Friday, August 12, 2011

Healthy Living Principle #4 - Kick the Sugar

Sugar is everywhere in the Standard American Diet, pretty much anything that comes in a package has sugar added to it somewhere.  Do you check nutrition labels before you buy things, I advise you start doing it immediately if you don't.  You'd be surprised where sugar is hidden - in your favorite jar of tomato sauce, most salad dressings and marinades, that quick go-to meal from Trader Joe's that you just have to saute... the list goes on and on, and the sugar isn't only in things that you think of as sweet like cakes and cookies. 

What's so bad about sugar anyway? I've done a few in-depth posts on sugar which you can read here: Sugar, It's not that sweet and Fructose, the not so innocent sugar.  Here are some highlights from those posts, and some facts about sugar to help you understand how you process sugar when you eat it, in any form.

  • Consuming sugar (in any form natural, artificial, etc) causes an insulin response in the body, the insulin response is directly related to how much sugar is taken in
  • Most Americans are insulin resistant, which means that it requires larger and larger amounts of insulin to process the same amount of sugar you eat - this is what eventually leads to type 2 diabetes in many people
  • Increased insulin responses from being insulin resistant and eating sugar in our diets increases the amount of inflammation in your body which leads to many diseases: coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke (e.g., many of the diseases we are trying to avoid to stay healthy)
  • Artificial sweeteners may not have any calories but they have the same effect on your body's insulin response, which encourages your body to hoard calories and store them as fat every time insulin is released.
  • Sugar, not fat, is actually the culprit in adding many of the extra pounds each year
  • Sugar is sneaky and is added in foods under many names, its not just white and brown sugar.  Sugar is also called things like high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, rice syrup, cane syrup, cane juice, honey and molasses, glucose, maltose, dextrose, and more!
  • Sugar is addictive!  As native populations are westernized (experienced to the western culture and diet) the increase of western diseases rises (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes) along with the consumption of modern foods primarily ones containing refined sugar.
What can you do to "kick the sugar" out of your diet? 
1. Start by being more aware of where sugar hides, reading labels, and making better choices. 
Read labels and see where sugar is mentioned.  The sooner it's mentioned in the ingredient list the more sugar is in the product.  Don't stop reading the first time you see it mentioned either, you'll often find sugar listed a few times under different names.  Be careful of sugar free too, sugar free probably means it has an artificial sweetener.  Look for things sweetened naturally with honey or juice as healthier alternatives.

2. Eat whole foods and unprocessed foods, foods that aren't packaged
It's tough to add sugar to vegetables that you buy at the farmer's market.  When you are eating whole foods you are getting more nutrients. 

3. Make your own stir fry (or fill in the blank here)
I know that it's convenient to buy already prepared food and just heat it up, but you can make really delicious meals quickly with a little prep and thought.  I'd much prefer eating freshly grilled steak and veggies (cook time, approximately 15 minutes) than a frozen package of already cooked chicken in veggies in an Asian inspired sauce (cook time ~10 mins)

4. Don't trust the "healthy" label
Read the labels and ingredients on "health" foods too.  Just because it's for sale at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, labelled gluten free, or heart healthy don't assume that the item actually IS healthy.  Many foods that aren't good for you are trying to find something good in them and highlight that.  Be careful about things labeled Organic as well, Organic Cookies are not good for you just because they are organic!  As we I said in #1, read the label and see if there are added sugars hiding there and remember to take a look at the rest of the ingredients as well.  If it tastes too good to be truly healthy for just might be too good to be true. 

Real world example #1: Cashew Pretzel Zone Bar -- how many times do you see sugar listed in this "healthy" bar?  **hint I bolded it for you**
Cashew Pretzel Bar
Soy Protein Nuggets (Soy Protein Isolate, Tapioca Starch, Salt), Roasted Cashews (Cashews, Peanut Oil, Salt), Yogurt Chips (Dried Cane Syrup, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Nonfat Milk, Nonfat Yogurt Powder [Cultured Nonfat Milk], Soy Lecithin, Lactic Acid Powder [Modified Corn Starch, Lactic Acid], Natural Flavor), Pretzels (Wheat Flour, Salt, Corn Syrup, Yeast), Corn Syrup, Fructose Syrup, Caramel (Corn Syrup, Sugar, Nonfat Milk, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Glycerine, Milk Protein Concentrate, Cream, Natural Flavor, Salt, Soy Lecithin, Disodium Phosphate), Soy Protein Isolate, Brown Rice Syrup, Peanut Flour, Peanut Butter, Fructose.

Less than 2% of the Following: Glycerine, High Oleic Safflower Oil and/or High Oleic Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Xanthan Gum.

Real world example #2: Cranberry Almond + Antioxidant KIND Bar

CRANBERRY ALMOND + ANTIOXIDANTSIngredients : Almonds, dried cranberries (cranberries, sugar, sunflower oil), macadamias, honey, non GMO glucose, puffed rice, chicory fiber, soy lecithin, Vitamins: Vitamin A Acetate, Ascorbic Acid (Vit C), D-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E).

5. Try a Kick the Sugar Challenge
Call it what you like, a sugar detox, a sugar cleanse, trying the Whole 9's Whole 30 program...Try to remove all processed sugar and artificial sweeteners too from your diet for 21 to 30 days (3 to 4 weeks) and you'll start your body's healing process to become less insulin resistant.  Move towards a more whole foods diet, if you follow a Paleo or Primal diet like I do, you'll notice that your diet is very low in sugar.  A Paleo diet contains only naturally occurring sugars found in fruits and vegetables, and occasionally the little bit of honey or high quality maple syrup depending on what you're eating (e.g., Paleo Treats!)

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