Valentine’s Day may be over, but it sure seems like every time we turn around, there’s another celebratory occasion on the horizon, or a chance to indulge in a wealth of rich foods—sweets, in particular. Noting all the chocolate and candy hearts lining the grocery shelves, it got me thinking about the constant bombardment of these “goodies.” So before the next holiday rolls around, I’ve decided to share with you the “skinny on sugar.”
To set the record straight, know that our bodies need sugar. Specifically we’ve got to have glucose and carbohydrates, namely “complex carbohydrates,” which take longer to absorb into our bloodstream. These are found in food like whole grains, legumes, fruit, and vegetables, and getting ample complex carbohydrates and maintaining a balanced glucose level in the blood are essential for survival.
In terms of glucose, too little, too much—or scenarios in which there are erratic, fluctuating high-and-low glucose levels—are all problematic for our bodies. For example, diabetes develops when people have lost their ability to regulate their blood sugar (glucose levels) by not producing insulin (Type I) or by insulin resistance (Type II), or by both. Also, cancer cells literally feed off glucose. In fact, they even alter themselves to grab as much glucose from the blood supply as possible, virtually starving the body of this form of sugar in an effort to grow even more cancer cells. People with cancer or diabetes may then crave more sugary or high-carb foods, fueling the illness in their consumption.
When it comes to sugar, it’s best to consume the right kinds in their most natural state and through a conscientious, balanced approach. Just like Goldilocks, we want glucose “just right.” In fact, because the brain has no fuel storage yet consumes 60 percent of all the body’s glucose in a resting state, it consistently needs healthy, balanced levels of this sugar in the bloodstream.
Maintaining this balance won’t just boost your odds of more vibrant health but also enable you to function better on a daily basis. However, when out of whack, that balance leads to foggy thinking, headaches, anxiety, irritability, and sluggishness. People often experience these symptoms in the afternoons during that classic “energy crash.” From what are they crashing? A morning filled with caffeine and refined foods filled with “simple sugars” (cane sugar, glucose, honey, syrups, agave, high fructose corn syrup, etc.). The energy crash is likely a sugar crash.
If you commonly experience those classic sugar crashes or just want to cut back on sugars that tend to harm versus help your health, here are a few suggestions:
- Avoid buying sugar that comes in a box, a bag, a wrapper, or package of any sort. These sugars, which will be absorbed super quickly will leave your body craving more. The faster and more you meet that craving, the more likely it will build up and be stored as FAT.
- Don’t drink soda pop or diet soda—and even fruit juices.
- Choose foods without high fructose corn syrup, agave, or brown rice syrup.
- Make your own treats in which you have control over which sweeteners you use.
- Read labels to get a better grasp of just how much sugar goes into the countless products on today’s grocery shelves. Set goals to reduce your sugar load.
No doubt, holidays and other special events in our lives present opportunities to overindulge on cookies, chocolate, cakes, and more. Such splurging happens. But you want splurging to be just that—a once-in-a-while sort of event. Indulging in a decadent dessert because it’s your birthday or old friends are in town is one thing. Satiating a sweet tooth because you’ve had yet another hard day is another. So be honest, mindful and purposeful about when and how you will do it. For example, fill up on a nutritious meal before eating sweets, choosing healthier options like chocolate-covered almonds or dates rolled in nuts and coconut. And when you do dive into your indulgence, enjoy it! Because you’ve made it something meaningful and unique versus an everyday eating affair, you can give yourself permission to literally savor the sweetness of the moment.