Sugar is the talk of the town right now and getting a lot of bad press. Like all superstars there is always more to what meets the eye, or mouth in this case.
As a Nutritionist and Exercise Physiologist for the past 30+ years, I have seen many foods get their time in the spotlight. It seems like yesterday when fats were the bad boy and before that it was protein. Because of my love for food, nutrition, and health, I find myself acting as an advocate for macro and micro nutrients. So many times I have seen the “baby getting thrown out with the bath water”.
Let’s start with the first big question I get all the time: Is sugar ever good for you?
The fact is, that you wouldn't be able to survive without sugar. Your body relies on small amounts of sugar to function properly. Now don’t go crazy and fill up on sugary foods, but there is a place for small amounts of the right kinds of sugar in your healthy eating plan.
Sugar provides energy to your muscles and acts as a source of energy for your brain and nervous system. You also need sugar because it helps metabolize fats and prevents your body from using protein as energy. Whether you are an athlete or not every human needs glucose.
A quick recap on sugar: let’s get on the same page
All sugars breakdown in the body to glucose which is essential for life.
Is it true that sugar is sugar is sugar?
Not all sugars are created equal and how your body metabolizes sugars in fruits and vegetables and milk is different than how your body metabolizes refined sugar added to over processed foods with no fiber, fat or protein. It’s all about the speed in which your body breaks down the sugars - no matter whether these sugars are from sucrose, fructose (fruits) or lactose (milk). This speed determines how quick your insulin and blood sugar rises. This is where the word glycemic index or glycemic load come in. The higher the index or load the more sugar in your blood stream. But remember, once the sugar passes through the stomach and reaches the small intestine, it doesn’t matter if it came from an apple or a soft drink. It is also important to note that how much sugar is in your blood will determine how the body uses sugar. I will give you an example:
At dinner you had white refined pasta and bread with no salad (fiber) or meat (protein). The amount of sugar in your blood would be high from the starch (starch is how grains and vegetables store glucose from photosynthesis.) Add a couple scoops of ice cream for dessert, chances are your blood sugar is too high and that extra sugar will get stored as either fat or glycogen. These are both storage forms of glucose that are used when quick energy is needed *(not a totally bad thing, just when it is in excess over time). Now let’s say you had your high starchy dinner and your blood sugar is high and you eat an apple for dessert. Because you are overloaded from your dinner the sugar in the fruit would still get stored because you have enough in your body/blood from your dinner. You will feel tired, sluggish and maybe irritated. Because this is what is feels like to be on a blood sugar high and low. Sugar blues. It’s a real thing.
Now let's look at a better scenario: Your dinner consists of steamed vegetables (fiber), a salad (fiber), salmon (healthy fat and protein), very low amount of sugar/glucose (glycemic load) in you blood. Now you have a cup of ice cream or some fruit drizzled with Jem. Your blood sugar still may spike but the extra sugar will be able to be used as energy instead of being stored. To make this even better I would recommend that you take a nice after dinner/dessert walk. Now all that sugar can get used right up by exercising.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of all sugars. In fact there are some sweeteners that I down-right wish did not exist. Below is a quick look at sugars/sweeteners that I avoid altogether and some that I like in moderation. It comes down to what will spike blood sugar and which ones will not. This is due to their lower glycemic index and or their nutritional value.
Avoid: High fructose corn syrup which includes Agave nectar. White processed sugar from sugar beet or cane. Avoid any artificial sweeteners like Aspartame and Sucralose.
In moderation: honey, coconut palm sugar, pure maple syrup, molasses and dates. (yes I do include dates as a sweetener and not a fruit)
Health Benefits stated by Big Tree Farms (where we at Jem Organics source our coconut palm sugar from): “Our coconut sugar is low glycemic verified, which means we conduct regular human clinical trials to ensure our product is what we say it is. Our test results continually show a Glycemic Index of under 40 for both our granulated coconut sugar and our liquid coconut nectar. This means that it is pure and not mixed with cane sugar. Our coconut sugar absorbs slowly into the bloodstream, providing sustained energy, not the sugar high and crash like cane sugar. Other coconut sugars simply cannot provide this assurance.
Coconut sugar has one of the highest nutrient contents of any sweetener. We are not saying that coconut sugar should replace your daily dose of vegetables. What we are saying is, better to use a sweetener that has nutrients than not.
Coconut sugar is considered one of the, if not the most, sustainable sweeteners in the world. This means it’s healthy for the environment, which ultimately means health for other plants, animals and people like us. Holistic health is our mission. Healthy biomes mean healthy lives.” http://bigtreefarms.com/pages/product
There are many do’s and don’ts when it comes to sugar.
It all starts with understanding glycemic index and load. Below is a great little education on what glycemic load and index mean:
According to OSU Linus Pauling Institute » Micronutrient Information Center: Glycemic load is a ranking system for carbohydrate-rich food that measures the amount of carbohydrates in a serving of food.
Foods with a glycemic load (GL) under 10 are considered low-GL foods and have little impact on your blood sugar; between 10 and 20 moderate-GL foods with moderate impact on blood sugar, and above 20 high-GL foods that tend to cause blood sugar spikes.
Fun fact: Jem nut butters have a glycemic load of our sweet flavors is an average of about 4.8 :)
To Keep it simple: What I always recommend to clients or friends, is to eat whole foods with a low glycemic load (like Jem!), Don’t skip meals, exercise at least 30 min a day, don’t eat sugary foods on an empty stomach or late at night, don’t eat anything 2 hours before you go to bed, and don’t eat sugary foods when stressed.