Sugar and Carbohydrates
A very abused and misunderstood topic. One of the biggest half-truths is that there is such a thing as “good” and “bad” sugars.
Sugar is a paradox. It is the food required by the body to think, eat, breath, walk and do work. It is also toxic to the body. High sugar levels, according to some research, promotes heart attack and stroke. Somewhat high sugar levels can poison the body and burn out the organs unless kept in check by an agent called insulin which is produced by the pancreas. The heart dangerous sugar levels, however, are lesser than the level (a bio-chemistry value of 7) dangerous to a diabetic! The so-called “normal” level (a value of 5) is considered by some experts to be excessive!
When the pancreas stops producing enough insulin a condition called diabetes sets in and eating any normal meal which contains carbohydrates or sugar (and almost every food contains some of these) can put a person into a coma and even induce death if not quickly treated.
There is no such thing as a “nice” or “good” or “great” or “safer” sugar.
Fruit sugars simply require less work or processing to make body sugars. Table sugar requires more work and processing. Table sugar is actually, in a sense, a diet food because the amount of sugar calories entering the body might be lower in quantity because of all the processing required to convert sucrose (table sugar) into glucose (body sugar), fructose (fruit sugar used by the body in small amounts), lactose (milk sugar used by the body in small amounts).
But don’t quote me on that. It is simply a bio-chemical fact that a fructose base sweetener (such as corn syrup) may deliver more calories of sugar into the body on a equal amount basis than table sugar, but the difference is not significant enough to use one over the other! To a person on a weight loss diet, table sugar may actually be the “good sugar,” because it may deliver less sugar calories per serving into the body due to extra processing. But in truth, to the dieter no sugar is good sugar!
On the other hand to a person doing manual labor or athletic work, the more efficient sugar (the corn syrup) may be the better sugar because it puts more energy into the body. But this level of sugar may also increase the risk of eventual heart attack and stroke, so to call this a “good sugar” may not be so good for the body after all!
There is no “good” sugar. All of it is “bad” for anyone, yet necessary for life. The average person, however, gets plenty of sugar for almost every food they eat in the form of carbohydrates.
All grains (cereal and bread), nuts, fruits and vegetables contain a significant amount of carbohydrates (which are even found in meat, but to a lesser degree). All carbohydrates are converted to sugar by the body, starting right in the mouth (which is how tooth decay begins and why you should brush within 10 minutes of eating anything).
Carbohydrates produce more than just blood sugar. They generally produce reserve sugar for the muscles and often produce stored fat cells for future use. This makes the carbohydrate a “really, really bad sugar” for the weight loss dieter, but a “really, really, really good sugar” for the professional athlete.
See, you can’t put a label on sugar. “Good” or “bad” is a relative term and the individual “need” plays an important role in which side of the spectrum it may sit.
Under the old food pyramid the average person was encouraged to consume 65 to 75% of carbohydrates as their total food for the day. This meant bread and milk with every meal. Cereal for breakfast. Potatoes, rice and carrots for dinner or lunch. This also, apparently, lead to a fat America.
Under the new food pyramid the total amount has dropped to under 65% but over 50%, but the concept of eating breads, cereals and starches like potatoes has been replaced with leaner carbohydrates from the green vegetable or fruit family.
In the most popular weight loss diets the carbohydrate is now considered public enemy #1. Some diets, such as the one from the late Dr. Atkins, advocate lowering the intake of sugar producing carbohydrates to almost nothing in the early part of the diet, then gradually adding more to your system in later stages. The South Beach Diet, another popular one with Americans, isn’t as radical but fruits are not allowed at the start of this diet. Potatoes, rice and breads are on the “hit list” of foods not to eat during most of the diet program, along with watermelon!
I detailed my diet approach last year in Issues, which uses fruits (apples are what I used to drop 50 pounds in a year) several times each day to add bulk (an apple weighs almost a pound), increase sugar levels (it has about 80 calories of fructose sugar) but keep caloric intake down (an apple every three hours before and after meals amounts to less than 400 total calories per day but puts several pounds of nutritional food into your stomach to curb cravings). Finally a reduced calorie meal that excludes as much starch and grains as you can possibly do (limit bread, rice, potatoes) with as little fat as possible (lean chicken, no gravy or margarine).
My approach, published a year before the new pyramid came out, actually echoes a lot of what the government now says you should do to keep your weight down. I, however, advocate removing all refined sugars from the diet altogether. This means no candy, soda or donuts at all until your goal is reached and longer after that if you can live without them. I find that sugar in vast quantities hurts the stomach and feel it may contribute to ulceration of the stomach lining. By removing direct sugar some fowl stomachs may see relief on a temporary or even permanent basis.
My sugar and carbohydrate approach is on the normal side, Atkins is on the very low side and South Beach is in-between both approaches.
Richard Simmons and Weight Watchers assign values to food and let you trade one group for another, but not on an even basis. They, too, are on the moderate to lowered carbohydrate and sugar consumption level.
A breakfast of oat or wheat cereal, non-fat milk and a banana, with no table sugar added, turns into almost 70% sugar once inside the body and generates a serious sugar spike (a g.i. sugar rating of 70), yet many consider this a “healthy” breakfast. This breakfast also introduces a small amount of fat into body (from the cereal and banana). The amount of calories from sugar production almost equals that of a typical candy bar, except you do get more general nutritional value from the cereal and fruit breakfast. This will give you an idea of how much “sugar” you might be consuming without even knowing it! It also demonstrates why a person doesn’t need desert foods or sugar treats.
Carbohydrates and direct simple sugars are not the friend of the weight-loss dieter, but remember you need to have a little body sugar just to keep your eyes open and some of these diets push the body to extremes, so make sure you are healthy enough to do the radical approaches they advocate.
No carbohydrate and no sweetener is directly used by your body. Only medical glucose fits this description and that is dispensed by doctors under prescription for seriously injured patients in a hospital.
All other sugars and carbohydrates require further processing by the body to produce glucose, fructose and lactose with the proper chemical structure that is required by your body.
To arbitrarily say one type of sugar is good and another is bad is not a fair statement. One type of sugar may be more efficient than another, that is a fair statement. For some people a more efficient sugar might offer them some benefits, while for other people a less efficient sugar might actually be the “good” sugar for them.
The bottom line is no sugar is truly good for the body in direct form. It is generally better to get sugar on a slow and ongoing basis through nutritional foods that also contain proteins and minerals.
In a separate article we detailed some benefits of semi-sweet (dark) chocolate. Some of these benefits may be worth the sugar calories, but do this consumption in moderation to prevent a sugar spike. Sugars, even in this form, are still not a health food or even healthy, despite the fact they might lower cardio-vascular disease! Peanut oil, peanut butter, apples and even brocolli can do some of this work, as well as red wine, but with wine come a super sugar spike from the alcohol, which can hurt the liver. So chocolate and red wine, while somewhat beneficial, should be used with great care and as a last resort due to their excessive sugar spike levels.
Keeping your blood sugar level at an even keel seems to be the healthiest approach for anyone and taking any direct sugar in quantity, even a lot of fruit, might upset this balance.
The average person should only consume direct sugar (treats and table sugar in coffee) and even fruit sugar in moderation, spread out over the course of an hour or more. No one should consume more than 70% carbohydrates in any given day (which is a bulk up, weight increase diet used by some athletes), while the average person should actually limit their carbohydrate consumption to about 50% of their total food intake each day.
Every packaged food item in the North America, Australia and England lists carbohydrates, however the “minimum daily requirement” is generally outdated and by next year should change in many nations (this is because of the new food pyramid, which we cover in another article elsewhere in this issue). You should consume roughly 60% of what is called for as a minimum for a 2,000 calorie diet.
A good rule of thumb is simply to add up the percentages of each portion you eat and start limiting your carbohydrates when you reach a running total of 50% and try not to go over 65% on a running total basis. (Next year when the labels may change you may have to adjust these percentages upwards a little.)
If you are on a weight loss diet, drop this even further. Start limiting at 40% and stop at 50%.
If you are on an athletic program or working out at the gym more than 3 hours a day, every day, slow down your carbohydrate intake at 60% and stop at around 75%.
Those of you on “fad” diets will be asked to drop the carbohydrate levels to under 25%, which is considered to be an unbalanced diet and potentially unhealthy if done over a very long time period. No clinical evidence, however, as yet details any actual risk in these fad diets, but before doing any diet consult with your doctor to make sure you are in a healthy shape to make the sacrifices that diet may require!
Our Slim Down, Trim Up and Be Healthier For Summer Special Continues With:
And From Past Issues We Also Offer You: