Sugar Sugar Honey Honey

 

Sugar Sugar Honey Honey.

 

There’s an old song by the Archies with the same title, but this post isn’t about my sweetheart, it’s about my sweetener—sorry, Honey!

 

I like sugar, but I also like to know when I’m eating it.  That’s a problem for me when I go to eat prepackaged or processed foods.  When I bother to check ingredients it’s not uncommon to find added sugar in at least one of its forms listed among top ingredients.  And unfortunately, added sugars lead to weight gain, elevated blood sugar and high triglycerides—all things I want to avoid.

 

A Word On Carbs

 

Sugar is one form of carbohydrate.

Common white sugar is also known as sucrose.

Sugar is one of 3 main types of carbohydrates.  The other two are starch and dietary fiber.  Whenever you eat either sugar or starch, the effect on your body is to raise your blood glucose levels (sometimes called blood sugar). True, we need a certain amount of glucose for our bodies to function, but the issue is added sugars can spike blood sugar.  This is one reason to eat more dietary fiber—since the body doesn’t digest it, it doesn’t raise blood sugar.

 

Sugar And Diabetes

 

I used to think eating too much sugar causes type 2 diabetes, but I recently found out it’s not the prime cause. According to the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) website:

 

The biggest dietary risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes is simply eating too much and being overweight—your body doesn’t care if the extra food comes from cookies or beef, it is gaining weight that is the culprit.

 

Something else I misunderstood is how important total carbohydrates are in relation to blood sugar.  Again, according to the ADA:

 

Research…has shown that while the type of carbohydrate can affect how quickly blood glucose levels rise, the total amount of carbohydrate you eat affects blood glucose levels more than the type. Now experts agree that you can substitute small amounts of sugar for other carbohydrate containing foods into your meal plan and still keep your blood glucose levels on track.

 

In other words, those who are at risk for diabetes can consume sugar in small quantities, but to keep their blood glucose on track they really need to watch both their sugar intake and the total carbohydrates consumed.

 

Surprise!

 

It pays to pay attention.

Look at the ingredients. This peanut butter alternative doesn’t contain added sugars.

Clearly, as added sugar impacts the total carbohydrate count in food, it’s something to watch out for and cut down on where possible.  This is where it gets harder—while I expect many foods like breakfast cereal or soda pop to contain added sugar, other foods I don’t normally associate with sugar also contain it—and sometimes in large quantities.  For example, salad dressing, yogurt, peanut butter, so-called “all natural” or protein snack bars, crackers, breads, spaghetti sauce, canned-fruit and more can all come loaded with added sugar.

 

Sugar Is Basically Sugar

 

Another confusing aspect to consider is the type of sugar being consumed.  While some people claim certain health benefits to eating one sugar type over another, the body pretty much processes all sugars the same way.  In other words, it doesn’t really matter if it’s plain old sugar (i.e. sucrose), brown sugar, honey, molasses, agave nectar, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, turbinado sugar and so on—as far as the body’s concerned it’s sugar.

 

Molasses and agave nectar are two forms of sugar.

Sugar in all it’s forms is basically processed the same. However, some types may contain trace ingedients that could be beneficial.

Of course, some foods contain natural sugars—for example fruit contains fructose and milk contains lactose.  However, most health problems aren’t attributed to the natural sugars found in food.  Instead, they come from the sugars (natural or otherwise) which are added into our processed foods or used as sweeteners in cooking.

 

Blood Sugar

 

Though it may seem confusing at first, there is a way to measure how the sugar and other carbohydrates you eat affect your blood sugar.  According to Mendosa.com the glycemic index is a way to “measure how much of a rise in circulating blood sugar a carbohydrate triggers–the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response.”  Some foods trigger a low response and some higher.  However, what the index doesn’t tell us is how much sugar is in a particular food.  Thus, a new index—the glycemic load—was developed to do this.

 

An example may make the distinction clearer—watermelon contains fructose, which is a natural sugar.  If you were only considering watermelon’s glycemic index its relatively high.  Yet there isn’t a lot of fructose in watermelon as compared to other foods so its glycemic load is low.  Thus, both measurements are important if you need to keep close tabs on blood sugar.  For more information on this topic as well as a chart showing the two values for many different types of foods see this page at Mendosa.com or this one at Harvard.edu.

 

Living Healthier

 

What can you do if want to cut the risk of diabetes or just lose a few pounds?

 

You can start by eating less. Aim to cut not just the total sugar consumed, but your overall carbohydrates.  This makes serving size an important consideration.  According to the ADA,  a meal containing 45 to 60 grams of total carbohydrates is about right.  To make sure you don’t exceed this level, check the labels on packaging.  Then try to cut back on foods with lots of sugar, and add foods with higher fiber content—remember, high fiber foods don’t have the same impact on glucose levels.

 

 

Now Cut That Out

 

When it comes to cutting sugar don’t just go cold turkey, either—that rarely works.  Chances are you’ll end up having strong cravings and gorging down sweets.  It’s better to wean yourself off added sugars slowly.  It doesn’t have to be hard, either—start by using one teaspoon in your coffee instead of two, or sprinkle less sugar over your morning cereal or oatmeal. Just cut back slowly, wherever you can.

 

Cooking With Sugar

 

People sensitive to wheat may not be sensitive to spelt.

Spelt is a whole-grain flour. Whole grains have more fiber.

You can also try cutting back on the suggested amount of sugar used in recipes.  Equally important—add dietary fiber like whole grains to recipes in place of white flour.  Remember dietary fiber doesn’t impact blood sugar.  And if adding sugar to recipes, consider mixing it up with less refined versions like honey.  Yes, sugar is sugar, which means the body basically processes it the same way, but what may be overlooked is that some less-processed sugars contain trace minerals, vitamins, or other compounds not found in plain white sugar.  For example, honey contains “several compounds thought to function as antioxidants.”   One note of caution: Children under 1 year old should not be given honey as it contains botulinum endospores—this is a potentially dangerous toxin to infants, but it generally digested without problem by older kids and adults.

 

Treat Me Right

 

Another strategy for cutting back on total sugar consumption is to pick one sugar “vice” for the day.  Having one treat to look forward to is a great way to reward yourself for a job well done.  However, it is important to understand that even small cookies, a bowl of ice cream or a candy bar can contain 100 or more calories of added sugar per serving.

 

Huff And Puff

 

Exercise is a proven method to lose weight.

Go walking, jogging, bowling, play ping pong, ride a bike…it all adds up.

We shouldn’t leave off without plugging exercise—it is a proven method for losing weight and keeping it off.  Exercise burns carbohydrates and fat.  And even an exercise as basic as walking can be a huge help.  You don’t have to exercise all in one chunk, either.  For example, you could take a 10 minute run in the morning and go for a 20 minute bike ride in the afternoon.  And if that’s too hard, pick a parking space farther from the front door at work, or one way out in the parking lot whenever you go shopping.  Then take the stairs whenever you can instead of using the elevator.  All those little added steps eventually add up. A note of caution:  If it’s been awhile since you’ve done any regular exercise it’s always good to consult with your doctor first.

 

 

I Choose Health

 

Becoming healthy is about making more conscious decisions over what items you consume and over the way you live.  You have the power to look and feel your best, but it takes a concerted effort to choose foods your body really needs.  Sure the added sugar tastes good, but this is definitely one place where eating less will get you more.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read:

Are You Cooking With Olive Oil

 

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