I get questions about sugar frequently. What “natural” sugar should I choose? How much is too much? Does fruit have too much sugar? And as the holidays are coming, sugar is everywhere right now.
Tables will soon be filled with pumpkin pie, Christmas cookies, truffles, and other treats. it’s important to indulge in pleasure around food, and especially important to enjoy the things that we are eating. Delight in food, social connection, and the feeling of indulgence is vital for health and to a large extent improves our overall wellbeing. However, there is a line when indulgence goes from health supporting to health diminishing.
I believe there are healthy ways to enjoy treats around the holidays, and higher glycemic carbohydrates as part of a healthy lifestyle. If I told you, I never ate sugar, it would be a lie. In fact, yesterday, I made these Gluten Free Apple Cider Doughnuts from @agirl_defloured and they are incredible.
But because sugar is highly addictive, it is easy to go from zero to one hundred. For athletes, sugars can be used strategically for performance and recovery. Even for a recreational athlete who enjoys activities like strength training, recreational racing (like running, cycling, or triathlons), or outdoor sports. Higher glycemic carbohydrates are sometimes necessary to help shuttle amino acids quickly back into muscle.
What is Sugar?
Not all sugar is made equal. “Sugar” is used as a term for all of the following:
1. The molecule, glucose, that is the body’s preferred source of fuel
2. Whole foods (carbohydrates) that are converted to or contain carbohydrate molecules *as seen below
3. Refined Sugars
Sugars are Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are made from carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. (1C, 2H, 2H2O). They are a quick source of energy that is necessary to achieve higher outputs of energy and intense activities. Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for producing ATP (how we make energy). They are required for proper protein and fat metabolism, and are important in times of stress and muscle development. However, not all sugar is beneficial. We need carbohydrates for overall health. We do not need simple, refined sugars or the chemicals and GMOs that often come with it.
Carbohydrates come in three forms:
- Monosaccharides (simple sugar)
- Glucose (blood sugar, table sugar, and the form of sugar most protein and carbohydrate is converted to)
- Fructose (Many fruits, honeys, and vegetables
- There are two kinds of fructose – refined and unrefine
- Galactose (found in milk)
- Disaccharides (also simple sugar)
- Polysaccharides (complex sugars that consist of 3 or more monosaccharides)
Quality and Type of Carbohydrate Matter, we do not digest all sugars the same. Some (like refined fructose from corn syrup) are processed rapidly in the liver (not healthy), increase inflammation, and oxidative stress. These kinds of sugars can also deplete nutrients and increase our overall feeling of fatigue and stress. Other kinds of sugar (whole foods sugars) are accompanied by essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, help improve gut health, support adrenal health, and are metabolized as a healthy form of energy. Polysaccharides from whole food sources like beans, have even been found to decrease glycemic response in diabetics and increase insulin sensitivity. Everyone has a different carbohydrate tolerance and our needs vary greatly depending on activity level.
Dangers of Refined Sugar
- Depletes nutrients like Vitamin C, Magnesium, and Calcium
- leads to increased insulin,
- Chemicals are used in the process of refining sugars which are then ingested
- Many are genetically modified (especially beet sugar and corn).
- Can weaken the endocrine system,
- Overworks the Pancreas,
- Contributes to pH imbalances by increasing the body’s acidity,
- Its addictive: Increases dopamine and initiates the conversion of tryptophan into our feel good hormone, serotonin.
What Can We Do
Understanding sugar and the many names for hidden sugar is one way we can take responsibility for the type of products we vote for with our purchasing. There are Several different names for sugar, many of which are hard to recognize, making it easy for sugar to sneak into “healthy” or “paleo” treats on the shelves. Knowing what contains sugar and understanding the different types gives us the power to choose what we put into our bodies. A great deal of this starts with honoring our boundaries and making treats at home. When we eat sugar, it should be our own choice and not someone else’s and the types of sugar we put into our body should be in our control too.
Stick to Whole Food Sugars
When in doubt, I bring things back to the basics. I stick to higher glycemic foods that have vitamins and minerals along with the simple carbohydrates (like honey and maple syrup).
The Following are on my go-to list for baking, sweetening coffee, and making other treats:
& Agave (limit)
OTHER NAMES/TYPES OF SUGAR
The Following are on my rarely or absolutely never list:
most common names.
Evaporated Cane Juice
Fruit Juice Concentrates
Ribose rice syrup,
Rice syrup solids,
Beet sugar (often GM)
TECHNICAL NAMES OF SUGAR
NAMES OF CORN SYRUP
(Highly GM crop)Corn Sweetener
Corn Syrup Solids
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Luo Han Guo fruit extracts,
Sweet n low,