Everyone’s talking about how bad sugar is for you. There are even entire documentaries on the topic such as “That Sugar Film”.
Obviously sugar is not a health food. And “added sugars” (ones that are not naturally found in whole foods like fruit) are particularly bad. They’re not only bad for diabetes; but, also for your waistline, mood, and energy levels.
Organizations and governments are (finally) declaring a maximum amount of daily sugar intake although many of them don’t actually agree on what that maximum number should be.
The problem is that sugar is everywhere. It’s naturally occurring. It’s also added to just about every processed food there is. And this “added sugar” is a factor in many chronic diseases we see today. Sugar is inflammatory. Too much is associated with weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and cavities. Too much sugar is a huge health risk, no matter how you look at it.
Let’s discuss the difference between “added” sugar and “naturally occurring” sugar.
Fruit and other healthy whole foods contain sugar. They also contain water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals. They are good for you. Eating fruits and vegetables is a well-proven way to reduce your risks of many chronic diseases.
“Added sugars,” on the other hand, are concerning. In 2013, the American Heart Association calculated that about 25,000 deaths per year were due to sweetened beverages. “Added sugars” are also in baked goods, sweets, soups, sauces and other processed foods. You can find sugar on the ingredient list as many names, often ending in “-ose.” These include glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.
So, “Total sugars” = “Naturally occurring sugars” + “Added sugars.”
Tips to reduce your sugar intake
For one thing, ditch as much processed food as possible, regardless of their sugar content. There are a ton of studies that show that processed foods are bad for your health. Period.
Here are some of my most popular recommendations to reduce your sugar intake, so you don’t get too much:
Most people know that blood sugar levels have a direct impact on their health and wellness and that uncontrolled blood sugar can conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications, or insulin injections?
But probably a lot of people know that without really understanding what blood sugar actually is or how to prevent excessive highs and lows.
Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But why have sugar in your blood? Well, you need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.
The thing is, it can fluctuate. A lot.
This fluctuation is the natural balance between things that increase it; and things that decrease it. When you eat foods with carbohydrates (i.e. sugars or starches) then your digestive system break these down into sugars which are then absorbed into the blood stream for transportation around the body. Your body keeps blood sugar levels stable by secreting insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get it out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues to be used for energy.
Why is it important to keep blood sugar stable?
Your body wants your blood sugar to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough, so you’re not light-headed, fatigued, and irritable. It should be low enough that your body isn’t scrambling to remove excess from the blood.
When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia.”
When blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia. Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to “insulin resistance.”
Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high.
Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.
So, let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.
Food for stable blood sugar
The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat. To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks and having smaller portions of dessert.
Eating more fibre is helpful too. Fibre helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the “spike” in your blood sugar level. fibre is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods often removes most of the fibre). Eating nuts, seeds, and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fibre intake.
FUN FACT: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar so add it to drinks, sprinkle it on porridge, yoghurt or fruit.
Lifestyle for stable blood sugar
Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don’t ignore insulin’s call to get excess sugar out of the blood. Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood.
But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn’t you?
Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels? Yup! Stress hormones increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the “fight or flight” stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to “fight” or “flee”? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels. So, try to reduce the stress you’re under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation, deep breathing, or gentle, restorative movement like swimming or yoga.
Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have a higher appetite, and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable. Make sleep more of a priority – it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.
Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant). Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.
There are many nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing excessive carbs, and eating more fibre, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health).