Sugar. Friend or Foe?
The answer depends on what on how much is appropriate for you and your body. As unique as you are as an individual, so are your calorie and nutrient needs. What may be too much for one person is not enough for another. So, when deciding on an eating pattern for yourself, take into consideration on how many items you eat on a daily or weekly basis that contain sugar, if it is negatively affecting you, or if you truly need it. or you just want it.
For the purposes of this article, I will use the term “sugar” to include sugar’s raw form or sugary foods in which sugar has been processed or added as an ingredient.
Let’s take a quick look at the good side of sugar. It’s a quick energy source; an immediate supplement to increase or sustain energy, such as during an endurance event for athletes, or a long hike, run, swim, or bike ride for recreational enthusiasts. It is a sweet, baking additive for our favorite treats and desserts, and it is added to many foods to enhance flavor. And, for people having a hypoglycemic emergency, a small amount under the right circumstances, can save their life.
Now for the downside. Many studies have shown time and again, that too much sugar and sugary foods can cause or worsen any or all of a long list of negative physical and mental conditions. Some of these include: diabetes, cancer, erectile dysfunction, joint pain and arthritis, carbohydrate tolerance, high fat gain1, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, many food manufacturers add sugar or its derivatives. Here is a list of common (but not complete) sugar derivatives:
What can you do to decrease your sugar intake? My suggestion is to take it one step at a time. Start with small, manageable changes to your eating patterns. For example, avoid having three cookies for dessert, and maybe just have one; or try using a sweetener instead of sugar in your coffee, or simply just eat less of the sugary items.
Read the labels of foods and look for sugar or any of the aforementioned sugar derivatives in the ingredients. A good rule of thumb is to look for 5g or less per 100g of food to consider it a “low sugar” item. But, closer to zero is your best bet. You’d be surprised at how many common foods contain added sugar and how much! And, be careful about products that make health claims such as low sugar, or heart healthy. Read the labels of these foods especially. They may only be lower than the previous version of their product but may still be too high for you!
These are just examples, but imagine if you ate any of these on a daily basis or even multiple times a day!
When baking with recipes that call for sugar, do an internet search for sugar substitutes. You might be pleasantly surprised at how good your dish comes out. Not to mention you will be eating healthier!
For sugar to have little to no negative effect on your health, consume sugar or sugary drinks during or after your workout or bout of high intensity exercise. That doesn’t mean to do it all the time. It just means you don’t have to feel as guilty about it because it gets burned up from your body’s temporarily increased metabolism.
A note should be taken here. People who have higher than healthy body fat percentages, or who don’t tolerate carbohydrates well, or are “pear-” or “apple-shaped” and/or want to lose fat, don’t need sugary exercise drinks, or supplements during or post workout.
To summarize, when, how much, and how often to eat sugar, is dependent on your body’s needs, goals, and existing health. A healthy relationship with food is key. Don’t deny yourself the enjoyment of life; family gatherings, celebrations, etc. But, know your body, and be present when it comes to your food and drink intake. You don’t need to give up everything, just slow down, and know when to say when.
Christian Luera is a Master Trainer/Group Exercise Instructor at the PJCC. He has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is a NSCA-certified Personal Trainer. Additionally, he is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach and a Human Kinetics Certified Lifestyle and Wellness Coach. Read Christian Luera’s full PJCC trainer bio here.
1 Berardi, J., Andrews, R. (2012) The essentials of sport and exercise nutrition. Second edition. Precision Nutrition, Inc.