Sugar is almost impossible to avoid. It's in everything from fruit to yogurt to salad dressings. But there is a distinction to be made between the two forms sugar comes in. It's either naturally-occuring sugar, such as in fruits, starchy veggies, grains, and beans, or refined/added sugar which is hidden in the majority of packaged food products - juice, sports drinks, yogurt, cereal, salad dressings, etc.
Natural sugars occur in foods which have additional nutritional benefits. For example, an apple has plenty of fiber and vitamins to go along with it's fructose content. All these nutrients slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream to provide longer lasting energy and fuel to the body.
Processed/refined sugars, on the other hand, - like what is added to sports drinks and breakfast cereals - have no other nutrients. These sugary snacks and drinks raise blood sugar quickly, which triggers your pancreas to release a flood of insulin, a hormone you can think of as your "fat cell fertilizer" (term coined by Dr. David Ludwig) because it instructs your body to store calories as fat, causing fat cells to increase in number and size.
Not a good situation....but it gets worse....
Processed carbs and added sugars program your fat cells to grow, and that - in turn - makes you overeat! Why? Because when insulin ushers calories into your fat cells, it closes the door so they can't get out. With calories trapped in your fat cells, there is too little glucose and two few lipids (aka fats) circulating in the bloodstream to fuel your body. Your brain, sensing the calorie shortage, prompts you to feel hungry and slows down your metabolism. So you eat more and move less. A double whammy when it comes to weight management!!
What to do: minimize or avoid simple carbs and added sugars.
The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake come from added refined sugars. I'd actually say 5%.
To minimize/eliminate added sugars from your diet, it is super important to read Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods. When you look at the amount of sugar, know that 4 grams = 1 teaspoon. So if that "healthy", gluten-free, paleo, vegan, low calorie granola bar you are holding says "16 grams" of sugar, that's 4 teaspoons in just one little snack. Put it back!
Be sure to read the ingredients list on the label as well. Ingredients are listed by weight so the ingredient there is the most of will be listed first in the panel. If processed sugar is there in the top few ingredients, you know you're getting a ton of added sugar. Note that sugar has many aliases, including dextrose, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, and many others. A good rule of thumb is that if you don't recognize / can't pronounce one, or some, of the ingredients in the panel, don't buy it.
Get your natural sugars from fruits, starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, and carrots, gluten free whole grains like rice and quinoa, and beans and legumes. These whole foods will provide you with tons of nutrients along with sweetness so you feel full and sugar-satiated without the insulin spike and subsequent cravings for more.
If you suspect you are addicted to sugar (no shame! studies say sugar is addictive as cocaine), reach out about my 8-week sugar detox!