The Thing About Sugar: What You Need to Know for Healthy Balance
by Nina Lane
Sugar (in the form of glucose) has a very important job in our body: cells and tissues all over the body get the energy they need to move and function from glucose. In nature, sugar (in its many forms) is found in lots of healthful foods, such as fruit and vegetables. Recently, sugar has been getting a lot of bad press and for good reason. The problem is that consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, premature aging, and more. As incidences of these health issues continue to rise, it is important for us to understand how sugar impacts our bodies. Here’s a few things you need to know about sugar that can help you make the best choices for your health.
The body will do whatever is necessary to keep blood sugar balanced. Balancing blood sugar comes before almost all other biological functions. Working in coordination, the body uses different mechanisms to shuttle around the sugar we get from our diet. As it moves through our blood, hormones like insulin tell cells to take it in for energy. Too little sugar causes stored energy to be mobilized, while too much triggers the extra energy to be stored as fat. Frequent ups and downs can impact our health, even if we don’t have diabetes. Too many ups and downs in blood sugar can keep us fatigued, craving, cranky, and even overweight. Unbalanced blood sugar can be a source of stress and impact every system in the body.
Sugar impacts our hormones. Hormones are signaling molecules our body uses to control function and health. Every time we eat, our hormones are impacted. This is normal and healthy. What, when, and how often acts on many of our hormones, including the ones that help us manage stress, hunger, fertility, sleep, mood, and metabolism. To keep it short and simple, when we consume sugar in unbalanced ways, it sets off a cascade of imbalances creating many health issues and contributes to dysfunction and disease.
Too much sugar increases inflammation. Consuming a high carbohydrate and sugar diet increases inflammation more than a low carbohydrate diet. In part because of the impact on hormones, and in part due to the physical damage caused by high blood sugar. Like a wrecking ball, the high blood sugar from a high carbohydrate diet leads to damage in every tissue in the body. This is one reason why too much sugar and a high carbohydrate diet are linked to obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and more.
Sugar has many names and can be found in unexpected places. It might seem obvious where to find sugar in our diet: candy, chocolate, pop, and treats, etc. While those are loaded with sugar, other less obvious sources can be big contributors to our overall sugar load. Packaged and processed products, including those with whole grains and fruit juices, can be loaded with sugar or sugar-yielding carbohydrates (even if they are marketed as healthful). For example, two slices of whole grain bread can have the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar! In addition, sugar can be found in many forms. Some examples of other names for sugar include dextrose, sucrose, agave nectar, maltose, molasses, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, and evaporated cane juice. Sugars tend to be high calorie and provide very little or no nutrients. Reading labels and sticking to whole food carbohydrates, such as vegetables, will give us much more fibre and more nutrients.
Alternative sweeteners are not a good substitute for sugar. With all the health trouble sugar can cause, you may be tempted to reach for non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners. Sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol, and even naturally derived stevia can have a negative impact on your health and impact gut flora and permeability (increasing leaky gut). In addition, long term use of non-nutritive, or artificial, sweeteners is correlated with increased weight gain, with no increase in caloric intake.
A healthful approach to sugar is all about balance! Bringing in a balance of healthy carbohydrates, fats, and proteins will help maintain balanced blood sugar and keep your energy up. Think of sugar and carbohydrates as kindling on a fire that burns easy and fast, while our fats and proteins are like the logs that give us long-burning balanced energy. An easy way to do this is to focus on filling your plate up with whole foods, including colourful vegetables, healthy fats, and quality protein. This will give us better energy and in the long run better health. Even better, explore reducing the sweet tastes in your diet and explore the wide variety of other enjoyable tastes this world has to offer!
Interested in reducing your sugar intake and exploring how the balance of whole foods can impact your health? Consider the RESTART® Program—this is a simple, powerful way to give your body a vacation from sugar and processed foods. This five-week group program focuses on how to use “real food” to boost your energy and cut sugar and carb cravings. Part nutritional education, part sugar detox, part support group—the RESTART® Program is empowering! Classes will be starting soon! Contact Nina Lane at email@example.com or (306) 380-6174 for details, and see her Directory of Services ad on page 19 of the 25.6 March/April issue of the WHOLifE Journal.