In recent years, we have all heard a great deal about sugar and the effect it has on our bodies. It is important to keep our sugar consumption as low as possible, so learning how to read a label for sugar is a necessary skill in order to successfully traverse the grocery store aisles.
Many people say that sugar is just empty calories, but there is so much more to the story. Here are just a few of the other effects sugar has on our bodies:
- Promotes insulin resistance. When we eat more sugar than we need/burn, our cells become hardened or resistant to insulin. That means that when we eat foods high in carbohydrate, our cells are not able to use the sugar effectively for energy. Because the insulin cannot penetrate the cell, it bounces off and is converted into fat in the blood….AKA….cholesterol. Keep in mind that we become insulin resistant far before it every shows up on a blood test as evidenced by signs like high cholesterol.
- Increases our cholesterol – Explained above. Connected to insulin resistance
- Promotes leptin resistance – Leptin is the hormone secreted by our fat cells which signals our bodies to stop eating when we have had enough food. When we eat too much sugar over time, our leptin receptors become hardened and are not able to effectively use the leptin that our bodies produce. Leptin resistance perpetuates the cycle of excess weight.
- Increases inflammation – Sugar is an inflammatory substance inside the body, basically an irritant. When the arterial walls are inflamed, cholesterol sticks and forms plaque. Inflammation is linked to many illnesses that plague people today.
- Causes craving cycles – Severe rises and falls of blood sugar cause a roller coaster ride of cravings and emotion which leave us frustrated and fighting to lose weight.
So as outlined above, sugar is not just empty calories. It creates and environment in our bodies that makes weight loss/maintenance more challenging and often leads us to give up. Now that doesn’t mean that we need to completely eliminate sugar from our diet, but being aware of how to read a label for sugar is a great start!
The current recommendation for added sugar per day is no more than 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Trying to figure that out on a label can be mind boggling, but following a few simple guidelines can be helpful.
- Compare the unsweetened variety to the sweetened one. Example below is the comparison of sweetened (fruit on the bottom) yogurt to plain yogurt. It is impossible to tell how much of the sugar is from the fruit and how much is from table sugar, but you can discern how much is NOT the yogurt by looking at them side by side. Once fruit has been processed to the point where it will last a few weeks in the dairy case, it has lost most of its nutritional value anyway. A simple switch would be to buy plain Greek yogurt and add stevia and fresh berries to it. That might seem like the same thing as the “fruit on the bottom” variety, but from a blood sugar perspective, it is far less.
- Divide the DIFFERENCE by 5 to get your added sugars. For the example above, there are 2.2 teaspoons of added sugar in each serving.
- Don’t be fooled by “made with 100% real fruit” claims. While it is great that the product is sweetened with fruit juice instead of table sugar, there is no nutritional difference once juice has been condensed and processed to the point where it will sweeten a product. Fruit juice and table sugar are close to equal on the glycemic index, so both will spike your blood sugar equally.
- Look for items under 5 grams of sugar. When in doubt, this is a good rule. I like to compare everything to a Krispy Crème donut at 10 grams. The average Luna bar has more than that, so make sure to read your labels carefully.
Bottom line, sugar is more detrimental than just empty calories, and we should be careful about the amount we consume. The occasional cookie or piece of cake is no big deal if your body is not already overloaded with the sugar lurking in bars and cereals. So take the time to use your new label reading guidelines carefully. I bet you’ll never look at those organic chocolate chip granola bars the same : ).
STEP(S) FOR THIS WEEK:
- Take a look at the items in your pantry that you consider to be healthy. What are they sweetened with? Is it fruit juice, brown rice syrup, or something artificial? Evaluate based on the criteria above and decide if it is the best choice for you.
- Have a fact finding mission at the grocery store. See if you can find alternatives to your favorite snacks that may be lower in sugar.
- Continue asking questions. Heart In Motion is open for questions from all subscribers, so ask any time. We are here to help you!