After eating so many mouth-watering sweets — pumpkin pie, pudding, chocolates, cookies and more — it is time to retire all the bad habits you’ve created these few gluttonous months. One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to quit sugar for good. After devouring a multitude of treats, we blame sugar for making us go up a pant size. However, if we quit all the different sugars, we wouldn’t be able to eat vegetables and fruits which provide our bodies with vitamins, fiber and minerals it needs to function properly. So, which sugar should you actually be cutting from your diet?
Let’s Take a Step Back – What Is Sugar?
Sugar is a crystalline carbohydrate that is in all the foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy. With a sweeter taste, sugar breaks down into glucose that travels to the cells of the body where it is converted to energy and used to carry out normal brain and bodily function. But not all sugars are created equally.
There are two types of sugar to watch out for: natural sugar, the hero, and refined sugar, the villain. Natural sugars found in vegetables, fruits and dairy contain nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. However, refined or processed sugars are extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. These sugars are natural sugars that we modify, combine and process to increase flavor or extend a food’s shelf life. White table sugar is a refined sugar. Processed or added sugars are disguised in packaged food with names like sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, malted barley and dextrose. No matter the type of sugar, any sugar that is added to the food during preparation or processing is unhealthy and linked to health problems.
The Hero: Natural Sugar
Coming from a whole fruit, natural sugar is digested differently than so-called “natural” fruit juice or soda. The natural sugars from whole fruits contain fiber to fill you up. The action of eating a whole fruit actually delays the release of the sugar. Since the cells of the fruit breaks down first, the sugar from the fruit is absorbed more slowly. Plus, since the fiber fills you up, it also manages how much sugar you eat in one sitting, preventing you from overeating. Even though fruit does increase your blood sugar level, it does so in a slow and controlled manner.
The Villain: Processed & Refined Sugar
Refined or processed sugars or sucrose comes from process sugar cane or sugar beets to extract the sugar. The reason refined or processed sugars are bad for you is because they have no nutritional value. These sugars only add empty calories to your diet, meaning you will likely eat more calories to get the nutrients you need. Refined or processed sugars break down rapidly, causing insulin and blood sugar levels to skyrocket. A UCSF Professor of Pediatrics specializing in childhood obesity and diabetes, Dr. Robert H. Lustig, found that by having too much insulin as a result of your sugar intake, the hormone leptin that regulates your hunger is blocked. Hence why you’re always hungry when drinking sugary beverages or eating sweet foods. This is the complete opposite effect when consuming natural sugars from fruits and vegetables because the fiber in them actually makes you full.
What Happens When You Take In Too Much Sugar?
Once the sugar passes through the stomach and reaches the small intestine, it doesn’t matter whether it came from an apple or a soft drink. At that point, the amount of sugar in your blood will determine how the body uses the sugar. First, the sugar in your blood replenishes the reserves in your muscles as glycogen, a form of glucose used for quick energy. When the body has stored enough energy, the sugar will then save extra energy as fat, adding inches to your waistline. These villains are in more places than we think and add up throughout the day. Out of 600,000 food items for sale in America, about 80% contain added sugar. Sugar can lead to a higher calorie diet, increasing the likelihood of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and dental decay.
So, How Do You Curb That Sweet Tooth?
“We need to wean ourselves off. We need to de-sweeten our lives. We need to make sugar a treat, not a diet staple.”
– Robert H. Lustig, M.D., M.S.L.
1. Go Slow
Instead of cutting off sugar completely, go slow, so slow that your taste buds don’t notice. The reason I say this is because sugar can affect you if you quit cold turkey — you get withdrawals, headaches, cravings and sometimes it is harder to resist those cravings since sugar pulls us along. So you’ll be more successful if you cut sugar off slowly, instead of getting rid of every food you love.
2. Savor the Sweets You Love
Speaking of loving the sweet foods, focus on the sweets that you really love instead of cereal in the morning, an afternoon carbonated drink, or adding a high sugar dressing to your salad. The cookies, cakes, pies and chocolates are called treats for a reason. Treat yourself, but not every day, every hour, every minute.
3. When You Have a Sugar Craving
You’ve heard that curbing your sweet tooth is a lifestyle. However, sometimes those cravings just hit you like a brick wall. All of a sudden you are dying for that chocolate bar or that cupcake. I suggest you opt for a healthier natural sugar in fruits or vegetables that can hold you over and also keep you satisfied for longer. If not, think about portion size — are you going to eat that whole chocolate bar, or just a piece of it?
Avoiding sugar is always a good idea; however, in today’s day and age, it is nearly impossible to eliminate it completely, especially around the holidays. Cutting back on sugar can benefit you and your overall health by decreasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. So, go enjoy that piece of pumpkin pie or those holiday cookies – just do it in moderation, and remember that there are a range of solutions, such as Natural Recovery Greens, for people looking to improve their energy levels in a healthy and sustainable way.