With all the recent research being released about the detrimental effects of sugar on the body, many people are looking to reduce their sugar consumption. Excessive sugar consumption has been shown to lead to insulin resistance, increased stomach fat, increased inflammation in the body and a suppressed immune system. Unfortunately, for people eating a Standard American Diet which includes lots of processed food, sugar is impossible to avoid. It is added in the places you would expect like cookies, candy and pastries but also has a big presence in items like ketchup, yogurt, breads, pasta sauces, cured meats and chicken nuggets. It is ubiquitous in the American food system. However, there are some steps you can focus on to help you successfully avoid added sugar.
Focus on a whole foods diet. The more you eat foods which are in their natural state like apples, broccoli, whole grains and leafy greens, the easier it will be to avoid added sugar. Steer clear of food in a package. Sugar is often added to packaged food to improve it’s flavor. If you experience a sugar craving, look for a whole foods option to meet that need. Fresh fruit make an amazing nutrient dense snack!
Read labels. If you do buy food in a package, read the label. If sugar or one of its forms is listed in the first 3 ingredients, it is probably an item you want to avoid. High-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, agave, corn sweetener, demerara, barley malt, evaporated cane juice, beet sugar, evaporated cane juice solids, fruit-juice concentrates, dextrose, fructose and lactose are just a few of the many names for sugar.
Set a realistic time frame for avoiding sugar. Humans are hard wired to like sugar. Our typical first food, breast milk, gets 40% of it’s calories from lactose, a disaccharide sugar. This sugar serves an important purpose for babies, helping to colonize their guts with healthy bacteria. Given our predisposition to crave sugar, it may be hard to banish sugar indefinitely from your diet. Think realistically about how long you think YOU can avoid sugar. Even if you start with eliminating it for only one day that reset will get you thinking about the places sugar hides in your life. Usually if you can avoid sugar for at least three days, your body will begin to crave it less and your taste buds will begin to reset to hunger for less sugar. Set a realistic goal for yourself so you can experience success. As you get more confident in your sugar-free life, you can always increase the length of your goal.
It seems there is a lot of contradictory information out there about healthy diets. Many people have incredibly strong feelings about how they fuel their bodies and they are not afraid to share their opinions. It can be hard to keep up with the latest research because the information is always changing. One minute, carbs are good- the next, carbs are bad. First you hear, don’t eat fat then you hear eat all the fat you want. It can be confusing because new research is always being released. However, here are 4 tiny tips I think most everyone can agree on.
Eat whole foods. Try to make the majority of calories you consume come from whole foods. Eat foods you recognize with a minimum of ingredients- all of which you can pronounce. Avoid food that comes in a box or package. Food in its natural state is the best.
Eat healthy fats. Your body needs fat to survive. Fat is necessary for absorption of the fat soluble vitamins D, E, K and A, for insulation for your organs and to help keep your body warm. Fat helps produce hormones and biochemicals and is in every cell in the body. However, not all fat is healthy. Avoid trans fats like those found in baked goods or processed foods. Get your fats from real food sources like seeds, nuts, avocados, fatty fish, meat and eggs.
Eat a variety of foods every day. Try to eat as many different colors of natural foods as possible. Blue blueberries, red apples, dark green leafy greens, vibrant orange butternut squash and purple eggplant all offer different essential vitamins and minerals.
Move your body. The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week. These recommendations do not mean you have to go sweat it out in the gym- any kind of activity which gets your heart rate up will qualify. It doesn’t matter if it is gardening, running, boot camp or ballroom dancing. Just be sure to choose something you like so you are motivated to keep doing it. Consistency is key!!
Recently, I have noticed an increased interest in avocados. It seems they are the new super food. In the past, back in the low fat crazed days, avocados were avoided due to their high fat content but now that people are realizing how necessary fat is for our bodies, avocados are enjoying a popularity surge. Even though avocados are high in fat, most of that fat is oleic acid, a mono-saturated fatty acid. Oleic acid helps our digestive tract form transport molecules for fat that can increase our absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids. Mono-saturated fats also help lower our risk of heart disease. Avocados also contain phytosterols, which are invaluable in lowering inflammation, especially in arthritis. Avocado is an excellent source of carotenoid lutein, which known to help protect against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. They contain lutein which helps fight macular degeneration and their high fiber content helps keep blood sugar level. Avocados are a particularly rich source for potassium, Vitamin E, folate, Vitamin K, Copper and Vitamin C. With all these amazing health benefits, it is easy to see why avocados are the new darlings of the nutrition world. Throw some on a salad to increase your absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Grind one into a smoothie to add a thick, rich, satisfying texture. Mix one with some honey and smear on your face for a moisturizing mask. The possibilities are endless. What is your favorite way to enjoy avocados?
What happens in your body when you eat a big blueberry muffin and wash it down with a giant soda? Essentially, your body goes into sugar overload. Your pancreas detects this infusion of sugar, triggering a release of insulin to help cope with the excess sugar. Insulin, a hormone produced by the body, is responsible for regulating the level of sugar in our blood. The more sugar in our bodies, the more insulin our pancreas releases. Insulin helps store the sugar in the liver and muscles as glycogen (to be used later for energy) and in fat cells as triglycerides.
When we down that white flour blueberry muffin combined with a sugary drink, our body struggles to get the insulin to sugar balance right. If we load our body with sugar on a regular basis, the body begins to overcompensate for these blasts of sugar by dropping our blood sugar level down lower than it was before we ate the sugar. This is commonly called a “sugar crash” but the technical name is hypoglycemia. Our body responds to this crash by craving sweets or feeling hungry. When we respond to these cravings by eating more sugar, the whole process begins again. Once we are caught in this cycle of crashing and then sugar consumption, we may feel shakiness, grouchiness, trembling or weakness if we go too long without eating. Most people will feel temporary symptom relief when they eat. My sister refers to this feeling as being “hangry” – feeling grouchy and short tempered until she gets some food. Fortunately, there are some steps to take to avoid this blood sugar roller coaster ride.
Limit the amount of sugar you eat. This includes all forms of sugar- processed carbohydrates, white sugar, agave, honey, sodas, date sugar, muffins, ice cream, cookies, candy or any other food that tastes sweet.
Eat complex carbohydrate rich foods with a protein and/or healthy fat. Combining a carbohydrate rich food with a protein or fat will slow the digestion of the carbs down, giving your body more time to process the sugar. An apple slathered with nut butter or whole-wheat bread with avocado and turkey are good examples of healthy combinations.
Eating small, frequent meals. When we eat on a regular basis, it helps our bodies have a steady source of energy to avoid the peaks and valleys of blood sugar regulation. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours.
Photo by Nimish Gogri. To see more beautiful photos by Nimish go to flickr. (Text on photo added by me.)