Are You Consuming Too Much Sugar?

Sugar – we all love it, but according to our doctors it is evil. How much is actually too much?

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 36 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women. Be careful – sugar is not always called sugar on food labels. “Sugar” also includes sucrose, maltose, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, corn sweetener, syrup, and honey. Some fruit juice concentrates are also “sugar.” In fact, most of us consume about 19.5 teaspoons a day of added sugars. It is not true that high fructose corn syrup is “worse” than other added sugars for most people. However, as it also acts as a preservative it is often put in foods that are not, in fact, sweet, such as white bread.

Why Excessive Sugar is Bad for Your Bod

So, what happens if you eat too much sugar? Excessive sugar puts a strain on your liver, causes you to gain weight and causes metabolic dysfunction (which can lead to diabetes). It also increases uric acid levels, which increases the risk for kidney disease. Excessive sugar consumption can also lead to heart disease.

The easiest way to cut down on sugar is to cut down on soda. A typical can of regular soda contains about 40 grams of sugar – which means you are already over that added sugar limit. Avoid the temptation to just switch to diet – studies indicate that sugar substitutes trick your body into expecting sugar, messing up your metabolism, although it is still better for diabetics and for your teeth. Aspartame, the most common sugar substitute, is not bad for most people’s health but can trigger headaches in some people.

Beware of Hidden Sugars

Also, watch out for hidden sugars – especially that tricky high fructose corn syrup. Sugar is found in most packaged foods – including things that are not particularly sweet. Foods to watch for include salad dressing, especially low-fat salad dressing – low-fat foods often contain more sugar, pasta sauce, breakfast/granola bars, commercially produced bread (especially white bread), fruit yogurt, premade frozen entrees, dried fruit, and barbecue sauce. Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption – and be particularly careful with those mixed drinks. For example, a pina colada can contain as many as 28 grams of added sugar. Beer is a better choice, as is red wine.

It is easy to know how much sugar you should consume – the real challenge is in making sure you don’t go over the limit without noticing in today’s world of packaged convenience foods. Making your own food as much as possible is the best way to keep your sugar consumption, and thus your weight, down.

What’s the Right “Low” For Me?

When it comes to diet, if you want to lose weight, you’ll have to reduce your food intake – period. However, in some cases, a specific dietary approach could be more effective.

The 1990s saw a low-fat craze in the fitness world. The prevailing wisdom was that as long as you cut out the fat, you didn’t have to watch carb intake or even calories all that much. That was decidedly proven wrong when those on low-carb plans like Atkins and South Beach were slimming down faster than anyone else.

Fats and Carbs: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

That said, the words “fat” and “carbs” aren’t inherently good or bad. There are healthy versions of each, and eating too much of one while cutting the other too severely can be a problem. As with many areas of life, the right solution is often about balance and will vary for each individual.

For example, while trans fats should be avoided across the board, saturated and unsaturated fats can be healthy in small to moderate amounts. Unsaturated fats are those found in oily fish, flax, walnuts, almonds, olive oil and avocados are some examples of healthy fats. Healthy fats are loaded with life-sustaining nutrients and compounds crucial to organ health and other key functions. However, moderation is key, as too much of them can cause weight gain.

Trans fats are in many fried, deep-fried and processed foods like French fries, onion rings, potato chips and other snack foods. Saturated fats are found in meat, cheese, and dairy products. Trans fats are the worse kind of fat and should be avoided entirely if possible. Lean meat and dairy protein can be healthy for you but should be eaten in moderation. That said, if your goal is to build muscle, then more protein can be consumed.

Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates and the Glucose Effect

Carbohydrates have been trickier to navigate over the years. Again, the prevailing wisdom not too long ago was that as long as a food was low-fat, it was good for you.

Not so. Low-fat processed carbohydrates found in bread, white rice, pastries, sodas, juices, and starchy foods like white potatoes, corn, and corn syrup are quickly converted to sugar in the body, which spikes blood glucose. This, in turn, triggers processes in the body that can lead to excess fat storage. So in these cases, those “low fat” foods can actually make you fat.

Processed carbohydrates are different from complex carbs. The complex kind can be very good for you and are found in whole grains, brown rice, oatmeal, beans and legumes, green vegetables, squash, sweet potatoes, quinoa and other ancient grains. They can and should be part of a balanced diet.

Find the Ideal Diet for Your Goals and Lifestyle

The bottom line? Avoid processed simple carbohydrates and trans fats. Go for plenty of green, leafy vegetables, some complex carbs, and healthy fats in moderation. Of course, organic and minimally processed foods are always best.

As for calories, take steps to ensure that the food amounts you eat each day are in line with your weight and fitness goals. There are plenty of excellent online tools and mobile apps to help you stay on track. Look for features like a food journal and database of nutritional information.

Still not sure about the best eating plan for you? Contact Arlington fitness center TexasFITT for expert nutritional advice to support your health and fitness goals.

Nutrition: Micronutrients

You are what you eat. Right? Quite literally, yes, your body is only as amazing as the material it has to work with. We’ve learned the quality of food you put into your body has a huge impact on your health and well being. A chicken breast is not just a chicken breast nor is a potato just a potato. Your body is able to break those foods down in to their chemical parts, like macronutrients and micronutrients.

What are micros though? Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, trace elements, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that are essential for good health. Processed foods tend to have more macronutrients than natural foods at the expense of micronutrients.  This is because processing food strips the foods of many of the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals and gives the food a longer shelf life.  So cereal grains, breads, candy and sweets, dairy products, much of fast foods and other processed foods give you tons of calories without much micronutrient content – and that type of eating is responsible for many of the lifestyle diseases that can be extremely harmful.

It is important to keep in mind that there is a difference in the quality of those foods as well. Earlier it was stated that a potato is not just a potato and a chicken breast is not just a chicken breast. Depending on where your food was grown, or how your meat was raised, the quality of its macro and micro nutrients can be incredibly different. Focusing on local foods ensures that you will get the most bang for your buck in terms of fruits and veggies loaded with micronutrients. Focusing on eating healthfully-raised animals like grass fed cows and free range chickens will ensure that the meat you feed your family was ethically raised. It will have fewer antibiotics and hormones, it is better for the planet, and it ensures that you and your family are building your bodies with the best possible components.

If you are interested in thriving and not simply surviving, the types and amounts of these nutrients are critical. So when aiming at your desired levels of macro and micro nutrients, keep in mind some of the basic tenets of a good diet. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean fatty meats, and nuts and grains – these contain a ton of vitamins and minerals like Vitamin A (carrots, spinach, milk, eggs), Folic Acid (asparagus, dark leafy greens), Iodine (seaweed, fish), Iron (lentils, red meats, leafy vegetable), and Zinc (eggs, seafood), just to name a few.

by Nick Redmond

Chapter 4: Fats

Just like carbs I’ve found that fats really get a bad rep. So let me make clear that eliminating fats from your diet does not eliminate body fat. Consuming the right amount of healthy fats and exercise will aid in fat loss and building muscle. The body uses fat as a fuel source, and fat is the major storage form of energy in the body. Fat also has many other important functions in the body=maintain proper body temperature, protects the body and organs, regulate hormones, and absorbs and stores fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). Fats in food come in several forms, including saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Too much fat or too much of the wrong type of fat can be unhealthy.

When looking for fat, you should always choose more monounsaturated or polyunsaturated ones. These types of fats help lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease as well as stabilize cholesterol levels. They can be found in cold-water fish, avocados, nuts and vegetable oils. Bad fats (trans and saturated fats) will raise LDL cholesterol which can raise blood pressure and harden the arteries, increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack. High-density lipoprotein (good fats) help the body eliminate excessive amounts of low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Trans and saturated fats can be found mostly in processed foods.

For optimal results your diet should contain a balance of essential fatty acids omega 3’s (ex. flaxseed, peanut butter, walnuts, and fish) for heart health and regulating inflammation; and omega 6’s (ex. chicken and other trace or animal fats, avocado, nuts) which help stop cell damage, recovery after cell/tissue damage after training, and keep testosterone levels peaked in men.

How much? Again certain factors play a role, on average though- Aim to keep your fats between 20-35% of your total daily calorie intake. For example, if your total intake is 2000 calories per day your fat intake would be 45-77g per day. Also, saturated fats should account for no more than 8-10% (17-22g).

Chapter 3: Carbohydrates

Let’s start with energy. The body burns alcohol, protein, carbs, and fat; in that order. Because alcohol cannot be stored it must be used first. But the majority of energy our body uses comes from a mix of carbs and fats. Depends on insulin levels (covered later).

What is a carbohydrate? Think of carbs as fuel. This fuel is derived from 3 sources: starches, sugar, fiber (calorie free). Carbs are found mostly in plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and can be classified as simple or complex.

Complex carbs require digestion before energy may be released and used by the body. Thus resulting in steady blood sugar levels. |greens, beans, and whole grains|
Simple carbs are fed directly into the bloodstream, causing a spike in the blood sugar levels. This gives a brief boost of energy, followed by a state of depletion once levels drop (the crash). |sugar-short chain, white flour, and foods containing large amounts of starches|
Keeping blood sugar levels at a reasonable level is important for overall health and will keep the pounds off. The body’s first choice is to store these sugars (carbs) in the liver and muscles. The problem arises when these become full. A couple things can result: sugar is stored as triglycerides either remaining in the bloodstream or get stored as body fat. So let’s decide what carbs to incorporate into your diet. Every carb is given a rating. This rating is related to its effect on how it spikes the blood sugar levels. When blood sugar spikes, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin to shuttle this sugar (glucose) from blood to cells. The Glycemic Index is set to a base value of glucose (final form), at 100. Values of other foods are based on their comparison.

Let’s make sense of if all. For example, your average instant oatmeal (plain) has a GI of 55. Meaning when consumed its absorbed in the blood about 45% slower than glucose. This is important because the slower the absorption the smaller the spike. This also means the body relies on more fat for everyday activities, and the easier the body can store energy (glucose) in the muscle cells.
by Nick Redmond