If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you already know that sugar is fattening. While it’s true that this is a huge area where many of us can make a change in our weight, it’s important to understand the effects that sugar has on the body and how to spot hidden sugars in our food.
Before we get into that, it’s important to be familiar with glucose and insulin and how they work together within our bodies.
Glucose is your blood sugar. Glucose is important because it’s used by most cells in our bodies to produce energy, including our muscles. It’s extremely important because it is the main source of energy for the brain, and is the only source of energy for red blood cells. (This is why people diagnosed with diabetes are so strict about monitoring their blood sugar.)
Insulin is like the gatekeeper to the cells and allows the glucose inside the cells to be used for fuel. It basically allows the glucose to go where is needed to run our bodies efficiently.
When we consume more glucose than our bodies need at any given time, it is stored for later use. When we go through periods of fasting these stores are what our body uses for energy.
But what happens if we don’t fast and snack through the day?
When we have enough stored, our bodies take the excess and store it as fat!
Good sugar vs Bad Sugar: Knowing the difference.
There are over 60 different names for sugar listed on food labels. The common names are sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, maltose, and rice syrup. Let’s discuss some of these and the effects they have on our bodies.
FRUCTOSE: You may have heard of fructose (not to be confused with high fructose corn syrup). It’s the natural sugar found in fruit. It’s stored in the liver only and doesn’t circulate in the blood. Typically consumed when eating a whole piece of fruit, the serving is moderate and does not have negative health effects.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP: This is essentially a super concentrated dose of fructose. It’s used to sweeten a lot of obviously bad foods, like popsicles, soda, and candy, but it’s also snuck into foods we may think are good for us, like sweetened yogurt or canned fruits. What makes this type of sugar dangerous is that, like fructose, it is stored in the liver only, which only becomes problematic when we consume too much.
Once our liver is full of fructose storage, it starts to create fat and store that in the liver too, creating what’s called “fatty liver”, which can lead to severe health consequences such as liver scarring leading to fibrosis. It is also the cause of insulin resistance which causes diabetes.
SUCROSE: Commonly known as table sugar. When sucrose is digested it breaks down into fructose and glucose, which go their own separate ways in your body. Fructose heads off to the liver, while glucose stays in the blood. This process causes a spike in blood sugar, which then causes a spike in insulin.
It is a vicious cycle.
Too much concentrated fructose causes our liver to get over packed and start to spill out the excess fat and the sugar.
Excess fat and sugar cause our insulin to spike up to get it back in the liver.
Insulin spikes cause our cells to become resistant to using insulin.
When our cells become resistant the sugar stays in the blood.
What can you do?
Well, you’ve already started to take action, simply by reading this. Increasing your knowledge and awareness of the ingredients of the foods you are eating is the first critical step. Read labels. You will be surprised.
Tip: When looking at the ingredients, the list is in order by how much of each ingredient is in the food product. If sugar or high-fructose corn syrup is close to the top then that food product is mostly made up of sugar.
Eat whole foods as often as possible. By whole foods I mean, real foods, from nature. Fruits, vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates in their natural state.
Tip: If it was made in a factory, it’s not a whole food. Be weary of canned and boxed items, check the labels to make sure they haven’t added any surprise ingredients. If you can’t buy the fresh stuff, frozen is the next best thing.
Where is sugar hiding?
You already know the obvious.
- Sugar is in desserts, pastries and ice cream, but it’s also in our drinks.
- Take a look at the juices, sodas, sport drinks…even the DIET drinks.
- We’re having sugar for breakfast in our breakfast bars, cereals and yogurts.
- High-fructose corn syrup is in tons of processed foods including pizza dough, pizza sauce, soups, breads, pastries, cookies, ketchup (crazy right?!), and tons of other sauces and packaged products
When teaching patients or clients about nutrition I often hear “I don’t eat fruits because they have too much sugar.”
I’m always blown away, because many times these same people are eating a sugary cereal for breakfast that is marketed to be “Heart Healthy” with a fruit juice that is marketed to be “100% juice.”
This is not your fault. It’s been taught to us this way for years.
The job of these companies is not to get you HEALTHY.
Their job is to MAKE MONEY.
You got this. Pay attention. Together we can outsmart the food industry and take back our health.
So, if you haven’t yet – sign up for emails and get the free weight loss workbook, where you’ll find more information about healthy eating.
Also, subscribe to my podcast, where I discuss all things health and wellness.
Have questions? Let me know and I will answer them in future blogs.
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