels rise, you often don’t feel satiated and what you don't burn gets "stored".
- Natural sugar: Fruits, some vegetables and dairy products contain natural forms of sugar. These naturally-occurring sugars do raise your blood sugar and insulin levels but not as dramatically as refined sugar due to nutrients, and they can help you feel fuller, but you are still consuming sugar. Here’s where understanding sugar and your body gets a little tricky. Sugar in ANY form, whether refined or natural, does raise your blood sugar levels and can be detrimental to your well-being in that regard. However, when you eat foods with sugar in its naturally-occurring form, like in fruits or pure maple syrup, you’re also consuming healthy, beneficial nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals, its a delicate balance.
This is why it’s important to listen to your body, so you know the amount and types of sugar you can eat without harmful side effects. Your overall health benefits when you work to eliminate refined sugar and processed foods from your diet. Some people only eat naturally-occurring sugars in moderation, while others try to limit all sugars as much as possible.
Here are some ways to work towards a lifestyle with less sugar:
1. Reduce, Don’t Substitute with Chemical Sweetness
First, let’s address a common mainstream approach to calorie counting sugar-free: artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners aren’t technically sugar, they tend to be made up of chemicals that are not naturally occurring; therefore, they have a further impact on our body systems as it processes the chemical substances. Reducing you intake of real sugar, even in refined forms, is better for your body than fake sugar.
2. Pay Attention to Ingredients
Sugar is cheap, and we all love the sweet taste and food manufacturing companies aim to please; aim to sell; aim to make money they are not really interested in your health and well being. Almost all processed foods contain refined sugar in various forms, either for flavour or preservation and the places you find sugar added is incredibly sneaky. Even though you know a brownie contains sugar, don’t assume something like jarred tomato sauce doesn’t (it usually does). Pay attention to nutrition and ingredients labels, especially serving size and keep an eye out for these names under which sugar may be listed.
3. Serving Size - How much sugar? Healthier choices....
Serving size doesn't always mean the whole jar, container or packet; often there are 2, 3, 4 or more servings per package so check serving size first then sugar. Unless you have taken the time to figure it out how do you know how much is Xg of sugar per serving size?
Here is my approach; 4g sugar = 1 teaspoon sugar
- Example: A small store bought vanilla yoghurt measures just under 1/2 cup yoghurt and has 10g sugar = 2.5 teaspoons refined sugar. The healthier choice you could buy plain yoghurt and add honey or maple syrup both are nutrient dense but would you add 2.5teaspoons sugar to 1/2 cup yoghurt?
- Example: 24oz/680g jar tomato sauce - serving size 1/2cup with 7g sugar = almost 2 teaspoons sugar. The whole jar = 2.5 cups sauce with 10 teaspoons sugar......if you were making 2.5 cups of tomato sauce would you add 10 teaspoons of sugar to it???? Food for thought!
4. Eat Whole Foods
If you eliminate processed foods, you can eliminate lots of refined sugar, and you can be in charge of how much sugar you are adding to your whole food diet daily.
However, remember that even natural, whole sources of sugar may still affect your body, so eat these in moderation. The best natural sweeteners are raw honey, pure maple syrup, and fruits. Here is my Orange Maple Roasted Rhubarb recipe.
No matter your reasons for reducing sugar, you are taking a massive leap in the right direction toward a healthier body. Change is hard and reducing sugar intake is really hard, it takes time and some effort to change your ways of eating, but you’ll know it’s worth it when you’re eating to thrive.
Image by Jim Flynn
- ***This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult a healthcare professional if you suspect you are ill. Individuals with health conditions such as, but not limited to, diabetes or hypoglycemia should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding individual dietary guidelines for sugar.