Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hey There Sweet Stuff!

Ok, I am just going to come right out with it. This week's post is about sugar, and I am going to tell you not to eat so much of it. It tastes good, I know. I have as much of a sweet tooth as the next person. But this stuff is bad for you. Real bad. And the average American consumes 2-3 pounds of it a week. Pounds. Most likely, many of you out there are probably addicted to it.

How could you not be? Nowadays, it's in practically everything.

B went food shopping at Trader Joe's earlier this week. Like the thoughtful fiance that he is, he came home with many "health conscious" choices.

Like this bread:

Looks good. Honey sweetened! Honey is still a sugar but it has a slightly gentler effect on the body.

Well, if we flip the bread over and take a look at the ingredients...

Yup, there's honey in there, but there is also molasses... and I guess that wasn't sweet enough, because they added sugar as well!

Kinda misleading right?

If you look closely at most ingredient labels you are going to find sugar. Today's packaged foods are so processed and refined and full of chemicals that the only way to make them taste good is to load 'em up with sugar and salt, and lots of it.

So, why is sugar bad for you? Well for a lot of reasons.

It spikes your blood sugar. Sugar is already in it's simplest form (does not need to be broken down much) so it gets released immediately into the bloodstream. That's the high you get immediately after eating it. But we all know that what comes up, must come down. So then what happens? We don't like feeling down, so we go and get ourselves more sugar! And so on...

Sugar majorly messes with your insulin level. Insulin is responsible for getting food to your cells so it can get burned for energy. When your insulin is messed up you cells don't get the food they need, even though you have sufficiently eaten, so your brain gets the signal to eat even more!

Sugar is also known to suppress your immune system, lead to mood disturbances, and a whole host of other health complications.

For a really great, much more articulate and scientific explanation of all of this check out this video.

It's long (an hour and half), and pretty academic, so this is only for those of you who are really interested in this stuff, but I found it really worthwhile. (Thanks Leslie!)

For the rest of you, just believe me when I tell you that you want to watch your intake. I believe that artificial sweeteners are even worse, but we'll save that for another time.

So, you may be reading this and saying, yeah, I avoid sweets so I'm all good. But as we see from the bread, it's not as simple as that.

My recommendation to people is to be more ruthless about avoiding sugars in their "regular" food, like bread, pasta sauce, jam, instant oatmeal, etc. and save your sugar intake for the special things that make life sweet, like the occasional dessert.

How do you avoid all that processed food loaded with sugar and salt? Eat whole foods. Think veggies... meat... grains...

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Can I imagine it growing?
It is easy to picture a wheat field or an apple on a tree.  Tough to picture a field of marshmallows.  I know of no streams where one can scoop up a bucket of diet soda, no trees where one can pick fruit loops.

2. How many ingredients does it have?
A whole food has only one ingredient - itself.  No label of ingredients is necessary on simple foods like apples, salmon and wild rice.

3. What's been done to the food since it was harvested?
The less, the better.  Many foods we eat no longer resemble anything found in nature.  Stripped, refined, bleached, injected, hydrogenated, chemically treated, irradiated, and gassed; modern foods have literally had the life taken out of them.  Read the list of ingredients on the labels; if you can't pronounce it or can't imagine it growing, don't eat it.  If it is not something that you could possibly make in your kitchen or grow in a garden, be wary.

-From:  Feeding the Whole Family (third edition) by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008)

Are there healthy foods that are not "whole"? Of course. Olive oil is processed, so is hummus, and many others. But thinking from a  "whole foods"  perspective is an easy and effective guide to helping you to start make healthy choices in your shopping and eating.

How does sugar make you feel? Is it hard for you to avoid?

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