Sugar is a hot topic. How bad is it? Are there types of sugars that are better than others?
I often get asked by clients which type of sugar is the healthiest. And, what’s worse, sugar or fat?
When I started writing this blog, I realized that there was way too much info to unpack in one post. So I’m going to do it in two parts.
1) In this post, I’ll talk about what sugar does to your body.
2) In my next post, I’ll talk about ways you can incorporate sugars into your diet without damaging your health.
It’s easy to tell someone “sugar is bad for you,” but it’s also not helpful or realistic.
People want treats.
While I’ve said before it’s important that not all life rewards be food-based, I also feel food should be enjoyed, and be tasty, and that it’s OK to reward yourself now and again with a sweet treat (especially if it’s made with wholesome ingredients – more on this in part two!).
That said, it’s also pretty safe to say that most North Americans eat too much sugar.
The thing is, it’s really hard to measure how much sugar you’re actually eating. Sugar is naturally present in lots of foods. Many of these foods are healthy, such as fruits, veggies and whole grains. In general, you don’t need to worry too much about the sugars in these foods.
BUT sugar is also sneakily added to many processed and packaged foods.
Besides the added sugars that you know about in foods that you would expect to be sweetened, such as ice cream or fruit juices, there are SO many added sugars that you may not know about.
A lot of the time, you’re eating different forms of sugar even when you don’t realize it. Sugar is added to most condiments, bbq sauces, tomato sauces, canned soups, and even to foods that are perceived as healthy, such as yogurt (therefore, yogurt is healthy only when you eat the plain or unsweetened versions), organic cereals, granola bars or even savoury packaged snacks.
And guess what else?
Processed food package labelling can be very tricky. They have so, so many words that all mean SUGAR in the ingredient list. The packages are misleading because producers often use a variety of different sugars in the products to throw you off, so it doesn’t just show a list saying: sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar, more sugar, sugar, and sugar.
So, you may look at the label on a box of organic granola bars and see that it has honey listed, and think, “Oh well, that’s good, honey is natural.”
But keep reading, and you may also see:
- organic cane sugar
- brown rice syrup
- manioc syrup
- high fructose corn syrup
- brown sugar
- corn syrup
- invert sugar
- maltodextrin, and/or maltose.
All are different types of sugar!
A good clue is: anything that’s listed as a syrup or ends in “ose” is likely a sugar.
Check out this box of Organic Fig Newtons.
It’s mostly sugar: sweet rice flour, dried cane syrup, organic invert sugar, grape juice, whole rice syrup, sweet whey powder… and those are just the ingredients in the cookie part! Then there’s the jam filling, which is just more sugar! They might as well just call it Box of Organic Sugar. Which just goes to show that “organic” does not equal healthy.
Just to hammer the point home, here’s another label of an organic granola bar that’s also using trickery to disguise all the sugar:
So here we have: brown sugar, manioc syrup, chocolate chips (which have sugar in them), date paste, and sunflower seed butter, which contains more brown sugar.
Next up! Organic cereal:
In this cereal we have: organic cane syrup (white sugar in syrup form), organic dried cane syrup, brown rice syrup, the dried blueberries, elderflower juice, and hey, just for fun, some organic invert cane syrup!
So, with all this trickery out there in the marketplace…
Is there a way to navigate the world of sugar and still maintain a healthy lifestyle?
And is all this sugar really that bad for you?
Ummm, yeah, kinda.
Let’s first discuss the dangers of eating too much sugar.
The new saying seems to be that fat doesn’t make you fat; sugar makes you fat.
This is only sort of true; healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados, are not the culprits to blame if you’re gaining weight. Unhealthy fats, however, such as saturated fats ( in red meats, bacon, and deli meats), as well as hydrogenated oils/trans fats found in processed and fried foods, can definitely make you fat!
But the idea with this concept is that sugar is worse because in a way it’s both sugar and fat: unused sugar in your body is stored as fat.
Here’s what happens when you consume foods with sugars in them:
- You eat the sugar.
- Your body is alerted that there is sugar in your blood stream.
- Insulin is released by the pancreas. It clears the sugar out of the blood stream. Depending on the type of sugar you eat, some blood sugars are picked up by cells to help create energy for bodily processes, some are sent to the liver for processing. Any extras are usually stored as fat.
- When blood glucose levels are stable, and the body is in homeostasis, or steady state, the body can release and use fatty acids from storage to make energy. That’s a good thing!
- But back to those extra sugars. The liver stores the extra sugar as fat.
IF you are constantly exposing your body to too much sugar, it’s generally not happy. Insulin is continually released by the pancreas; your body becomes resistant to the insulin, and even more insulin needs to be released to clear out the sugar. When your body is in a constant state of higher-than-normal insulin levels, or insulin-resistance, it’s not a great thing. Why?
Insulin resistance is also called metabolic syndrome, which is a precursor to diabetes. Chronically elevated insulin also may contribute to the development of heart disease, because you’ll have higher blood triglycerides (fats), higher LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and higher blood pressure.
Insulin-resistance is also associated with increased cortisol levels in the body, and increased cortisol levels in the body are linked to total body inflammation, arthritis, auto-immune diseases.
So back to being able to tell much sugar you’re actually eating. It’s very hard to tell.
Some signs and symptoms that you’re eating too much sugar are:
- You have put on extra weight, especially around your middle
- You have poor dental health, such as cavities
- You are diagnosed with high blood pressure
- You are diagnosed with high LDL cholesterol
- If you’re a woman, you suffer from frequent yeast infections
- You are often tired, lethargic and depressed
Sooooooo, it’s pretty clear that excess sugar in your life is doing you no favours. I did tell you though, that I wouldn’t just tell you that sugar is bad for you and leave it at that.
Right off the bat, limiting your consumption of processed and packaged foods will automatically cut a boat load of sugar from your diet. If you do eat packaged foods, read the labels! The fewer the ingredients, the better. Aim for products with 5% or less total sugars.
But what else can you do? Are there sugars you can eat without wreaking havoc on your health?
This, my friends, I will address in part two of the sugar post! In the next post, I’ll talk to you about ways to enjoy sweet treats, which sugars are better than others, and my favourite sweeteners when baking.
Making your own baked goods, as opposed to buying them, is a fantastic way to cut excess sugar from your life! In my next post I’ll share the recipe for these Homemade Granola bars that I make for the kids.
Until then, I’ll leave you with this cheesy quote: eat less sugar; you’re sweet enough already!