I know I have blogged a lot about sugar but I feel the need to do it again as there is so much confusion about what?s what when it comes to the sweet stuff and even the not so sweet stuff.
Firstly, a few terms to make things easy. Carbohydrates are one of the 3 macronutrients along with fat and protein. Carbohydrate is an umbrella term for sugars – carbohydrates that have the greatest and quickest impact on blood sugar (blood glucose); starches, sugars that are bound together in a more complex form and therefore take time to hit the blood stream as the bonds have to be broken down first; finally fibre ? not absorbed and is essential for blood sugar management and gut health. Different foods have a mixture of sugars, starches and fibre.
If you look on a food package you will see total carbohydrate content and of that total how much is sugar. This does not necessarily mean added sugars, many foods will have no sweeteners added, no sugars, syrups, honey etc. but there will still be sugars as many foods contain natural sugars. The rest of the total carbohydrates are fibre and starches. Fibre cannot be absorbed but helps in the motility of your gut and crucially, provides food for your good bacteria, so higher fibre the better. I don?t recommend brans, containing only insoluble fibre, as it is the combination of soluble and insoluble that keeps the gut really healthy, Too much bran ? the outer husk of whole grains, can irritate and inflame the gut.
Fibre content can be taken off the total carb content to get a true level of the carb content of the food as it is a non-absorbable form of carbohydrate.
Just because a food contains no added sugars, only naturally occurring sugars, doesn?t mean it?s good for you. So often I hear clients saying ?I never eat sweet foods, I only have natural sugars?. Well, I?m sorry to be a health-bore, but sugar is sugar is sugar as far as the body is concerned. White sugar or sucrose (what most people think of when we talk about sugar) is made of half fructose, half glucose. These are 2 simple sugars bound together. This bond is rapidly broken during digestion to allow the 2 sugars to hit the blood stream. The glucose is either burnt as energy, if you?re being very active, or stored as fat if you?re not. The fructose cannot be used for energy and goes straight to the liver where it?s converted to fat.
This is the same of all sugars. They will get broken down and absorbed as simple sugars, it just takes some sugars longer to get there than others depending on how ?complex? it is and what else you?re eating with the carbohydrate containing food. Fat, protein and fibre slow the release of sugar in to the bloodstream and/or bind with the sugar and limit how much is absorbed, hence lessening the impact on blood glucose levels. If the foods you are eating are readily converted in to glucose, your blood glucose level will rise rapidly too. We can only tolerate about 1 teaspoon, around 20 calories of blood glucose before we hit danger levels. High blood glucose is so toxic and inflammatory that more than 1 teaspoon, insulin is triggered to remove the excess sugar. Insulin then shuttles that sugar away in to our fat cells. Without high glucose, there?s no need for insulin and without insulin, we are not storing food as body fat.
As starches are complex sugars, meaning lots of sugars all bound together in long chains, the long chains take time to break down in to single sugars, therefore the effect on blood sugar is gradual. Simple sugars are either single or double bonds, which are rapidly broken down in the digestive system, becoming blood sugar (blood glucose) very quickly. It doesn?t have to taste sweet to be a quick, simple sugar. Wheat bread (brown and white), mashed and jacket potatoes, rice cakes are just a few examples of non-sweet foods that force blood glucose levels to rocket, just like pure white sugar!
The more a food is processed the higher the level of simple, quick sugars. This is why fruit juice is so much worse than a whole fruit. By juicing, even freshly pressed juice, the fibre is removed. Fibre slows the release of sugar in to the blood stream. A whole orange takes time to eat, it is filling due to the fibre and the effect on blood sugar is gradual, as the body has to ?break down? the fibre to release the sugar. Juicing does that ?breaking down? for you, pre-releasing the sugars, making them rapidly available to the blood stream. You can also consume several oranges in one glass, that?s a lot of sugar. The same is true of mashed potato or popped grains like rice cakes. The process of mashing or popping, flouring or flaking, even pre-cooking, releases the sugars so your digestive system doesn?t have to work at it.
To have some sense of how much sugar you area putting in to your body and your children?s bodies, you must start looking at food labels. Look at the sugar content per 100 grams. There are about 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon, so divide the number by 4 to know how many teaspoons of sugar are in 100 grams. Then see how much in weight you are going to eat. You will likely be shocked and horrified at how quickly the teaspoons add up.
Current recommendations are no more than 7 teaspoons a day. A 500ml bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice contains around 51 grams, that?s almost 13 teaspoons of sugar; Ribena is about the same and a typical smoothie comes in at 17 teaspoons per 500ml!
Even milk contains a surprising amount of sugar. It?s a disaccharide, so 2 sugars bound together. One is glucose and one is galactose. Combined they become lactose. This sugar is rapidly broken down. 500ml of milk contains around 24 grams, that?s 6 teaspoons. If you are drinking skimmed milk, you?ve not only lost the super-important fat soluble vitamins D.K,A and E, you have also lost the benefit of taste, satiety and the fact that fat slows the release of sugar in to the bloodstream. Skimmed milk may as well be called sugar water as far as I am concerned!
Get wise to the reality of sugars, accept that we there?s no such thing as a healthy sugar and ensure your carbohydrates are made up of low GI, high fibre foods that have been minimally processed and watch ‘That Sugar Film’ (see previous post) – it’s a fun must-see.