Most of us super indulged over the holidays. And by indulged, I mean we over-consumed sugary treats. While sweet delights are yummy and excite our brain chemistry, the consequences of too much sugar appear quickly.
Did you know on average Americans consume twenty teaspoons of sugar every day? This statistic is based on added sugar and not the sugar found naturally in food such as fruits and vegetables.
Consumed at this rate, you could easily gain one pound a week. Many of us would find it hard to believe but it’s actually easy to consume that much sugar. Consider, for example, that 1 can of soda pop has about 10 teaspoons of sugar? A bowl of cereal has about 4 teaspoons. We can easily count a number of individuals who eat this way daily.
Let’s gain a better understanding of sugar, shall we?
Sugar and Fat
Sugar contains 2 molecules: Fructose and Glucose. We need glucose and our metabolism depends on it. Bio-chemically, our body produces it (from our food) and uses it to keep us healthy. Glucose is short simple chains of sugar molecules, called monosaccharides, that breakdown protein and fat for energy. Essentially, it’s good for our vitality.
Fructose, on the other hand, is the harmful sugar molecule. Our body does not naturally produce it, and few cells in our body use it. Our liver is the main processing centre and useless sugar molecules are turned into fat and get secreted through our blood stream. Fat latches on to adipose cells commonly stored in fatty regions like our belly, butt and thighs. Danger lurks when too much adipose tissue builds up in these areas and fatty acids spill into our organs. Our immune system is then at risk, and chronic health issues develop such as high blood pressure and diabetes to name a few.
WARNING: Too much sugar stimulates our body to produce too much insulin. Insulin is a growth hormone. Sugar is converted to fat, and too much insulin makes that fat hard to use as a source of energy.
Sugar and Fatigue
Did you notice the word ‘fat’ in this heading as well? Obviously fat is not a good thing! And fatigue is not a pleasant symptom either.
Did you know too much sugar makes you tired? This concept seems rather contrary to what most of us believe. Often, we reach for a chocolate bar or doughnut to give us that sugar rush we desperately feel we need half-way through the day. But carbs like doughnuts, chocolate, bagels, cake etc … are refined sugars which trigger a chemical reaction in our brain to produce serotonin.
Most of us have heard of serotonin – the chemical in our brain that causes us to relax and go to sleep. But who wants to fall asleep while we’re at work mid-day? Who can afford to really?
Here’s how it works:
We consume refined carbohydrates. That sugar increases the level of tryptophan, an amino acid which is the building block of serotonin (one of our primary brain chemicals).
I will spare you the dirty details of how treacherous sugar is to your health. However, it is prudent that we educate ourselves about the damaging effects of sugar on our health. Read more about why sugar is bad for you.
Here’s a goal for 2016. How about trying something new?
Let’s be realistic. We are still going to crave and eat sweets regardless of how health conscious we are. Consider replacing sugar with natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey or agave nectar.
Too expensive? Too strange?
You will be surprised at how easy and economical it is to replace sugar and feel better. We can actually change our perception of sweetness by simply adding a different ingredient to our drinks and food.
For example, using apple sauce, apricot or banana purées to cake batter or cookie dough is a perfect sugar replacement. They are sweet, natural and do not have refined sugar.
Sweet Aromatic Spices
Adding cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa to your hot drink actually creates a taste of sweetness because your olfactory sense processes the sweet smell before your taste buds. Try it!
How about adding dried cranberries, raisins and dates to baked goods for extra sweetness? They are loaded with antioxidants and fiber and have a low glycemic index.
And speaking of a low glycemic index, try using coconut sugar, made from the sap of coconut flowers. Coconut sugar is used in equal amounts to regular white sugar based on levels of sweetness. This wonderful product is loaded with potassium and available at most grocery stores at an affordable price.
To replace a glass of sweet fruit juice, try a fresh squeeze of citrus over tonic water. Pink grapefruit is naturally sweet with a sour twist. Squeezing an orange or lime into water creates a delicious and refreshing drink and makes it easier to consume your daily water intake.
The natural sugar in milk adds a touch of sweetness to your morning coffee or tea. Before adding sugar, reconsider how lactose in milk may quell your sweet tooth.
Syrup, Extract and Glaze
Brown rice syrup is a buttery and nutty flavored syrup and perfect in granola bars and baked breads. Yaćon Syrup is sweet like honey, has hints of apple and has half the calories of cane sugar. Barley Malt Extract is similar to molasses and packed with protein. Balsamic glaze gives a surprising sweetness to grilled fruit and makes an excellent cake topper.
Sucanat, an acronym for SUgar CAne NATural, is made from organic cane sugar that has a nutrient boost.
Frozen Juice Concentrate
Use frozen juice concentrates in pie for additional fiber and antioxidants.
Can you think of any reason NOT to eliminate sugar?
This year, challenge yourself to give up sugar. Try these alternatives and boost your health. You will feel more vital and have greater energy.
Be encouraged because a small change goes a long way. So, try to replace your sugar in stages. Start with substituting fruit purées and dried fruits in your baked goods and then move on to other foods. Add some fresh citrus to your water and notice how much more water you will want to drink daily. Water is essential for keeping our weight down and cleansing our system.
All the best to you and good health in 2016.