You will be surprised to know that you do not have to eat 3 chocolate bars to overdo it. The boring old medium sized potato (156g); be it baked, mashed or fried (ugh!) contains 2.7 grams of sugar which equals to a little under a teaspoon. Stats Canada did a study and found that the average Canadian eats 26 teaspoons or 40 grams of sugar a day which represents 160 calories.
You may say to yourself “Oh I do not eat a lot of sugar”, but trust me sugar is sneaky and you do not have to be eating tons of candy for it to add up. I know all this information sounds dismal and you may ﬁnd it overwhelming, especially if you are trying to be healthy. But there is light at the end of the tunnel! It’s just a question of understanding what sugar really is, where it is found, and exactly what it does to your body, so that you can make informed decisions to support a healthier lifestyle.
In order to understand sugars, break it down into carbohydrates for a clear picture. And when talking about carbs, I am sure you have heard about “good carbs v.s bad carbs”. Unfortunately carbs have gotten a bad rap in the past few years and have been touted as the feared food to avoid when watching your weight. Many of us think of carbs as the sticky sweet donut, or pasta and white bread, but in fact there are carbs found in our daily diet that are not necessarily as tasty like the above mentioned.
Our bodies break down “good or bad” carbs by breaking them down into glucose which is the sugar we use for energy. Carbohydrates can be split into 2 categories: complex “good or unreﬁned”, and simple “bad or reﬁned.” The complex carbs such as veggies, whole grains and beans are better for many reasons - one being your body takes longer to digest them, and subsequently your blood sugar levels won’t spike.
For the most part you want your sugar levels to be stable and not spike, since ﬁxed sugar levels means stable energy levels. Did you know that if you experience a sugar high, you will then certainly experience a sugar low, which will make you feel tired, cranky, and crave more food. Another reason why complex carbs are good for you is because they are full of vitamins, proteins, ﬁber, and minerals, ensuring you are not getting empty calories when you eat these guys.
What is glucose, the pancreas and insulin, and how do they work? As previously mentioned glucose is the sugar your body uses for energy. After eating, glucose goes into your bloodstream and then your pancreas works to release insulin. Insulin is the hormone that controls your metabolism. Insulin does many things but primarily it controls and sends glucose to your cells for fuel (a modern day reference is kinda like the pizza delivery person). If the cell is already full then the insulin sends the extra glucose to be stored as fat. So if you are eating a diet that is high in reﬁned or bad carbs, your pancreas has to work over time to produce extra insulin which is just not healthy. If this is done on a regular basis you may build up an insulin resistance which ultimately makes the body less eﬀective at regulating blood sugars. Another down side to having insulin resistance is that your body is not as eﬀective in using stored fat, so then losing weight becomes harder.
How can we make better choices when eating carbs? In order to make better choices we must understand the glycemic index (GI), which is the measure of how high and how fast a particular carb raises your blood sugar level. The GI scale works from 0-100, with the highest number being the highest on the glycemic scale; for example a regular donut could have a GI as high as 80, or just plain sugar would be 100.
Foods that have high GI numbers tend to be reﬁned or simple carbs. Foods with lower GI numbers are for the most part complex carbs or unreﬁned. It is the amount ﬁber in the foods that inﬂuence if the GI is high or low. Fiber slows down the digestion of sugars, so ultimately slowing the glucose entering the blood stream, and therefore promoting stable sugar levels. This link that will give you a better understanding of which food intake you could increase in your diet to stabilize your sugar levels.
Keep in mind that 50-60 are good choices. Using the GI scale can help you make better informed food choices. If you maintain to a healthy diet with low G.I choices you are less likely to develop diabetes. Let’s face it, sugar is a part of our lives, but just keeping its consumption in moderation and having only an occasional treat (cookies, muﬃns, white bread) will help you stay healthy and happy a lot longer.
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