It’s been a while since we last met to explore self-care strategies that support great health. Let’s reconvene. It seems somewhat fitting, given the flavor of the season, to take a look at sugar. I’m not trying to be a buzz kill- but let’s hunker down and consider the good and the not so good aspects of the sweet stuff. Visions of sugar plums may still dance in our head, New Year’s resolutions are likely still within reach, so what better time than now to see how this tasty little substance impacts our health and well-being.
Sugar, we are going down. It could be a battle, folks.
There have been songs written about sugar. Remember The Archies?
“Hey...Sugar Sugar!” “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs; “Sugar” by Adam Levin.
It is a sweet term of endearment. “Sugar pie.” “Sugar baby.” “Sweetheart” “Sweet cheeks.” No wonder we are so enamored. I mean, it’s sweet. But is it a sweet deal? The delicious morsel of a sugar cube packs quite a punch.
Sugar has many disguises. Picture that little sugar cube with a moustache and cap pulled over those syrupy little eyes, and you may well be meeting sugar’s alter ego- also known as fructose, sucrose, dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, corn syrup, fructose, lactose, maltose, just to mention a few often used alias.
Even Sherlock Holmes might have a bit of a challenge figuring out where this hardy little substance hides. And hide it does. Not only in the food you might expect…cookies, cakes…donuts, candy bars….but the foods you might not think about….spaghetti sauce, BBQ sauce, cereal, granola, instant oatmeal, fruit juices, yogurt, frozen breakfast foods…and on and on.
The fun, white fluffy stuff that abounds and burrows deep within so many foods may taste good, but nutritionally, it doesn’t offer much. These are considered “simple” sugars, and they break down very quickly in our bodies, which causes a spike in our blood glucose levels.
This chemical cascade hits us hard, overwhelming some of our bodies’ defenses, and washes over us like a tsunami. It takes time to recover. Those “added” sugar are rogue loners, swooping in to deliver their gooey blow and leaving our bodies reeling and tasked to recover.
The worthy news is that Mother Nature provides “good” sugars. These are the naturally occurring sugars that are found in foods like fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and beans. These types of sugars are considered “complex.” They break down into simple sugars slower, allowing a gradual adjustment to our body glucose level. They have nutritional partners. One partner is fiber, which mediates sugar absorption. Other partners are vitamins and minerals, which are abundantly present.
Let’s consider: 5 ways “simple” sugars impact our body
1. Increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes- too much sugar in our body at once can overwhelm our cells and make them resistant to insulin, the important hormone that ushers glucose into the cells where it is used for energy.
2. Invokes inflammation. Too much sugar triggers production of pesky little substances called cytokines. Cytokines are irritants in our body and can contribute to pain.
3. Extra sugar contributes to heart disease because it causes an increase in triglycerides.
4. Weight gain. Americans eat about 20 teaspoons of sugar a day. That calculates to about 320 extra calories each day.
5. It’s addictive. Sugar can cause changes in our brain chemistry and lead to cravings and binging as well as symptoms of withdrawal. That’s why three or four cookies taste so much better than one!
5 ways “complex” sugars impact our body
1. We fill up quicker. The fiber in the carbs make feel fuller sooner. This can help us manage our weight more effectively.
2. We invite more vitamins and minerals in.
3. Provides steadier, more consistent energy.
4. Supports maintaining body balance, or homeostasis.
5. Can temper those “simple” sugar cravings.
Moderation is key to help us maintain nutritional balance.
If we are at the beach, most of us can tolerate a wave swell or two as we play in the water. Maybe we have a slice of pie with a small scoop of ice cream. Our body will be impacted, but it can probably absorb that extra sugar “swell” on an occasional basis.
However, if we wage that assault, day after day…meal after meal of too much simple sugar, then our body is bound to wear down. Our cells will revolt against the sugar assault and refuse to let it in. Then sugar becomes a dangerous irritant…coursing through our bloodstream, running amuck about our organs and tissues. Those cytokines bully our cells, egging on pain and inflammation.
So…ponder a bit. How much sugar do you eat every day? How do you feel and what is your energy level like? What change are you willing to make to help your body reach its best self? What small change can you make today? Even drinking one less soda or eating an apple instead of that piece of pie is a start. Success begets success…and small changes can quickly add up to have a major impact!
Wishing you all the sweetness in life while embracing good health. Til’ next time,
American Heart Association: Nutrition Tips
Healthline: Sugar is Addictive
Healthy Eating: Different Words for Sugar on Food Labels
Heart.org: Getting Healthy- FAQ about Sugar
MayoClinic: Added Sugar
Web MD: Sugar Shockers: Foods Surprisingly High in Sugar