It’s The Sugar Sweetie: What Is The Healthiest Sugar?

This month we focus on sugar consumption: which to eat, which to avoid, and how to change your own cravings for the better!

Packets of Artificial SweetenersYou might think that the healthiest sugar is the one with zero calories, such as the array of artificial sweeteners.

But there is a great deal of conflicting information available on artificial sweeteners, and whether they are safe for human consumption. Some groups claim that they are, while others claim that they are not. Meanwhile, both of them claim to be supported by scientific research.

We cannot solve this debate here, but while we’re waiting on science to suss it all out for us, perhaps we can rely on some common sense in the mean time.

  • Artificial sweeteners can be up to 200 times sweeter than sugar. Eating anything this sweet can essentially train your tastes to expect higher levels of sweetness. Obviously this can increase your cravings (and therefore your consumption) of highly sugared foods.
  • Also, artificial sweeteners offer zero nutrition for you. By contrast, there are sugars that are actually healthy for you!

 

So What Are The Healthiest Sugars?

light and dark brown sugar

Glucose itself offers energy, and that’s fine. But if you add more energy than you’re burning it will be converted to storage — fat. This will be true no matter which sugar you choose, and none of them provide any added nutrition. What does that mean?

In white sugar, you only get sugar. That’s all. But unlike white sugar, darker versions have minerals in them, most notably calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin B6, selenium, iron, and magnesium which are so healthy for you (see below).

All of these minerals in brown sugars comes from molasses. And the darker the sugar, the more molasses is present. Therefore, the more minerals are present.

How much of these do you get with, say, two tablespoons of molasses? Remember, the RDI (listed below) is the amount recommended to consume in an entire DAY, which you will get with just two tablespoons.

  • For Your HeartMolasses dripping from a spoon
    • Vitamin B6: 14% of the RDI.
  • For Your Bones
    • Calcium: 8% of the RDI.
  • For Your Blood PressureMagnesium: 24% of the RDI.
    • Potassium: 16% of the RDI.
  • For Your Energy Levels
    • Iron: 10% of the RDI.
  • For Your Brain:
    • Selenium: 10% of the RDI.

 

What About The Calories?

By the way, those two tablespoons of molasses have the same number of calories as an apple. Zero people worry about the caloric impact of eating an apple, because it carries so much nutrition along with it (unlike artificial and white sugars). So if you want to choose a sweetener that is actually good for you, remember the rule: darker is better.

 

 

It’s The Sugar, Sweetie: But Is It Good For Me Or Not?

Bowl of Sugar Cubes

This month we focus on sugar consumption: which to eat, which to avoid, and how to change your own cravings for the better!

Is Sugar Even That Good For You?

That all depends on how much you eat. Sugar is used as fuel for all the cells in your body, especially your brain. In fact, nothing consumes more sugar (in the form of glucose) than your brain. It may only be about 2% of your body weight, but it consumes ~20% of all your glucose. 

So yes, sugar is critical to your health.

But those in the US consume more sugar than any other culture on the planet. If you live in the US then on average you consume about ¼ of a pound of sugar every single day. That’s about 10x greater than the recommended amount. At these levels, research demonstrates that it can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

So no, sugar is terrible for you.

 

It’s Not About The Sugar. It’s About Us.

Over-consumption is the problem. Eat too much sugar, and you will encourage chronic health problems, overweight, and obesity.  Eat that very same sugar in control, and it’s just fine for you. So the message is that we should stop making sugar bad for us.

How? Don’t over-consume it.

 

Enough Is Enough, But How Much Is That? 

Sugar on counter and many highly sugared foodsThere is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. But a good rule of thumb is to start by removing the additive sugars from the food products you consume. If you read the ingredients and see high fructose corn syrup, added sugar, maltose, dextrose, or other form of syrup then choose something else.

Just a note. Carbohydrates found in normal real food breaks down into simple sugars. So even though you eliminate the sugars that others are putting into your processed food products, the amount naturally found in real food will be more than sufficient for your body’s energy needs.

 

About Your Biometric Numbers: When To Test and How Often?

Dr Explaining to Patient

All this month we have emphasized the importance of knowing your numbers and developing an awareness for your own body’s health parameters.

But all biometric risk factors are not the same through your life, and you risk for getting certain chronic disease can grow or lessen as you age. For this reason, your health screening recommendations change as well. The biometrics that should be assessed each year include blood pressure and the Body Mass Index.

This publication by the Cleveland Clinic provides a very nice summary of screenings and risk as a function of age.

Bear in mind as well that some screening recommendations may be triggered by other symptoms you may have. Still other screening tests may be triggered by risky lifestyle choices. For these reasons, it is important as with all medical conditions and issues to consult your doctor. They will be able to see whole picture and recommend appropriate screening measures at the time.

It’s The Sugar Sweetie: But What About Fruit?

This month we focus on sugar consumption: which to eat, which to avoid, and how to change your own cravings for the better!

Farme's hands hold an old kitchen pot full of fresh ripe strawberriesOne of the reasons apples, peaches, watermelons etc taste so delicious is because they contain sugar. And in our efforts to control sugar consumption, so should we avoid fruit as well?

Not at all.

In addition to its trove of vitamins and minerals, whole fruit is rich in fiber. For blood sugar control, this is exactly what is needed to help moderate the processing of those sugars in your body. This creates a slower rise of glucose into your blood stream. Foods that have sugar with no fiber, such as candies and highly processed food products, can cause a more rapid rise.

This situation can lead to unstable sugar control, which is associated with the development of diabetes. For healthy management of blood sugar, fruits high in fiber are a great addition to your diet.

The extra fiber found in normal fruit is not a trivial thing either, especially when you consider that the fiber is also protective against such horrible conditions as colon cancer.

About Your Biometric Numbers: Short Term vs Long Term Solutions

When you get your biometric numbers, if there are values that show you have to improve your health status, there are a couple of ways to take action, based on what you find.

Act now button on computer keypad

Short Term Solution 

If you find that you are in the HIGH risk category for some biometric, this warrants immediate attention from your doctor. Go to them right away for counselling on the best course of action. They may provide medication to correct the numbers, or some other action.

This downside of this kind of short term solution is that it does not create healthy living behaviors. The upside is that it corrects for poor ones.

Man viewing short versus long term directions

Long Term Solution

By contrast, according to the CDC, 75% of chronic disease symptoms can be managed by changing lifestyle behaviors like diet, activity, and mindfulness. In other words, in the vast majority of cases you can correct your numbers yourself by altering your lifestyle.

The downside of this is that it can be difficult — much harder that popping a pill. Lifestyle changes can involve family, friends, routines, background, culture, workplace, and on and on. In other words, those bad behaviors have been ingrained and are tough to reverse.

The upside is that there are no medications involved, no side effects, and once you establish the healthy living habits they’ll last a lifetime.

But these lifestyle alterations take time to practice, learn, and become routine before they start improving your numbers. So the message is to be patient with yourself, and with the process of creating new healthier habits. Take the long view.

NOTE: if your numbers indicate a high risk for any of the biometrics, you may need immediate help. In other words, lifestyle modifications are the way to manage your biometrics in the long term. If you need immediate correction to the numbers, start with the clinical route.

It’s The Sugar Sweetie: How To Crave Less

This month we focus on sugar consumption: which to eat, which to avoid, and how to change your own cravings for the better!

Woman with cupcake and giant sweet toothPeople say to me, “Well, I eat sweets BECAUSE I have a sweet tooth.” But this is actually, exactly, opposite from the truth. People have a sweet tooth BECAUSE they eat sweets.

Your body responds to what you put in it, even for something as fundamental as the sensitivity of your taste receptors. In other words, as you consume more sugar, your body takes that level as the “new normal” and will expect that level more and more over time.

  • Here’s the bad news: your body adapts your taste buds based on the amount you put in.
  • Now here’s the good news: your body adapts your taste buds based on the amount you put in.

If your craving for sugar can be turned up, they can also be turned down. This is great news, because it means that you can pull your sweet tooth and stop craving the overly sweetened foods that feed overweight, obesity, and chronic disease conditions such as diabetes.

Sugar cube stacks reduced over time in a graph

How Do I Pull My Sweet Tooth? 

First of all, remove sugars from any pre-made foods you consume. That is, any product with an ingredients list should be reviewed for sugars, including all their many synonyms: syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, etc. Cut out all these added sweeteners from your diet for two weeks.

For sugars that you add to foods and drinks that you prepare at home, you don’t have to eliminate them. Just cut them by 1/2. In your tea or coffee for example, reduce the amount of added sugar by half and you’ll find that they taste a bit bitter at first. But you will also be amazed over the next few days how your tastes normalize to this level of sweetness. Depending on your tastes, you can create new healthier cravings in just a few days!

smiling woman refusing plate of doughnuts

During these two weeks, you can still consume foods that naturally contain sugars such as carrots, dairy, and fruits. Again, be sure to read labels. Products that claim to be healthy, and especially those that trumpet the “Low Fat” label such as yogurt, can be loaded in additive sugars.

This is activity will reset your tastes, so the things you crave will be healthier for you. In fact, after these two weeks, if you taste something with sugar that you used to enjoy you’ll find that it is now too sweet for you! And in the end, you will know that you took control of your own cravings so that the foods you want to eat are foods that are healthier for you.

About Your Biometric Numbers: False Positives

goldfish with shark fin is example of a false positiveBiometric screenings provide numbers that are important for understanding your health status. But unfortunately sometimes the objective data can give what are known as a “false positive”. This means that your data may show that you have medium or even a high risk level for a chronic disease like obesity, cholesterol, or hypertension. But even though the data are correct, the interpretation is not.

Below are three examples of biometric screening data that can give you false positives, leading you to believe that you may have a chronic condition when you may not at all. As with all medical topics, always consult your doctor for any questions or clarifications that you need.

 

The Body Mass Index (BMI)

The BMI is a measure of overweight and obesity. However, this biometric has a serious flaw because it basically compares your height to your weight, gets a ratio of one to the other, and uses that determine whether you are of normal weight, overweight, or obese.

On the face of it, it seems completely commonsensical. For example, if two people are both exactly the same height at six foot tall, but the first one weighs 200 pounds while the other person weighs 180 pounds. Clearly, the first one should be more overweight.

But the problem with the logic is that our muscle weighs more than our fat. So people who lift weights or even those who have more muscle tone will read higher on the BMI scale. Athletes who are obviously fit and healthy can have a BMI reading that puts them into the overweight or obese category.

This is a clear false positive.

 

Cholesterol

Many things can impact your cholesterol levels and produce a temporary change in your body’s chemistry. If you get your screenings down during a swing in your cholesterol, the number read may not reflect the actual value. Here are some ways that could happen:

Short term reductions in lipid levels:

  1. If you have had a recent cardiac event like a heart attack or stroke.
  2. If you have had recent surgeries or infections.

Short term increases in lipid levels: 

  1. Corticosteroids and estrogen hormones can temporarily raise your lipid levels. If you have been prescribed these medications, let your doctor know.
  2. Pregnancy can increase cholesterol levels. In fact, tests for cholesterol are not considered reliable until 3 months after the baby is born.

Short term changes:

  1. Eating before you get your blood drawn can create these alterations in cholesterol. The safest way to take your cholesterol reading is to fast for 12 hours beforehand so there is no food on board to muddy the waters.
  2. Along this line, drinking alcoholic beverages also can change the cholesterol readings.

 

Blood Pressure

Your blood vessels have tiny muscles around them like little sleeves. And when these mini-muscular sleeves contract, it can pinch down the bore of the blood vessel. When the vessel squeezes in on the blood, suddenly the space inside gets much smaller, even though the amount of blood stays the same!

When that happens, the blood presses harder on the walls of the vessels and this causes your blood pressure reading to increase. When the vessels relax again, the pressure comes back down as well.

In addition to constriction of the blood vessels, many things cause temporary changes in blood pressure: when you wake up in the morning, go from sitting to standing, walk a flight of stairs, and even when you are nervous. All these variables can cause false positives as well, as when the reading is correct but the interpretation is not.

Consult your doctor of course, but also understand that you can have the most confidence in your blood pressure reading if you take it multiple times in the same way each time. Be calm, not winded, and sitting down. Also, having those multiple readings taken to confirm your values can provide more certainty in your actual blood pressure.

About Your Biometric Numbers: Nibble Away At Those Bad Values

You cannot simply eat your way to health, because proper nutrition alone is not enough. A true lifestyle approach includes mindfullness and activity as well.

That said, healthy eating habits is a great place to start to improve your numbers. When thinking about what to do to improve your nutrition, consider two aspects: quantity and quality.

Quality

Healthy Lunch Portions

Nutritional research demonstrates that a Mediterranean style diet is associated with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. To eat in this manner, even if you do not live there, here are some tips:

  • Choose whole foods and limit foods that contain artificial ingredients.
  • Make vegetables the building blocks of your diet, with at least two servings at lunch and dinner.
  • Choose monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, almonds and avocados.
  • Eat a diet that is primarily plant-based by choosing: fruits, beans, nuts, whole grains and seeds.
  • Animal products such as red meat and processed meats should be the smaller portion on your plate.
  • Choose seafoods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
  • Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, pine-nuts and soybeans.
  • Limit consumption of high sugar drinks and, on occasion, choose the all-natural dessert options.

 

Quantity

Do you need a rule to help you become healthier? Here’s a key rule that applies to any nutritional approach: Eat Small, Be Small. Eating more food than your body needs can move your biometric profile into the at-risk range. All healthy dietary cultures, regardless of the specific cuisines they consume, eat meals in control.

Portion Distortion ComparisonUse these tips to aid you control portions.

  • If you eat faster, you will be more likely to overeat. So slow down, and take smaller bites when you eat.
  • Sugar consumption can create cravings, leaving to overeating. Cut sugar from your diet where you can.
  • Start with just a bit less than you think you want, then go back for more afterwards if you are still hungry.
  • Train your cravings. The amount you are hungry for can be trained. If you eat large, that will be what your body expects. So eat small, to be small.

By controlling quantity and quality, you can get all the nutritional benefits of the healthier food options, but without eating so much that those same food become bad for you. Win win!