When it comes to nutrition, we pick our battles. I can tell you without a doubt that consuming enough clean calories each day is King. I can tell you to watch your labels and look for good fats over unhealthy ones. I can point out that refined foods such as skim milk do far more harm than good. I can also tell you that balancing your macros will give you better results in your program. It’s a lot to take in, and difficult to incorporate into our busy lives. We ask that you eat clean calories at least 80% of the time for improved health, reduced cravings and increased energy. And although we suggest that you keep any single product to 6 grams of sugar or less, we don’t spend much time talking about sugar. It’s complicated because sugar isn’t a nutrient so one might ask, why set goals for it in your daily intake? Part of the complication arises because sugar seems to be everywhere. So, let’s talk about it.
For some, sugar isn’t considered as a significant issue and they don’t seem to have any trouble processing the sugar into energy. For some, a small amount means migraines, blood sugar spikes and a potential increased risk of diabetes. I always thought I was the first group; turns out I’m the second due to a significant period of misuse. However, true for everyone: sugar isn’t a required nutrient, only a byproduct of other nutrients. Fruit is rich in vitamins and sugar comes along for the ride.
When there’s an excess or no other nutrients offering us something good, we get to the problem areas of sugar.
“Consumption of sugar and white flour may be likened to drawing on a savings account. If continued withdrawals are made faster than new funds are put in, the account will eventually become depleted. Some people may go longer than others without overt suffering, but eventually all will feel the effects of this inexorable law. If you were fortunate enough to be born with an excellent constitution, you may be able to eat unlimited quantities of sugar with relative impunity, but your children’s or your grandchildren’s inheritance will be one of impoverished reserves.” Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon
Sugar can be an enjoyable part of our diet. And when eaten in moderation and in its natural state, it can be enjoyed without guilt or consequence. When eaten as part of a nutrient-dense food, it is digested slowly and released gradually into the bloodstream for energy. Unused reserves are kept in the liver for the next energy burst required. However, if you eat it in a refined state and without other nutrients to slow their release, the liver has no way to convert them quickly enough and has no choice but to dump the glucose into the body as fat. Another reaction is the release of insulin and other hormones to bring the disorder back into balance. Doing this repeatedly overtaxes your cells and makes fighting disease and illness difficult. Given enough pressure to respond, our body will remain on high alert and eventually break down in one fashion or another. It opens the door to a miriad of conditions that some of us are all too familiar with: obesity, allergies, bone and tooth decay, cancer, addiction, depression, degenerative disease and more.
A serious consideration of sugar from a “dieting” perspective is that when you have goals for calorie consumption each day, you may be “giving away” needed calories to food that offers little to nothing helpful for your body. Using the savings account analogy again, if you need $1200 to run your household with the bare minimum of rent, clothing, food, utilities, you know you have to use that $1200 of the $1500 you bring in to cover the basics. So, with the extra $300, is it wiser to pay for a new winter coat, the kids’ allowance and new tires for your car – or buy cigarrettes or play the roulette wheel? As silly as it sounds, this scenario isn’t far from the truth of your calorie choices. Each bite, like each dollar, should give you a positive return. Sweet foods can give you both pleasure and nutrients if you choose the right ones.
Examples of bad sugar choices include the obvious packaged cookies, donuts, chips, crackers, soft drinks and candy, but less obvious sources include highly processed milk and chocolate milk, “foods” with corn syrup, ketchup and bbq sauce, energy bars, cereal, pasta sauces, salad dressings, frozen meals and fruit juices, even the “healthy” versions like Odwalla. The sources of sugar I’d recommend are fruits and organic coconut sugar. If you can handle the higher numbers, raw honey and real maple syrup are other clean options. When choosing your “sweets”, make sure that the glycemic index is low and the sugar bearing food offers nutrients for your body in the form of fiber, vitamins, protein and healthy carbs.
Refined sugar is a killer, there’s little denying this fact. And artificial sugars can be even worse. Those not monetarily supported by the manufactured food industry have been saying it for a long time and now more doctors, researchers and scientists are finding that sugar is indeed a large hurdle to good health.
High Glycemic foods, to be avoided as a regular dietary choice, have a GI of 70 and up. These include white bread, bagels, instant oats, corn flakes, white rice and rice pasta, melons, rice cakes, crackers, russet potato and corn syrup.
Medium Glycemic foods have a GI of 56-69. These include whole wheat bread, quick oats, brown rice, wild rice, popcorn, taco shells, shredded wheat and table sugar.
Low glycemic foods, which are optimum for good health, are GI 55 and below. These include rolled or steel-cut oats, sweet potato, yam, corn, peas, legumes, lentils, most fruits and vegetables and coconut sugar.
For a more in-depth list of glycemic index and searchable foods, visit: http://www.glycemicindex.com/
My bottom line is this: stick to as many low glycemic foods as you can, avoid high glycemic foods whenever possible, and select sugar bearing foods that offer nutrient dense calories. Although I have no hard and fast maximum grams for sugar each day, anywhere from 20g to 50g seems a reasonable window, depending on your personal reactions to sugar. ~Lorrie
“The consumption of low-glycemic index foods results in lower but more sustained increases in blood glucose and lower insulin demands on pancreatic beta-cells” Linus Pauling Institute