There is so much more to sugar than I ever could have imagined, so many more varieties then I ever let my sweet tooth believe and whole complexity of issues and illnesses associated with the over consumption of what a great number of us are drawn to.
Last weekend we had two days of lectures, focused on sugar, carbohydrates and the whole concept of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load, the latter of which I will save for another post!
We’re all partial to a bit of sugar now and then, some of us more than others. I’d consider myself to have a “sweet tooth” as opposed to a savoury one, that said I have readjusted my tastebuds and my perception of what sweet actually is has been completely modified. I suppose it’s comparable to people who don’t drink that often (or at all in my case) and then when they do partake in an alcoholic beverage get tipsy a hell of a lot quicker than they might have when they indulged more frequently! You get the same hit with a whole lot less! (Track back to my post on the pleasure trap which bears relevance!)
Lets start with a few facts…
Sugar and Carbohydrates
They’re one in the same! Carbohydrates are broken down by the body, digested, down to their simplest form which is glucose. Glucose is the main fuel used by cells throughout the body; it’s our preferred energy source, realised more quickly than that from fats and proteins and we need it!
Glucose units link up to form carbohydrates; starch and cellulose. Starch is broken down by enzymes (namely amylase, maltase, sucrase and lactase) in to glucose which is used to produce energy. The body stores glucose in the form of glycogen in the liver and a small amount in the kidneys. The reserves are called upon when further energy/calories, haven’t been consumed and one exerts the body.
Cellulose on the other hand can’t be broken down by the body as we don’t produce the enzyme to break it down and convert it back to glucose. It’s still essentials as it’s an important part of dietary fibre (a post for another day!)
There are six main types of sugar in the human diet including…
- Glucose – honey and dates
- Fructose – from fruit and honey
- Galactose – milk
- Maltose – from starch
- Sucrose – from sugar beet and cane
- Lactose – from milk
So why is it important for us to pay head to the amount of sugar we consume?
Blood Sugar Levels
Different types of sugars are digested by the body at varying paces. The quicker a sugar is digested, the sharper the rise in our blood sugar (glucose) levels. The spike in blood sugar is readjusted by insulin, an enzyme produced by the pancreas, informing the cells of our body to make use of the glucose in the blood.
The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster
Problems begin to surface when substantial quantities of fast releasing sugars are consumed as the body over produces insulin to compensate. This contributes to the on set of Type 2 Diabetes; one in every 10 people who suffer with diabetes suffers from Type 2 as opposed to Type 1. Type 1 Diabetes is less common and accounts for 1 in every 10 cases; sufferers lose the ability to produce insulin as opposed to producing too much of it and the body becoming unresponsive to it’s signals; insulin resistance.
As many as one in every ten people have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels and regularly experience highs and lows.
A Viscous Cycle
Sugar is addicting and contributes to a whole host of other diseases and illnesses aside from the aforementioned diabetes including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, anaemia, immune deficiency, tooth decay and bone loss but to name a few!
Over production of insulin will inevitably lead to low blood sugar leaving you craving yet more sugar and so the cycle continues.
High protein diets also contribute to people over consuming and yearning for sugar as the body is crying out to be rebalanced; to maintain a protein:calorie ratio!
Satisfying your Sweet Tooth the Safe Way!
- Chewing your food more thoroughly, namely carbohydrates, such as grains, legumes and vegetables, will help satisfy your sweet tooth naturally. These foods will become sweeter the more they are broken down in the mouth.
- Avoid over consumption of high protein animal foods which spark sugar cravings.
- Choose unrefined sugar alternatives to sweeten baked goods; molasses, unrefined dark brown sugar, and barley malt syrup are the best natural alternatives to refined sugar.
- Stevia is a fantastic non carbohydrate sweetener which is taken from the extract of a leaf of a South American plant. It falls in to the same class as artificial sweeteners but in it’s pure form, or even when diluted with maltodextrins due to it’s intensity (200-300 times sweeter than sugar!) has little impact on blood sugar and contains negligible calories. Studies have actually shown Stevia to have beneficial properties when it comes to regulating blood sugar levels!!!
- Just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day has been proven to significantly help lower blood sugar levels. It has insulin like effects, slows down the emptying of your stomach thereby reducing sharp rises in blood sugar levels after meals, and contains antioxidants which enhance insulin sensitivity (flavon-3-ol).
- Read food labels! Foods which you might think contain sugar, especially large amounts might surprise you! Culprits which people largely underestimated include cereals, breads, salad dressing, low fat alternatives, fruit yoghurts and most canned or processed foods.
Sugar & Sweeteners – Deciphering Food Labels
Sugar may not always be listed as such; it has many other descriptors and can be listed in varying disguises…These are just a few of the them!
- Cornstarch – the biggest source of carbohydrate sweeteners used by food manufacturers
- Dextrose – crystalline glucose; majority of which began as cornstarch
- Corn Syrup – dextrose and glucose sweeteners; the ratio varies and isn’t specified
- Maltodextrin – dextrose units as one might have guessed! A family of dextrose products as opposed to one single ingredient
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – syrups that have been manufactured to contain as much dextrose (glucose) as possible. 40-55% on average ends up as fructose, some as much as 95%. Increasingly HFCS is being linked to obesity, high triglycerides, heart disease and insulin resistance.
- Barley malt
- Beet Sugar
- Cane Sugar
- Carob Syrup
The list goes on….and ON! Just have your wits about you.
Artificial Sweetener’s are a whole other demon complete with their own side effects and health warnings! Ones to watch out for include…
- Neotame – this was a new one to me! It’s modified from Aspartame and is much sweeter!
If in doubt you should try and refrain from buying products which are heavily processed and have long lists of ingredients on their labels. If you don’t understand it then you shouldn’t be putting in to your body! Wholefood is the way to go!
I’ll be doing a further post in relation to carbohydrates, looking at the GI and GL of different foods, what it means and how it can be put to practical use over the coming week!