December 10th, 2020 12:00am
Most of us know that sugar is not so good for us. But it makes food taste so good! Unfortunately, too much of a good thing…well, you know the rest of that story. Over the last half-century, obesity rates have skyrocketed. In 1962, 46 percent of adults in the U.S. were considered overweight or obese. It is estimated that in 2020, 83 percent of men and 72 percent of women are overweight or obese. To a large part, sugar in our diet accounts for this meteoric rise, which mirrors the rise in Type 2 Diabetes (the type of diabetes one is not born with). The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons of sugar daily!
Sugar is known as a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. The simple kind is that which appears in baked goods, candy, soda, ice cream, fruit juice, and is added to many other foods. It is sweet-tasting and is quickly absorbed into our bloodstream. Complex carbohydrates are essentially simple sugars attached together. The more sugars strung together, the more complex they are. When we eat complex carbohydrates, they are digested into simple sugar and absorbed as such. There are two types – fiber and starch. The former represents many simple sugars strung together, which make them hard to absorb fully; the latter tend to be less complex and are readily broken down and thus sugar.
All animals rely on sugar for quick energy. Our bodies have evolved this way to fight or flee danger quickly and efficiently for survival. If faced with danger, or in our current day stress, our body will unleash a flurry of hormones to increase blood sugar levels whether we have eaten sugar or not. Our brain cells, especially, require sugar to function. Without it, we might not be able to adequately scan our environment for danger or figure out a way out if we need to. That is one of the reasons our body craves it so much. Our body produces the hormone cortisol, which peaks twice a day, early in the morning and late in the afternoon. This hormone releases sugar into the bloodstream. For that reason, eating sugary foods in the morning and late afternoon are not recommended.
Yet, we take in way too much sugar than we will ever need. When sugar levels rise in our bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is the key that opens our cells to let sugar in. When our cells have admitted all the sugar they need, the excess sugar can’t fit through the door and instead is converted into fat. If too much sugar is our norm, then the insulin will no longer open the cell’s door. That is what is known as insulin resistance, the hallmark of Type 2 Diabetes, and results in too much insulin circulating in our bloodstream (Type 1 Diabetes is a condition where the pancreas can’t produce insulin). Too much insulin can contribute to damage to our blood vessels.
Since we need sugar, it can be confusing and frustrating, trying to balance true needs versus what we want. My favorites are chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and most ice cream types. Do I need those? Well, one might argue that I do to remain happy! And sugar can do that. Sugar can elevate mood; therefore, it is not uncommon for people to “self-medicate” with sugar-rich foods when they feel unhappy. To be sure, there can be a balance.
It would be helpful to know how certain foods affect your blood sugar. Until recently, devices to do that were onerous and painful, involving a finger prick to draw blood onto a strip inserted into a meter. Because most of us can’t do this regularly, we rely on charts and recommendations on what we should and shouldn’t eat. We may turn to a list for a particular type of eating plan, such as Paleo, Keto, Atkins, or South Beach.
Here are 7 ways to keep your blood sugar under control with the side effect of weight loss.
Resist Bringing Sugary Foods Home
Once, while in the checkout line at a large warehouse-type store, a man, at least four times my weight, was checking out in front of me. Just before the last item went through, he asked if he could retrieve another item. A minute later, he returned with a crate of candy bars. He was almost at the finish line! Yet, now that he purchased these bars, they would be in his home and guaranteed to eat. If you resist bringing these home, you can’t be compelled to consume them.
While trying to lose weight, a friend shared with me that she was using a popular app. She was frustrated because she was not losing weight, although she stated to be using it religiously and entering all the foods she ate. After much urging, she finally admitted, “Well, maybe a forgot to enter the sleeve of Oreos I ate in the middle of the night!” If you are trying to achieve a healthier weight and body, you must practice self-honesty.
Fruit is Sugar
Although fruit is generally considered good for you, it contains a simple sugar called fructose combined with fiber (complex carbohydrate). It will raise blood sugar, and if your body does not need that sugar, the excess will be converted into fat, just like other sugars. Since fruit contains other nutrients, it is not a class of foods to avoid. Instead, my suggestion is to eat fruit in the middle part of the day, not in the morning or evening.
One method of this is to not eat for large chunks of the day. I have practiced this for many years, where I will not eat after a certain hour in the evening until noon the next day. I will drink plenty of fluids, but no food, especially no sugar. A recent study showed that this type of intermittent fasting did not result in weight loss. However, the participants filled out a survey of the foods they ate during the rest of the day. It is more likely than not that their recollection may have omitted certain food items. I would encourage the reader to consider this with a doctor’s supervision.
Snack on Vegetables and Nuts
Although both contain some carbohydrates, they will not elevate blood sugar.
Not All Exercise is the Same
While performing aerobic exercise (e.g., running, cycling, rowing, elliptical), your blood sugar will dip. When performing high-intensity interval training and weight training, your blood sugar will rise (but decrease quickly when finished). Timing your sugar intake around these is crucial.
Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM)
CGM is now possible with small devices that allow for completely non-invasive glucose measurements utilizing your smartphone. Although these devices are generally only prescribed to diabetics, I believe there is a great benefit for their use to prevent illness and achieve optimal wellness and fitness