Is Sugar Hiding in Your Diet?

April 24, 2012 at 15:36

Little Miss Sicky Poo

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We’ve all heard it before on the news, in magazines and from our doctors.  Sugar is bad for your health.  But do we really understand the extent of this statement?  When I have conversations with people about avoiding sugar, I’m often met with the assumption that cutting out the occasional soda or piece of cake is enough.  While that’s certainly a start, there are a number of places that sugar can sneak into your diet and sabotage your health.  There are so many misconceptions of what classifies as sugar and how sugar is consumed.  Sadly, many Americans are suffering the consequences of these misconceptions through obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Did you know that the single largest source of calories for the average American comes from sugar? The graph below shows sugar consumption trends over the past 300 years:

That’s some staggering data right there.  And this information only covers the obvious sugars such as high fructose and corn syrup.  It doesn’t even take into consideration the SAD recommendations which are based primarily on grains.  More on that in a moment…

It shouldn’t be any surprise that obesity rates have risen right alongside our increase in sugar consumption over the years.  The two go hand in hand.  With that increase in obesity comes an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and even some types of cancer.  These health problems have become epidemics because of the way we eat as a modern society.

Sugar in the Foods we Eat
You will find sugar in almost every prepackaged and processed food.  It is in soda, juice, conventional sport drinks, pretzels, sauces, cheese spreads and even baby formula and the list go on and on.  But there are other types of “sugar” that we are consuming that add to these risks.  These are the types of foods like bread, pasta and starchy vegetables like potatoes.  They are the basis of the Standard American Diet.  And by recommendation, Americans are consuming more grain based and starchy food than any other food group.  The truth is that when these foods are introduced to your body, they are broken down and immediately turned into sugar.  To your body, there is no difference at all.  It perceives a piece of bread the same way as it does a glass of lemonade with sugar.  So basically, even if a person is eating a “low-sugar” diet, they could be consuming overwhelming amounts of sugar just by eating a diet high in whole grains!  Thanks SAD!

Natural Sugars
In general, it is best to limit your sugar intake as much as possible and this includes natural sugars as well.  I think the biggest mistake that people make when they are starting a primal/paleo diet is eating too much fruit or natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup.  Although these are naturally occurring and carry health benefits, you cannot get around the fact that they are still introduced to the body as sugar.  Moderation is key when talking about natural sugars.

Avoid the Vicious Cycle
The more sugar you have, the more your body craves.  Sugar has an opiate effect that is quite literally addictive.  This is what makes most of us crave cookies, cakes and chocolate.  When we eat large doses of sugar we get a high from it and feel good temporarily, but then comes the crash which leaves us tired, lethargic and sometimes grouchy.  For some people, the symptoms of a sugar crash can be much worse, including shakiness and nausea.  Before my husband went primal he had terrible problems with these things.  The discomfort that he experienced was similar to withdrawal symptoms.  I typically suffered headaches and fatigue which really wasn’t much more fun.  Looking back on it, it’s easier for us to see how sick sugar was making us, no matter what form it was being consumed in.

Don’t get me wrong, I still eat fruit and enjoy honey, dates and the occasional piece of dark chocolate here and there.  I even like a glass of wine or two depending on how loudly my children are screaming.  But I look at it more as a treat instead of the norm.  When you do this, I think you appreciate those moments a lot more.  Also, cravings minimize when you aren’t indulging so frequently.  After all, the primal lifestyle is not about restrictions and denial but about wanting to give your body exactly what it needs in order to obtain optimal health.  Kicking an addiction is never a fun ride, but the when you reach the other side, you’re feeling pretty good.

 

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