Don't Sweat the Sweet Stuff

“Sugar, sugar everywhere and how on Earth do we avoid this health hijacking substance?!”

So unless you’ve been off doing something super awesome like sailing solo around the world (take us with you next time?!) you might have heard a bit of negative chatter flying about when it comes to sugar. But do you know why people are getting so up in arms and declaring it the Devil’s work? Maybe? Maybe not? Allow us to shine a summarising light on the subject for you 🙂

“Sweet things taste nice so therefore they must be bad for you.”

Now that is being totally unkind to everything that tastes nice isn’t it?!

Not all food that we enjoy is detrimental to our health, in actual fact one of the most important parts of eating is the positive feelings we have during and afterwards, but that’s a conversation for another day otherwise we’ll get totally off track.

When it comes to sugar it’s not just the immediate things we think off that can be bad. Yes it’s not great for your teeth but it’s actually what’s happening at your metabolic level that we need to be concerned about. 

Your body is an exceptional piece of natural engineering and in order to continue to function it needs to keep itself in a very fine balance, this is referred to as homeostasis. One of the things that must be particularly tightly controlled is our blood sugar level.

When we eat and digest our food, glucose travels into our blood stream and a whole number of sensors go off to make sure it doesn’t peak up too high. The rising levels trigger our pancreas to release the hormone insulin which brings our freely circulating glucose level down. 

Now this is all well and good when it happens as it naturally should (that’s why the mechanism was created in the first place after all). The problem we face is that many of us don’t balance our meals properly which skews this process, we may also be self sabotaging without realising it due to the multitude of places that sugar can be hiding in foods, and then there’s the influence of our jam packed lifestyles on how these hormonal mechanisms function.

So first up let’s touch on the balancing aspect. 

This is where we want to think about the forms of carbohydrates we choose. If at one end of the spectrum we have a pure sugar and syrups then at the other end we would have a nice fibrous wholegrain such as brown rice. The main difference between the two ends of the scale? The processing and fibre content of those foods.

Carbohydrate metabolism begins in the mouth (proteins and fats have to wait until they reach the stomach) and continues throughout the digestive tract. If the food you’re eating is just a simple sugar then that can travel directly into your bloodstream in one massive surge, with little, if any, digestion required. Cue a massive blood sugar spike which your poor pancreas must quickly counter with insulin to keep you from harm. Your blood glucose level then comes down in a corresponding ‘sugar crash’ making you feel hungry once more and setting you off on a fluctuating rollercoaster for the rest of the day.

Compare that to a fibrous whole grain; again the digestion will begin in the mouth but your body first needs to get through the husk to expose the more complex carbohydrate form (starch) within it. This can then be broken down into glucose and that can then travel into the blood. This means that you get a gentle and steady release of energy, no sudden spike and no crash afterwards. A far more civilised state of affairs all round 😉

“But I’m confused, I always though fruit was healthy but now we’re being told it’s too sugary and we should stay away from it?!”

As per usual this is a matter of detail.

Yes fruit contains sugar but in whole fruit these are natural sugars along with vitamins, minerals and fibre so a piece of fruit cannot be lumped into the same bag as granulated varieties or honeys and syrups.

It is always best to combine your fruit with a healthful portion of protein and/or fats as these enhance that balancing effect to slow the release of energy. They also keep you feeling fuller for longer and prevent blood sugar fluctuations later in the day. Pairing apple slices with almond butter or adding a serving of one of our beautifully botanical MACAHA blends and a banana to your green smoothie are simple examples of how to do this.

In terms of hidden sugars this is something we are becoming more aware of all the time. The best way to avoid these is to eat as fresh as possible or if you do buy things in packets have a quick scan of the labels. Anything pre-packed containing tomatoes are ones to watch for as their natural acidity tends to be compensated for with extra sweetening additions, this is also true of reduced fat products.

So far, so easy right? 😀 Next up is the effect of our lifestyles and this is actually where we really run into trouble.

Small amounts of sugar here and there aren’t terrible, they aren’t ideal, but they also won’t cause us excessive harm. The problem we see mainly now is that most people have quite a high stress level and the hormone cortisol that is released in response to stressful situations comes along and plays havoc with everything else.

Fondly referred to as “The Master Hormone” due to it’s overriding ways cortisol does just that. It dulls or negates the effect of other circulating hormones as it thinks it’s prioritising our survival over whatever other less important tasks our bodies might be doing (it may be clever but it can’t tell you’ve actually just woken up late and missed the bus as opposed to being chased by a big grizzly bear).

If you cast back a couple of paragraphs to when I mentioned about insulin managing our blood sugar……when you’ve also got cortisol circulating your pancreas actually needs to produce 3 times the amount of insulin to get your blood sugar under control. Add that to repeated spikes from what you might be eating and no wonder your pancreas just wants to put it’s feet up for a bit (if this continues long term we end up with one pooped pancreas, or in medical speak Type II Diabetes).

“Oh my goodness but I’ve been slurping away on tomato soup and adding honey to my tea for years! My pancreas is probably about ready to pack up and run away RIGHT NOW!!”

Never fear this is not a situation to throw up your arms and consign yourself to the rubbish heap as a lost cause!

Simple changes such as adding a spoonful of one of our lovely protein rich MACACHA blends to your breakfast porridge or smoothie, incorporating nuts and seeds into your snacks and trying calming practices such as yoga, mindfulness or meditation are easy adaptations that will make a huge difference. If you’re a self confessed sugar junkie, move away from your simple sugars onto dried fruit for the time being and work your way up that scale bit by bit. Regular exercise is also a brilliant way to get your metabolism back on track, plus studies show a bit more bouncing around actually makes us reach for more healthful choices without even trying (now that’s our kind of healthy eating 😉 ).

Of course in keeping with our usual giving nature we have a gorgeous recipe for you this week too. It’s totally blood sugar balancing and packed with nutrients; check out our Pear, Pistachio and Pumpkin Seed Protein Bars here. We have also done a super “Sugar Showdown Lowdown” for you so when it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth you’ll be giving your body as much of a treat as your tastebuds 😀

And that’s where we must say goodbye for today (*sob*)!

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Written by Phoebe Liebling, Nutritional Therapist BSc DipNT mBANT mNNA mCNHC