I am sure you have heard plenty of horrible things about sugar before, maybe even seen a few documentaries. I enjoy a good cupcake, or the sugary frosting in particular, every once in a while. Brownies are kind of awesome too. I also love love love fruit and have 2-3 servings a day. However, I don’t believe soda has a place in most people’s diets and even advocate for making juice an every once in a while thing. Why? Because blood sugar impacts how you feel.
You may be the same way and think you “never eat sugar”. I once had a student do their diet analysis project in my course and come to me saying since they “don’t eat any sugar” the “software is inaccurate”. They just didn’t know about all the hidden sugar they were taking in. More on that below.
Our body works very hard to keep our blood sugar within the normal range. Those predisposed to hypoglycemia may dip below this range slightly and those with Type I or who have developed Type II diabetes more often experience levels above the higher end of the range (with dips occasionally as well). Even without these conditions, the ever so sugary American diet causes a roller coaster of ups and downs within that normal range that can impact how we feel and what we choose to eat or drink throughout the day.
We have hormones that we release to try to regulate our blood sugar and other hormones (messengers) that regulate our mood and energy levels. The key is that they are all a network that communicate with and impact one another. When we eat sugar, or even just overly processed grains that contain no fiber, our blood sugar rises more quickly than when we consume other nutrients. This quick, high rise, causes an over-release of dopamine, that feel good hormone I mentioned in the 2nd edition when discussing caffeine. Every once in a while this is okay but, when we consume too much of these foods we over activate our dopamine and serotonin responses, and then may start to mess with its normal production the rest of the day without sugar present. What could this mean then? Releasing less of the feel good hormones the rest of the day. People also experience blood sugar dips that promote stress producing hormone release, a consequence to sugar or processed carbohydrate intake. I also spoke about them in the 2nd edition; epinephrine and cortisol.
While some out there may say there is inconclusive research here (some being mostly the sugar, soda, and processed food industries), research has linked sugar to depression, anxiety, anger, mood disorders, memory problems, and even skin problems. The more sugar that is consumed, the worse our mood gets in one of these ways or another, and unfortunately the more sugar we end up craving. Why? Well we have trained our body with excess consumption to think that sugar is how to release dopamine which makes us feel good temporarily. It really is similar (I know this will sound extreme) to addiction whether it be an alcohol, drug or even exercise addiction.
So how do we reduce this intake without adding even more stress to our life? Slowly. Sure you can try “going cold turkey” but I find that can make people even more moody and for some more likely to binge on sugar later.
The American Heart Association has maximum recommendations sugar intake for adults. Per the American Heart Association, females should limit intake to no more than 6 tsp per day and men 9. What does that equate to? 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men. As shown above, CSPI has shown the average American unknowingly consumes closer to 23 teaspoons per day. I see it first hand in those diet analysis projects I referenced above where students are taking in well over 200 grams a day at times, with sometimes 0-1 servings of fruit/real sugar. The World Health Organization also has recommendations for reducing sugar. Check out the panel on a 12 ounce can of soda and you’ll see a whopping 39 grams. In one serving. Done for the day plus eating into tomorrow’s quota. That yogurt you are eating and thinking is a healthy snack? It may have up to 25 grams in a 6 ounces serving. Between the different varieties (greek, whole milk, non fat) the lactose makes up 6-14 grams of the sugar in yogurt which is not considered added, but you’re still getting 3-4 extra teaspoons in that little container. My Well and Good email this morning offered a story about someones mood and fatigue responses to added sugar from cereals and yogurts rather than cookies and ice cream.
Here are tips for swapping out sugary substances or improving our blood sugar response to it:
-Swap 1 soda a day for a seltzer. La Croix brand lime flavor has been key to success for several clients!
-Reduce the sugar in your coffee by half
-Water down your juice with water until you only need a splash of juice for flavor
-Try Siggi’s brand yogurt instead of your current flavored fave
-Start reading ingredient lists. If the only possible source of sugar is fruit, not so bad. If you’re seeing sugar added where it doesn’t belong, find a different brand. Your pasta sauce and peanut butter don’t need added sugar!
-Choose more whole grains. And don’t just trust the front of the package. It can say “100% whole grain” and still contain high fructose corn syrup or “evaporated cane juice”, the new fancy way to say “sugar”.
-Don’t put a health halo over granola. Read its labels too.
-Add vanilla extract for a sweet taste without the sugar when baking or making oats.
-Reduce the sugar in baking recipes by 1/3.
-Love maple syrup or even the dreaded “pancake syrup” that packs over 50 grams in a 1/4 cup serving? Try what I’ve been telling a lot of clients lately and make a berry syrup from 100% fruit instead. It only takes 5-7 minutes!
Add 1 cup choice frozen berries to a pan over medium heat. Let heat 3-4 minutes and smash with a spatula. Let reduce another 2-3 minutes. For extra flavor add a splash of vanilla extract or a touch of 100% pure maple syrup. Pour over your healthiest pancake or waffle recipe. (Here are a couple of ideas: buckwheat pancakes & almond flour pancakes)
-Eat protein, fiber, and even a little healthy fat when eating sugar. You might be thinking that you want to trade calories from your meal or snack for the sugary option, but if you eat protein and some veggies for dinner before the sugar cookie, at least you will absorb it more slowly, resulting in a better blood sugar response to it!