Carbohydrates: SUGAR -love and avoid?

Updated: Jan 1

What exactly classifies a SUGAR?

Sugar is a form of glucose and the #1 easiest and quickest fuel source for our body. Our brain runs off of glucose, our cells accept glucose to perform their daily metabolic tasks, and our muscles (& liver) store glucose in the form of glycogen for energy. Glucose is the main guy. The term blood sugar and blood glucose are used pretty interchangingly, these refer to the quantity of glucose (sugar) available for use in our blood. If we do not get enough we feel low, if we get too much we feel high. When we think about sugar, we picture a pile of white granules. Extracted from sugarcane or sugar beet, a once wholefood filled with nutrients such as amino acids, fat, and a plentitude of vitamins and minerals, it is chopped, mulched, processed and refined- concentrating sweetness and creating a near limitless shelf life. This pile of white granules, is seemingly what "we're supposed to avoid" (or minimize).

But do you know why we are supposed to avoid it? Consider the idea that 'sugar' isn't the bad guy, but rather the response it triggers in our body as the undesirable, and that's why it impacts everyone differently, and differently at different times. If we take that point of view, sugar isn't the only culprit, and avoiding it is an interesting idea.

The speed of glucose entering our blood is what concerns our health:

Sugar breaks down into glucose. Alcohol breaks down into glucose, oat flakes break down into glucose, sweet potato breaks down into glucose. Broccoli, cheese, milk, cookies, squash, dates and bread, all break down into glucose. However, eating a pile of sugar is not considered as healthy as eating whole grain toast with jam. If it is all the same, why should it matter? Nutrients like fibre, protein, fat, minerals and vitamins fuel our body and regulate our digestive/metabolic processes. (1) When we eat a pile of sugar, all the nutrients have been refined out, therefore, we rely on our body's stored nutrient reserves to perform and regulate digestive/metabolic tasks- instead of gaining them from the meal. This done repeatedly depletes us. (2) Moreover, when we eat a pile of sugar, we do not have a sustained energy response. Since there isn't fibre or protein to slow down absorption, glucose hits the bloodstream all at once. We get a flash of energy, and then it is GONE. This bounce in our blood sugar is IMBALANCED, and causes dis-ease / chronic imbalance. Compare eating each of these foods: white granulated sugar, organic cane sugar, molasses, oat flakes. As we move down the line, minerals increase, amino acids (protein) and fibre become present- and the rate at which each of these foods enter the bloodstream differs based-off the complexity of nutrients present.

BUT SUGAR ISN'T THE ONLY ONE- similar responses, different foods:

It is pretty accepted that eating a pile of granulated sugar for breakfast, isn't the 'healthiest' option. However, we can muddy the waters when we start to think about how many common foods actually trigger a fairly similar response to that pile of sugar. For instance, white flour actually spikes the bloodsugar MORE RAPIDLY than 'sugar'. Refined syrups, processed baking ingredients, preservatives, colouring agents, alcohol, pasteurized/cooked honey, damaged fats, and processed prepared foods all fail to regulate our bloodsugar just like a pile of white sugar. We can then compare traditional breakfast foods to a pile of granulated sugar: processed bagels, quick pancakes, frozen hashbrowns, take-out breakfast wraps, and many of the quick foods we pick up at drive-thru windows. These foods are processed, refined and contain imbalanced nutrient ratios- they respond similarly in the body to granulated white sugar. That being said, these foods can be prepared in wholesome ways. Perhaps, the bagel is wholegrain, sourdough or rye and slathered with real butter, and the hashbrowns are made with real potatoes, olive oil and sea salt. Maybe the pancakes are made at home with farm eggs, or flax, and covered in fresh fruit and maple syrup, and the breakfast wrap has spinach, avocado and homemade hummus. As we increase the complexity of the foods, by using ingredients that are LESS REFINED (and containing their original nutrients), we support a balanced blood sugar response, and sustained energy release.

Gotta read the label:

If we are going to watch our sugars, it is important to watch ingredients that are even LESS structured forms of sugar- such as words ending in 'ose' & 'ides' (like dextrose, or monosaccharides etc.). These unpronounceable ingredients found on labels, are the simplest 'food', and I shant even think to classify them as FOOD, as they are derivatives of food- isolated sugars and provide no nutritional value. These ingredients -that are not even a structured food- are less desirable to us than using 2 tbsp of brown sugar on our oatmeal, or in our coffee or on-top of our grapefruit. In some sense, we are better off physically adding sugar ourselves to a meal, than buying a pre-made meal that contains PARTS-OF sugar isolated in a lab, among other random ingredients.

So then we have to ask ourselves: Are we really avoiding sugar? Should we avoid it?

Sugar is in-fact in most things, including the healthiest foods, like fruits and vegetables- any carbohydrate food is inevitably sugar, converting it's way into glucose. Therefore the most important idea is not to demonize sugar, but rather, ensure to consume it with nutritious foods, or choose sources of sugar that are bountiful in minerals, fibre, protein and other nutrients. Some examples of how to boost nutrient intake when eating sweet foods are by using dates, muddled pears or apples in baking, using jam or fruit to sweeten smoothies, switching to coconut sugar, turbinado, demerara or even a better quality cane sugar in coffee/tea.. all versus just plain white refined sugar.

We can choose fermented whole grain, vegetables, fruits and pick products with labels that can obviously be re-created at home. See, all these options will inevitably make their way into glucose, but their accompaniment of a wide spectrum of other nutrients provides our body with the tools it needs to cultivate a balanced respond to a sugar influx.

All present in natural foods are the nutrients needed for our body to figure it out ~ live it's best life: fibre slows down digestion, water increases hydration, amino acids (protein) are building blocks to prevent inflammation, vitamins and minerals nourish and help to regulate our response making our body more efficient at converting its own fat into energy in-between meals.

It's all there naturally, until we take it out.

Next steps:

We can attempt to eliminate sugar completely from our diet, (as in cleanse/detox), but unless we are following a ketosis diet, we are eating sugar in one-shape-or-form daily. The key to balancing weight, mental clarity and emotional cravings is to consume sources of sugar that are more complex than refined. If a sugar craving arises and we reach for mini eggs, we gain no nutrients from them.

We can manage sugar and carbohydrates by learning to prepare foods at home and scout out healthy options we are exposed to in our community and in the grocery store.

As we focus on wholesome forms of sugar/carbohydrate we gain more nutrients and sustained energy/strength. As we then balance our INTAKE with ENERGY OUTPUT, weight is managed, muscles are charged, brain is fuelled and our body is balanced :)

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