Healthy AND Happy: Sugar
Sugar is addictive. I know from experience: I have a massive sweet tooth. I would eat dessert five times a day if I could, and I’m sure many would do the same. Lowering your sugar intake is extremely hard, so it must be done thoughtfully or you risk relapsing back into old habits. I tend to crave something sweet after every meal so I used to satisfy that with a cookie or piece of cake. After learning about the effects of sugar and seeing its negative consequences on my body, I realized this habit needed to stop. I want to use this article to help you keep your blood sugar level in check while still enjoying food while preventing future chronic diseases.
If you have ever done some research on carbohydrates or nutrition in general, you have probably heard the term ‘glycemic index’ (GI). Essentially, each food item is given a rating based on its effect on your blood sugar. A food with a high glycemic index (GI) number will spike your blood sugar more than one with a low glycemic index However, this measure does not consider portion sizes so the glycemic load (GL) was created. It accounts for a food’s glycemic index and the portion size, creating a more accurate rating. In both cases, you want to aim for foods with lower number ratings, as these will not raise your blood sugar as much, keeping your energy up longer and reduces the risk of crashing later.
With all this information in mind, how the heck can we satisfy our sweet tooth? As I mentioned above, I have struggled with this in the past, but have come up with several healthy snacks to indulge in, that satisfy both my mind and my body.
- 2-3 squares of dark chocolate or 1 tablespoon of dark chocolate chips
- A piece of fruit such as an apple or an orange
- 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries
- Homemade fruit crisp or pie
- Chia seed pudding (see recipe below!)
The options are endless! Like I said before, I want something sweet after every meal so I always have berries with my breakfast, and after lunch and dinner I’ll have several dark chocolate chips, generally with a cup of tea. This way I am satisfied and not feeling guilty about overeating caloric, sugary desserts every day (that doesn’t mean I don’t indulge every now and then J).
So why are we monitoring our blood sugar and lowering our sugar consumption? Sugar has been linked to numerous chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Not to mention, excess sugar intake combined with poor dental hygiene can cause tooth decay. Eating too much sugar has shown to overload the liver, turning the excess carbohydrates into fat which can lead to fatty liver disease and obesity, contributing to diabetes and heart disease. Consuming a surplus of sugar also raises one’s blood pressure and causes inflammation. These are both contributors to a multitude of chronic diseases as well. Those who eat excess sugar are also more likely to eat other foods that contribute to the above listed health issues. This is not to say you need to cut out all sugar, just make sure you are staying with the daily recommended values of about 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women.
In the past few decades, producers have snuck sugar into anything they can. It makes their products taste better and increases sales. Unfortunately, this means these products are higher in calories (sugar is 4 calories/gram!) and often paired with other unhealthy ingredients. And it’s not just in sweet treats, pick up any processed food or frozen dinner and I’m almost sure you will find sugar in the ingredients list. To make it easier to discern the many forms sugar takes in food products, look out for these uncommon words on the packaging, as this means there is sugar hiding in the product!
- corn syrup
- corn syrup solids
- high fructose corn syrup
- invert sugar
- cane juice
I hope you use this information to reflect on your sugar consumption and possibly make some lifestyle changes to reduce your chronic disease risk and make you feel healthier and happier. And as promised, here is a recipe for simple chia seed pudding adapted from minimalisticbaker.com.
CHIA SEED PUDDING [2 servings]
- ¾ cup milk (I use almond milk)
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- 2 tsp maple syrup
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- fruit or fruit compote as desired
In a mixing bowl, whisk the milk, chia seeds, maple syrup, and vanilla extract together. Cover and refrigerate 6 hours to overnight. The mixture should be thick and creamy. If it is not the desired consistency, add some more chia seeds and return the fridge for about an hour. Put in serving bowl, add fruit and enjoy!
By Grace Stott, UVAC Member and Guest Blogger