Sugar is the cocaine of the food world.
How’s that for an opening?
When you look at the detrimental effects that sugar has on our bodies and the terrible impact it has on our health, it’s not hard to look at it as similar to another white, purified extraction.
If there was an absolute number one nutrition tip I could give you, and a lot of others would agree, it would be to remove or drastically reduce refined sugar consumption.
Why is sugar so bad?
When consumed, refined sugar leads to spikes in blood sugar and releases of insulin by the pancreas. Unless there is some physical activity coming up, the sugar needs to be stored somewhere as a backup energy source.
That is essentially what fat is; it is a reserve fuel tank. Insulin is known as the fat producing and storing hormone. The sugar that is consumed ends up being stored as fat and, over time, can lead to obesity.
Consistent sugar intake creates insulin resistance in the body. The pancreas gets used to pumping out so much insulin that it becomes resistant to insulin, and now you’re looking at developing type 2 diabetes.
Side note: Type 2 diabetes was always known as adult onset diabetes, but with it showing up so much in teens and even pre-teens, it is now classified as type 2 diabetes.
High fructose corn syrup
When people discuss sugar, we usually associate it with white table sugar which is derived from sugar cane and sugar beets. As bad is that is there is another champ as far as sugar and its negative effects on the body: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
For those unfamiliar with HFCS, it is exactly what it sounds like, a refined sweet syrup that is extracted from corn. The majority of corn that is reserved for human consumption is turned into HFCS.
HFCS was developed as a cheaper alternative to higher sugar trade tariffs, and it gave products a longer shelf life. It became a top choice for use in products during the low fat craze, as it was able to give products a texture and flavor to food with the absence of fat and allowed for browning characteristics.
This is another reason that soft drinks grew from the smaller eight ounce servings to 20 ounce (and further giant sizes) without any real change in cost to manufacturers.
Fructose in its natural fruit form is more mild on the body, as it is packaged with things like fiber and natural roughage so your body doesn’t get a straight show of sugar. In the form of fructose, and especially HFCS, it is absorbed even faster but straight into the liver where it triggers lipogenesis (the production of fats like triglycerides and cholesterol).
It is one of the major causes of liver damage, and why 70 million Americans suffer from a condition called “fatty liver“.
Here are four great ways to replace sugar in your diet:
1. Avoid artificial sweeteners
This might seem weird, since drinks with artificial sweeteners have zero calories and zero sugar right? Technically, yes, but artificial sweeteners trick your body into believing that it is about to receive sugar. Since no sugar is consumed it can lead to actual sugar cravings, causing you to constantly be wanting the very thing a zero calorie beverage was helping you avoid.
There is also research from the Washington School of Medicine that shows that sucralose causes a 20% rise in blood glucose. This means it is acting very similar to sugar without containing any sugar whatsoever.
2. Consume dark chocolate
When sugar cravings hit turn to the dark master–the cocoa bean.
Instead of turning to sugary milk chocolate, dark chocolate that is made up of at least 70% cacao solids, ideally 90%, is shown to better help manage and lower blood sugar while helping stave off that sweet tooth. Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants and polyphenyls which help in glucose control.
How does dark chocolate do this and is able to be recommended for diabetic patients? Because it is mostly made up of fat and allows it to rank very low on the glycemic index. This fat is the good fat, in the form of medium chain triglycerides which provide tremendous health benefits like helping prevent cardiovascular disease and lowering blood pressure.
A square or two a day will help for that sugar craving while also providing tremendous health benefits
3. Eating protein with sugars
If you’re going to eat something that has refined sugar, or if you have issues like hypoglycemia, having something with some protein and fat before you consume sugar is going to help slow the release of blood sugar.
When you consume something that is a majority of sugar, even fruit on its own, there will be a spike in blood sugar. Consuming a handful of nuts, like almonds or walnuts, before you have fruit or another food high in sugar will help stave off that blood sugar spike a little better.
Stevia is showing some real promise as a sugar alternative. If you are unfamiliar with stevia but watched the last season of Breaking Bad, you are very familiar with it already.
Don’t worry, no spoilers.
Stevia is a plant that has been used for thousands of years as a way to sweeten things medicinally. It appears to not have the same negative effects as artificial sweeteners and provides some health benefits such as possibly reducing blood pressure and helping to lower blood sugar levels.
Ideally you want to choose raw stevia leaf powder, which has a brighter green color to it. One option to give you a more natural version of stevia is to find it in liquid form. This is easy to find on Amazon.
Stevia is also available in packets in the form of a white powder. It comes from the extraction of the glycosides in the plant, but some find this to have a bit of an aftertaste. Still, this appears to be a better choice than reaching for a sugar packet or artificial sweetener.
When in doubt with your food, try to keep it real!
Wrapping it up
It is hard to avoid sugar; it is everywhere. Even in places you wouldn’t expect to find it:
- pasta sauce
- salad dressing
- cereal bars
- cough medicine
- soy milk
- frozen dinners
Turning to foods in the purest form and avoiding processed and packaged “food” will be a big step in avoiding unnecessary sugar intake over the day. Additionally, looking to replace refined sugar with new alternatives like stevia, or reaching for some dark chocolate, will help you in your quest to remove or drastically reduce sugar all together.
Your health will thank you for it.
Featured photo credit: Sugar Lips/Jeanny via flickr.com