First off, I wanted to touch on blood sugar and why it’s important to this conversation. Blood sugar is basically fuel for your cells. All the energy they require to complete their functions is found on sugar, however, when there’s more fuel than needed it becomes fat and slow-paced poison.
High blood sugar levels slowly unable cells to make insulin in your pancreas, forcing it to overcompensate and damaging the pancreas permanently. Also, these high levels can cause hardening of the vessels leading to strokes, heart attacks, vision loss or blindness.
Many people think that sugar is okay in moderation, or that there are sweeteners that are better for us because they are raw, natural, or come from a plant. Just because it’s raw and plant-based doesn’t mean it’s healthy!
Honey is a great example. It contains some great vitamins, antioxidants, and is thought to enhance the immune system, but if fat loss is your goal, it may be worth avoiding because of the high fructose content.
To help you make your own informed decision about sugar intake, we’ll look at how the body processes different forms of sugar and what the research tells us about sugar and health risks.
Glucose is the sugar that is turned into glycogen and stored in the cells for energy, or if there is too much of it, it is turned into fat. If you need to replenish energy stores quickly after a very intense workout, glucose is often the best choice, but you also need to be smart about the nutrient density and long term effects.
Fructose is the sugar that is found in fruits and some vegetables. Fructose does not increase blood glucose as it is metabolized by the liver and therefore does not require insulin, Diabetics can often tolerate it better than other sugars. Still, studies show that eating foods with added fructose can put you at greater risk of diabetes, and lead to significant fat gain, especially visceral belly fat.
What’s our top tips for managing blood sugar and reducing fat stores?
1) Eliminate All Processed Foods
The easiest way to avoid sugar is to eliminate all processed foods. Opt for whole foods: Organic meat, whole milk dairy, nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables, and fruit.
2) Read All Food Labels
You should avoid all processed and packaged foods, but in the rare cases that you can’t, try to buy foods that don’t have added sugar. First, check the ingredient list for all of the following: Sugar, evaporated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, agave, honey, molasses, brown sugar, and fruit juice concentrates.
Second, check the nutrition label to find out how many grams of sugar are in the food. This may be added sugar or naturally occurring sugar, which is found in milk, plain yogurt, and fruit. Don’t worry about naturally occurring sugar as long as you eat reasonable quantities. Obviously, you want to avoid added sugars whenever possible.
3) Start By Limiting Sugar Intake to 100 Calories a Day
If you are a sugar junkie and can’t fathom the idea of eliminating sugar, start by cutting back. Shoot for 100 calories a day, which is equal to about 25 grams a day or 6.5 teaspoons.
4) Avoid All Sweetened Beverages
Avoid all sweetened beverages and all other beverages that have added sugar, including diet and regular soda, tea, sports drinks, energy drinks, etc.
There is compelling evidence that sweetened beverages of all kinds are linked to accelerated fat gain, greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems because liquid sugars are turned into fat very quickly and alter insulin sensitivity.
5) Avoid Fruit Juice
Avoid fruit juice. Juice contains none of the fiber of fruit and most fruit juices have a whopping dose of added sugar. Even if they don’t, from a body composition perspective, you need to avoid them because the liquid sugar (much of which is fructose) is quickly converted into fat just like with soda.
6) Minimize Your Fructose Intake
Save your fructose intake for fruit and avoid all other forms. Most fruits are high in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, making them an important part of your diet.
For fat loss, limit your intake to 5 to 10 grams of fructose a day, with very active individuals maxing out at 20 grams. Lower fructose fruits and vegetables include most berries, nectarines, grapefruit, avocado and tomatoes. Bananas, apples, and pears are on the high end of the scale.
7) Don’t Add Sugar To Foods or Beverages
If you currently drink tea or coffee with added sugar, stop.
8) Accept that There Is No Healthy Sugar
Although added fructose may be the worst sugar because of how it slows metabolism and halts fat burning, there is NO nutritional value in any form of sugar except possibly honey. For optimal body composition, avoid ALL sugar.
Be aware that “healthier” sweeteners are a myth—agave is one of the worst sweeteners because it is almost pure liquid fructose with an even higher fructose content (88 percent) than high-fructose corn syrup!
9) Avoid Diet Sweeteners
Avoid diet soda and other diet sweeteners because many are chemically derived and have been linked with severe health problems and cancer risk. Ingesting sweeteners such as aspartame, splenda, etc., increases your toxic load, and there is evidence that humans naturally use sweet taste to predict the caloric content of food. Eating sweet non-caloric substances may degrade this predictive relationship, leading us to eat more calories, and producing fat gain.
For example, controlled studies of rats have found that feeding the animals artificially sweetened food reduces the correlation between sweet taste and the caloric content of foods, resulting in increased energy intake, fat gain, and a blunted thermic response to sweet-tasting diets. This means the rats’ bodies adapted to burn fewer calories in response to the same amount of food intake, indicating a slower metabolic rate.
10) Enjoy Stevia in Moderation
Stevia is a non-caloric sweetener that comes from the stevia bush, which is native to South America. It has been found to improve glucose tolerance and may help fight diabetes. Other studies have shown it can lower blood pressure and may convey additional health benefits.
Stevia doesn’t cause an insulin release but it does need to be metabolized by the body, which happens via a detoxification through the liver and kidneys. So, it’s not turned into fat or used as energy in the body, but it still must be processed and excreted, meaning you don’t want to eat huge quantities.
Unless you don’t care about your health at all, you know that it’s important to cut back on sugar. For most people who are busy and don’t make the time to cook, this can be a daunting task.
Most restaurant food, including savory options, has added sugar. Seemingly healthy, benign sauces used to savor meat and fish are often packed with added sugar. Same goes for ethnic dishes: If you think about it, Asian entrees are often surprisingly sweet.
Then there are the packaged foods that make eating on the go easier. Even when we try to cook at home, sugar pops up in everything from salsa to peanut butter to salad dressing.
Things get even more difficult when you realize that diets high in processed carbs are just as bad for health as those with added sugar. High-carb, low-fiber foods are metabolized in the same way as sugar, spiking blood glucose and producing high insulin levels. It’s this combination that makes sugar (and processed carbs) so bad for you.
When you have high levels of sugar circulating in the blood, something rather obscure called advanced glycation endproducts (known by the acronym AGEs) form. As a result, cells and DNA are damaged, blood vessels become less flexible, and plaque builds up in the arteries. AGEs also harm collagen in skin and visibly accelerate the aging process.