5 Simple Rules for Eating
Sugar! By Denis Faye
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Few topics boggle dieters and fitness
enthusiasts the way sugar does. Is this simple carbohydrate the key to
unlocking elite sports performance? Or is it the chains that drag our country
deeper into the obesity epidemic? Annoyingly, the answer is both. But before
you throw your hands up in frustration and grab yourself a Twinkie®, let's take a
minute to talk about sugar. It's not as complex as it seems. In fact, with just
a few guidelines, it's incredibly easy to use these simple carbohydrates for
good instead of evil.
Rule #1: Just say "know."
Here's a grossly oversimplified look at how
sugar, also known as simple carbohydrates, works. Just as with all carbs, you
eat sugar and it's absorbed by your blood, where, if you have the right amount
of it, the insulin in your system converts the sugar to energy. However, if you
introduce too much sugar into your system, the insulin stores it as body fat. A
little stored body fat is fine; the body likes some emergency fuel. However, if
your blood sugar spikes too often and the insulin has to work too hard
converting fat, this can lead to a variety of health issues, including type 2
diabetes and heart problems.
As we'll discuss later, when your body obtains sugar
from natural sources, like fruits and veggies, the process tends to be checked
by fiber, which slows absorption. However, when you eat foods with added sugar,
this can overwhelm the usual checks and balances, causing problems like those
nasty blood sugar spikes. To make matters worse, consuming too much added sugar
can cause a host of other problems, including tooth decay, increased
triglycerides (or stored fat), and malnutrition (from overconsumption of foods
filled with empty calories and deficient in nutrients).
If you wanted one overarching rule to work
from, you might choose to avoid added sugars entirely. You'll get all the
energy you need from foods with naturally occurring sugar. That said, there are
times when refined sugar is okay or even beneficial. If you're able to build
yourself a lifestyle completely free of added sugar, nice work. But for the
rest of us, the trick is moderation.
Rule #2: Less is more.
One teaspoon of table sugar has 15
calories. Honestly, if you have a couple of cups of tea or coffee in the
morning and you dump the proverbial spoonful of sugar in each, that's 30
calories. If the rest of your diet is tight and you're active, it won't matter.
If you're trying to lose weight and eating at a severe deficit, you'll probably
want to skip those few spoonfuls of sugar, because table sugar is nutritionally
void and you want every calorie to count nutritionally. Other than that,
though, life's short—enjoy your java.
Rule #3: High fructose corn syrup is the
enemy . . .
In a recent study out of Princeton
University, two groups of rats were fed a sucrose solution and a high fructose
corn syrup (HFCS) solution. The rats that consumed the corn syrup got fatter.
"Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than
other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity," said study leader
Bart Hoebel, "but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least
under the conditions of our tests."
There are a few possible explanations for
this. One is that the ratio of fructose to glucose in HFCS is slightly higher.
Another is that in the HFCS manufacturing process, fructose molecules are free
and unbound, making them easier to absorb. The fructose in table sugar is
bonded to the glucose, which means it requires an extra step to be
Rule #3.5: . . . and it's hiding behind
And you thought Invasion of the Body
Snatchers was creepy . . . Avoiding the obvious sweetened foods like soda,
cake, cookies, and pies is only half the battle. Manufacturers add HFCS (as
well as other sugars) to a mind-boggling amount of foods because it adds
flavor. If it's in a bottle, box, or can, read the ingredients. You'll find
sweeteners in everything from ketchup to peanut butter to bread to salad
dressing. With a little effort, you can usually find versions of the same food
with no added sugars or HFCS that are more nutritious and taste just as good.
Rule #4: No, the sugar in fruit isn't bad
the low-carb "revolution" hit in the early aughts, fruit was demonized for its
sugar content. This is, in a word, ridiculous. Yes, fruit is loaded with sugar,
but it's also usually loaded with fiber, which slows sugar absorption, making
it an ideal way to get your simple carbs without straining your little insulin
buddies. Fruit is also loaded with easy-to-absorb vitamins and minerals. Most
fruit is also filled with water, yet another benefit.
Even relatively low-fiber fruits like
bananas offer far too many benefits to deny. Bananas, in particular, are rich
in electrolytes, which are crucial to sports performance. As I always say, I
defy you to introduce me to an overweight person whose biggest indulgence is
You can think of the ingredients in
Shakeology® the same way.
Sure, there's a little sugar in there, but the protein and fiber slow
absorption, and the massive amount of nutrients makes it all worthwhile.
Rule #5: Occasionally, a hit of straight
sugar is a good thing.
You're sitting around watching
television. You haven't done much today. Your glycogen stores are up, and
because you've eaten normally, your blood sugar level is balanced. Time for
and Recovery Formula™? Probably not.
Conversely, you just blasted a killer
workout. You've blown through your blood sugar and your glycogen, leaving you
shaky and tired. Now, getting some sugar in there to recharge quickly wouldn't
be such a bad idea. Furthermore, since it'll rush in so fast, it's a great
opportunity to add some protein and micronutrients to that sugar blast, because
they'll rush into where they're needed just as fast.
If you genuinely gave the workout your all
and you're truly wiped out, you won't even come close to storing that sugar as
So there you go. Not so tough, huh? With a
little forethought and self-control, keeping an eye on your carbs can be, ahem,
a piece of cake.