Nutrition is a complicated subject although many people attempt to oversimplify it by saying things like “eat less fat as all fats are bad” and, more recently, “eat less sugar as all sugar is unhealthy”.
What’s the difference ?
The trouble is, there is more than one type of fat and eliminating all fats can be just as unhealthy as eating all fats with abandon. Learn about “How to Choose Healthy Fats”.
Similarly, there is more than one type of sugar and, because they behave differently in your body, there is absolutely no need to eliminate ALL sugar. For health and weight loss reasons, it does makes sense to limit your intake of SOME types of sugar.
All carbohydrates are eventually converted into glucose. Glucose is your body’s and brains main source of energy. Glucose is a sugar but it’s not the only sugar. Other naturally occurring sugars include:
Fructose – sound in fruit
Lactose – found in diary
Unlike added sugars, natural sugars are present in food already. They are part and parcel of the food you eat and come bearing more than just calories – they are also accompanied by vitamins, minerals, fiber, and amino acids. As such they are healthy when consumed in moderation.
Also, natural sugars have a low glycemic index which means they are converted to glucose relatively slowly. Low GI sugars are digested in hours rather than in minutes, have a much less dramatic effect on blood glucose and insulin levels, are much less likely to be converted to fat and are, gram for gram, relatively healthy. Even if you are following a low sugar diet, there is no real reason not to eat the occasional piece of fruit and an abundance of vegetables, despite their sugar content.
Added sugars are, in contrast, not naturally occurring. They are added to food to alter its taste, texture, or simply to make you crave and buy more of it. It’s often included to make foods borderline addictive which helps increase sales and profits for food manufacturing companies. The food industry uses more than 61 different names for sugar to hide the word “sugar” from nutritional labels, here is the complete list.
However, being unnatural and refined, added sugars tend to be much higher on the glycemic index and are frequently added in large quantities. Being a “fast” sugar, they cause a rapid elevation of blood glucose, a steep rise in insulin levels, and are very easily converted to fat while interfering with your fat-burning abilities.
The steep rise in insulin, necessary for transporting sugar out of your blood and into your liver and muscle cells, often results in a rebound effect of low blood glucose which leaves you reaching for another high sugar snack to restore the balance.
This creates a yo-yo cycle of high blood glucose -> low blood glucose -> high blood glucose that can be hard to break. It’s no wonder so many people find sugar addictive.
Added sugars are also devoid of other nutrients – they are just empty calories “Why you should avoid empty calories”. However, sugar requires vitamins and minerals to break it down, even though it doesn’t provide any itself. This means added sugars are nutrient robber whereas natural sugars are found in foods that provide essential nutrients.
There is no need to fear naturally occurring sugars that are already in the food you eat. Fruit, vegetables, and dairy all contain natural sugars. However, processed foods that contain added sugars are best avoided. Not only are they empty calories, they are also highly inflammatory, toxic, and are easily converted to fat. Read your food labels and learn to differentiate between natural and added sugars because your health and your waistline depend on making the right choice.
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