Updated: May 13, 2022
"Oh no, I don't eat much sugar" is something I hear a lot. Here's the thing though, sugar comes in many forms and even though you might avoid foods commonly thought of as being high in sugar such as sweet biscuits, candy and soft drinks, you may still be consuming plenty of the stuff without realising it. You see sugars are carbohydrates, one of the three macronutrients needed by your body for fuel, with the other two being protein and fat.
Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for your body and are essential for muscle and brain function. They include sugars, starches and fibre found in vegetables, grains and dairy products. Glucose, which is the simplest form is quickly and easily absorbed by your gut into your blood stream. This quick burst of fuel provides almost instant energy that can be used by your body. Other sugars include fructose that is mostly found in fruit and corn syrup, as well as lactose found in dairy, sucrose that is a combination of fructose and glucose and maltose that is two glucose molecules joined together.
Think about the last time you skipped a meal and felt tired and a bit dizzy. Eating something like a jelly bean or a cookie would have given you an instant boost. The problem is that eating a diet that is high in these simple carbohydrates can lead to health conditions such as insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes as well as causing weight gain. Regular consumption can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The reason for this is that your body is not designed to cope with large amounts of glucose entering your blood stream at once. Although your body has some great systems in place to transport glucose out of your blood stream to storage areas such as your liver, there is a limit to their ability to carry this out long term when there are large amounts of glucose being consumed. Insulin resistance can occur as your pancreas struggles to produce large amounts of insulin to cope with the glucose and slows down production. Large amounts of glucose that are stored in your liver can be converted to fat which is detrimental to your long term health. Although the consumption of foods that contain fat has long been associated with weight gain, the reality is that excess sugar consumption is a greater problem as excess glucose that is not required as fuel for your body will be stored as fat.
Slowing down the absorption of these simple carbohydrates will provide you with a more sustained release of energy and this can be done by choosing more complex forms of carbohydrates and by combining them with other macronutrients such as protein and fats.
Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as wholegrains, fibrous vegetables and legumes. The fibre content in these foods slows down glucose absorption into your blood stream. This means your body doesn’t need to release as much insulin.
Combining carbohydrates with protein and/or fats has the same effect of slowing down the release of glucose into your blood and providing a more sustained supply of energy.
Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread and pasta can cause your body to become insulin resistant. As I mentioned earlier in this article, this means that your body no longer registers high blood glucose levels and doesn’t release enough insulin from your pancreas to transport it to other areas of your body. This increases your risk of developing chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.
The steep fluctuations caused by eating refined carbohydrates and the insulin response that is triggered to transport glucose out of your blood stream is also very stressful for your body and interferes with the regulation of other hormones such as oestrogen and cortisol.
Ok, enough of what not to eat!
Healthy meals are easy when you know what to choose.
Think about swapping dishes with white rice to brown rice or quinoa that contain higher amounts of fibre or protein. You could also add roasted sweet potato to your salads and veggie meals instead of white potatoes. Include a form of protein in your meals, especially breakfast where many people have become accustomed to eating cereal. If you do want to have grains for breakfast, choose whole grains such as rolled oats and add some nuts or chia seeds to boost your protein. By doing this, you will stay full for longer during the day and avoid looking for high sugar foods mid-morning. Legumes are also a great way to include protein without eating meat, and they provide lots of fibre to slow down the absorption of glucose.
I mentioned fats earlier and although they are a lot more energy dense than carbohydrates, they take a lot longer to digest and will keep you feeling full for longer. Choosing food that contains omega 3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats provides lots of health benefits by supporting health cholesterol metabolism, balancing inflammatory responses and supporting healthy brain function. Salmon is a good source of omega 3 fatty acid and is a delicious way to increase your intake. For those who follow a plant-based diet, foods such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are also great sources to include in your meals. Freshly ground flaxseeds can be added to your smoothie, cooked oats or even on top of your salad.
Improving your diet is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your health. Whether your goal is weightloss or just improving your nutrition, it doesn't need to be complicated or time consuming either. If you’d like more information or to make a time for an individualised health assessment click the button below