Last week was all about ringing that alarm bell and alerting you to what kind of damage sugar can do to you. ‘Vast’ and ‘horrific’ are adjectives I’d definitely reiterate. If you haven’t yet then do check out Sweet Sorrow [Part 1]. This week it’s back to the traditional way of Medically Fit.
Sugar is sweet but it’s sneaky as well. It exists in the most unexpected of foods. Did you know that your average frozen single-person lasagna could load your body with up to 40g of sugar? No, I’m not kidding!
The American Heart Association and WHO together state that the average person in the developed world ingests 4 times the recommended daily sugar intake. It really is vital that we become more aware and learn how to cut back on our intake.
the What – What is sugar?
The most basic sugar forms exist in 3 kinds – Glucose, Fructose and Galactose.
These are monosaccharides (one molecule only).
Disaccharides consist of two molecules. So for instance Sucrose is when one Glucose combines with one Fructose, Maltose is when 2 Glucose molecules combine and Lactose is formed when one Glucose combines with one Galactose molecule.
Chains of disaccharides make a polysaccharide chain, many molecules long. When several polysaccharide chains come together and twist and knot into a 3 dimensional structure, a complex carbohydrate is formed. An example of this is starch which is found in potatoes and other vegetables. The human body stores energy in the form of the complex carbohydrate – Glycogen. When needed, the liver breaks it down into monosaccharide glucose molecules.
Glucose is found in varying quantities in nearly every food item from meats to vegetables to dairy products to even fruit. However, the dominant sugar in fruits in particular is Fructose. Galactose is found in dairy products mostly.
The body digests carbohydrates into first polysaccharides, then disaccharides and eventually into monosaccharides.
the Why – Why we need sugar?
Carbohydrate digestion is the main provider of the body’s fuel. Fat though it provides more fuel per gram (9 calories per gram to be specific) is a stored form of energy. The body calls upon fat in times of dire need i.e. starvation. In contrast, Carbohydrates only provide 4 calories of energy per gram.
Glucose colloquially speaking is the body’s fuel favorite! All carbohydrates eaten are digested by the body into the monosaccharide molecules – Glucose, Fructose and Galactose. Because the body “likes” Glucose the best, the liver converts the Fructose and Galactose to Glucose and then slowly releases the Glucose into the blood stream. Basically, all sugar is eventually converted into Glucose.
The blood carries Glucose to all the body’s cells where metabolism burns it as fuel and converts into energy. This is a constant, continuous process as the body requires glucose 24/7 to power all it’s various functions i.e. breathing, sleeping, thinking, moving etc
Excess Glucose is stored in two ways – the first is as Glycogen which is the first line of energy provision in case of emergencies and the second is as fat! The excess Glucose is converted into fat molecules by the liver and tucked away under the skin and around muscles.
Evidently we require sugar so WHY the problem? The problem is that whilst sugar is necessary, we’re consuming far greater quantities than we require. The problem is further enhanced by how unbelievably sedentary our lifestyles have become. The obvious result – fat storage!
The excess sugar we consume is pointless and the foods we eat are “foodless”. There is literally no need for this physiologically. Also, if there came a point to when the body required Glucose but was deprived of a steady stream, then the clever liver breaks down proteins and fats and converts them into Glucose.
the How – HOW to battle excess sugar?
Forewarned is forearmed! Sometimes I wish foods too had warnings printed on them like cigarettes do because if truth be told, sugar is the 21st century’s tobacco equivalent. Toxic and highly addictive it is now the root cause of the worst diseases and disorders.
Here are some foods that should have warnings:
To battle hidden sugar – FLIP & READ THE LABEL of food products. It really is as simple as that. Zoom into the “Carbohydrates” listed on the label and read the quantity of “sugar” underneath. Further, read the ingredients list and lookout for sugar alternatives, which are all still sugar. (refer to Sweet Sorrow [Part 1] for sugar substitutes)
Note on the label where sugar is listed in the ingredients’ list. By law, manufacturers have to list ingredients in decreasing order of the quantity used in the product. If the packaged food contains ‘sugar’ in the first three ingredients, avoid it. Similarly, if the food item has more than 3 kinds of sugars, put it back on the shelf.
Your aim should be to consume no more than 25-30grams of sugar a day inclusive of all the different kinds of sugar i.e, that found in fruits, grains, vegetables, dairy and in meat.
the What to do
Now that you’re getting the idea of how to read the label it’s important to weed out foods that have high sugar content and instead substitute your diet with healthier and more wholesome alternatives.
1)If you’re looking for a carb fix opt for whole grains like brown bread and brown rice instead of the white kind. While these do end up as Glucose eventually, their complex structure ensures slow digestion and as such Glucose is released very slowly and over a longer period of time into the blood. Sudden spikes in blood Glucose ‘alarms’ the liver and it converts it into fat
2)Fruits are a fabulous way to get a sweet fix. They’re just peachy 😉 The fibre of fruit too aids slow digestion and slow release of Glucose. Plus fruits nourish your body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
3)Eat good fatty foods like nuts and avocado when the sweet tooth strikes. They’ll keep you satiated and energized for longer periods and will prevent that blood sugar spike.
4)Lean protein foods have the same effect as fatty foods so include plenty of eggs, turkey, chicken and legumes in your lunches & dinners
5)DON’T drink sodas or bottled juices. If you fancy a fruit juice, grabs some fruit and throw it into a blender ensuring that the fibre is all there. Learn to recognize thirst and up your water intake (check out RYE Kitchen for Smoothie recipes). Similarly DON’T consume fruit yoghurts and cereal bars. Instead buy good quality Greek Yoghurt and throw some berries, nuts and oats into it.
6)Avoid salad dressings and sauces. Get creative and make your own vinaigrette type of dressings with olive oil, tomatoes, basil etc
7)Recipes that call for sugar can be substituted in parts with Cinammon, Vanilla, Sweet spices & Herbs, Citrus zest, Nutmeg, Almond extract and Ginger. Not only will they help reduce your sugar intake and satisfy your sweet craving but they also boost metabolism
The bottom line is be aware of what you put into your mouth. If you’re not – GOOGLE and then find alternatives 😉
the What nots
Sounds pretty easy to exorcise the excess sugar doesn’t it? If only …
Sugar is dangerously addictive and lights up the same centres in our brain like cocaine and heroin. The withdrawal if stopped suddenly is unbelievably and in extreme cases can have you crashing from hypocglycemia (very low blood sugar levels). As such it’s important to NOT go cold turkey when it comes to sugar cut backs. Do it gradually! For instance if you’re used to having a bar of chocolate everyday, begin by reducing it to every other day, then slowly to twice a week then to only special occasions or cheat days. Even then, limit your quantity to just 1-2 pieces of chocolate. After all, you are only trying to satisfy the tongue – those 2 pieces will do that perfectly. Anything more is unnecessary and excess.
It is also important to note, don’t overdo the artificial sweetener bit. While they are lower in calories and not really sugar they have a twisted effect on our brain. Because artificial sweeteners are infinitely sweeter than sugar, when ingested the brain gets a message it’s received sugar and insulin is produced by the pancreas for digestion. However, there is no sugar received by the gut and this confuses the brain further; the tongue indicated “sweet”. The insulin spike produced sends you crashing not long after and as a result you develop enhanced and more intense sugar cravings. Wonder why you feel like a donut post an Americano coffee with sweetener?
Not for a moment am I saying, NEVER touch another sugary delight EVER again. But be wise in when you do – the sorrows of this sweet stuff just aren’t worth the 2 minute taste sensation.
Juggling many roles from physician to writer to pilates instructor to Marketing-PR executive, Dr. Daamini is constantly pushed and inspired to get creative on how to encompass a Retreat into her daily life.