I admit. I love me some sweet treats. And on this past NBA All Star Weekend, I devoured a delicious plate of my mom’s kahlua cake with zero guilt. At some rational level, we know we must say no, yet we go to the drive thru, order the double, double and say yes to the bagel; walk into the bakery and fall prey to the smell of cinnamon buns and buy a dozen to take home. “It’s my treat, my gift to myself”, we claim. What’s wrong with a having a little sugar once in a while?
According to the Canadian Sugar Institute, we consume approximately 16 tablespoons of added sugar per day. This is way more than the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 2 tablespoons of sugar per day for women and 3 tablespoons of sugar per day for men.
Sugar is everywhere.
I work with clients who tell me all the time, “I’m not really a fan of sweets.” Yet when I review their food diaries, I see bread, yogurt, cereal, packaged oatmeal, juice and flavoured coffees consumed daily. Yes. All these foods contain sugar.
Sugar is laced in foods under clever names like dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, invert syrup, grape juice concentrate, sucrose, beet sugar, barley malt, maltodextrin, turbinado, brown rice syrup and high fructose corn syrup. It’s smart to scan a product’s ingredients. However, remembering all the sugar aliases can be a task in itself, leaving us overwhelmed, frustrated and defeated. My conclusion – well, there is just no solid way to avoid sugar. It’s everywhere!
So while I took the last delicious spoonful of my dessert, I began to wonder, at what point is our love for sugar actually toxic to our health?
To clarify, our bodies need nutrients for energy, muscle growth, cellular repair and maintenance. Glucose is the simple sugar that helps fuel this process. In other words, we need glucose to live. Sugar, or sucrose, on the other hand, is the combination of glucose and fructose, a fruit sugar that is twice as sweet as glucose. It is when added to foods, refined and over-consumed, that sugar becomes the toxic villain.
Isocaloric but not isometabolic
The argument is not about the consumption of empty calories but more about the way in which the body metabolizes fructose. Glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body. Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized primarily by the liver. So eating 100 calories of glucose from a slice of whole wheat toast compared to eating 100 calories of sucrose from a slice of pie will have two very different metabolic consequences.
Sugar messes with energy levels. The sugar high you experience when eating sugar is just that, a high. It is “mortgaged energy” because sugar uses more nutrients and minerals from the body to process it. And just like drugs, the high subsides and the focus returns to getting the next sugar fix.
TIP: Replace the bagel and double, double with whole wheat toast, eggs and a fruit. This high fiber meal will help control the rise in blood sugar and prevent you from experiencing the urge to consume more sugar. When you start eating less sweet food, you start craving it less.
Sugar depresses immunity. Did you know that immune function decreases by 30% for up to 3 hours by drinking just one12 oz can of soda? By consuming sugar, you make yourself vulnerable to developing colds, influenza, infection, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, yeast infection, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, sinusitis, ADHD and even cancer of the prostate and breast.
TIP: Is grabbing Pepsi a reminder of hanging out with Dad when you were younger? Or does the taste of a warm cinnamon bun relate to feelings of comfort, security? Think about what makes you crave for sugar in the first place and consider searching for healthy alternatives to the same comfort foods.
Sugar makes you fat. When there’s too much sugar in the blood, instead of generating energy, the liver ends up generating fat and storing it in areas like our butt, hips, back and thighs. (Yes, I’m cringing too).
TIP: Be mindful of the choices you make and understand what makes sugar so tempting for you. Increase your activity level and limit consumption to no more than 5g/serving. There is strong scientific data linking excess sugar with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome. Stay within the recommended daily requirements and of course, if you need help, guidance, support and encouragement, Higher Level Fitness is your one stop shop to help you get back on the right track.