I’m going to tell you a secret about me. Cutting out sugar is hard for me. My body doesn’t tolerate much (if any) processed sugar before it sends me plummeting down a slippery slope into more and more. So my best bet is to stay away. Almost completely. But…severely reducing my sugar is not the end of my story. I can give up sugar, but then I want bread and crackers and pasta and rice and potatoes and pasta…which I rarely eat otherwise. Have you ever tried to give up sugar and had this happen to you? What’s up with that??????
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Up until now, I’ve been specifically talking about added sugars. Is eliminating or reducing sugar the same thing as reducing or eliminating all carbohydrates and sugars? Is there a difference between carbohydrates and sugar? When I give up one, why do I start craving the other?
Carbohydrates and Sugar – What Are They?
Carbohydrates take the form of either sugars or starches (“complex carbohydrates”); but, a starch is simply a long chain of sugar molecules strung together, so they both end up as the same thing once they enter your blood stream (the only difference is that you need digestive enzymes to break up a starch). Most carbohydrates break down to approximately half glucose and half fructose (let’s ignore fiber and some of the other less common monosaccharides, for now). Glucose is then directly used by your cells for energy, whereas fructose must first be converted into glucose or fat by your liver. – Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, PhD.
Once starches are broken down, our bodies process glucose and fructose quite differently. An overload on either can be dangerous. Our bodies need glucose to function. But as with everything in life, it’s a matter of quantity. We need glucose, but not in the quantities or processed forms that many of us are eating. So how can we tell which carbohydrates are more beneficial?
Measuring Carbohydrates and Sugar with the Glycemic Index
First, every food is given a number that represents its glycemic index. The glycemic index indicates how quickly carbohydrates are digested and released into your bloodstream as glucose. A food with a high GI raises blood sugar more than a food with a medium or low GI.
Measuring the Glycemic Load of Carbohydrates and Sugar
The more important number represents the glycemic load. The glycemic load takes into account the serving size of a food. “Foods with a glycemic load (GL) under 10 are considered low-GL foods and have little impact on your blood sugar; between 10 and 20 moderate-GL foods with moderate impact on blood sugar, and above 20 high-GL foods that tend to cause blood sugar spikes.” (source)
Fruits and vegetables are all low to moderate glycemic load foods. Even fruits that are so sweet and contain fructose have low glycemic loads. How is that possible? Fruits (and vegetables) also contain antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fiber that help offset the impact of the fructose. Processed or added sugars do not contain anything else to offset their effects.
Simple carbohydrates (think the white stuff – white bread, white rice, white flour) is broken down in the body and turned into glucose. Recognize that name? Glucose is…cue dramatic music again…sugar. So there’s the answer! When I give up sugar, but still want bread and crackers and pasta and rice and potatoes and pasta…it’s because the starches are converted to the same sugar that I was trying to avoid. Hence, the same effect on my body!
TODAY’S PERSONAL SUGAR ADDICTION CHALLENGE:
Think about whether you’ve ever given up one thing in your diet only to have something else come raging at you full force? What was it? Were they carbohydrates and sugar?
SUGAR ADDICTION ACTION ITEM:
Go to your pantry and take out one thing – a box of cereal, a can of beans, a can of soup, whatever it is. Just pick one or two things to take out of your pantry. Maybe they are the same things you looked at for sugar content. Now – look at how many grams of carbohydrates and sugar. Is there a difference? If there is less sugar than total carbohydrates, the remaining carbs will be processed into sugar in this way.
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