6 Myths About Sugar and Carbs
Are our heads full of sugar-coated myths? Are some carbs and sugars really better than others, or are they all a fast-track to an ever-increasing waistline?
It’s a surprisingly sticky tale that can wreck your health: I need this chocolate bar for energy … I won’t be full without that third serving of roast potatoes … It’s ok, maple syrup is much healthier than sugar. If you’re struggling to cut back on the amount of sugar or carbs in your daily diet, now’s the time to separate the facts from the myths.
With World Diabetes Day just round the corner, thoughts will turn to the foods we choose to eat, the carbohydrates on our plates and the amount of sugar we tuck into every day. Yes, the threat of expanding waistlines, rotten teeth and increased diabetes risk is always looming, yet somehow we never quite get round to cutting back on the white stuff. There always seems to be a good reason to eat a little bit more, and our consumption of sugary foods and excess carbs is sky-rocketing like never before! Does this sound familiar?
So what should you do if you’ve decided that this time you’re REALLY going to cut down? I think you could start by looking at 6 common myths which can stick in your mind and scupper your plans to finally cut back on the carbs and ditch the sweet stuff.
MYTH 1 ‘Complex’ carbs like rice and pasta take longer to digest than ‘simple’ carbs like sugar
Actually, this way of thinking about carbs is quite old-school, particularly since we now know that so called ‘complex’ starchy carbs contain a mix of sugars which are digested at different rates.
Let’s break it down a little and start with a simple diagram to explain the riddle of why all sugars are carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are sugar. (You’ll quickly see that the 5 smaller sized carbs – the mono-saccharides and di-saccharides – are sugars, whereas the 2 larger sized carbs – also known as poly-saccharides – are actually starches).
Ok, now you know your carb contenders let’s take a look at some ‘complex’ carb foods – potatoes, rice and beans for example. They all contain starch – Remember? The big carbs on the right? However, while some potatoes contain 100% amylopectin/0% amylose, rice has approx 76% amylopectin/24% amylose, and beans have roughly 65% amylopectin/35% amylose. Amylopectin is digested very rapidly, which means the potato naturally has more available sugar to release than the rice and beans.
Could you guess this just by looking at them? Unfortunately not, but one way to take these differences into account is by checking out a food’s GL. (For the data hungry, these foods come in at 16 (new potato), 13 (brown basmati rice) and 7 (kidney beans) on the GL scale.)
FACT 1: Carbohydrate foods contain a mixture and varied quantity of individual sugars and starches. Since these are all digested and absorbed at different rates, it’s better to forget about the idea of ‘complex carbs’ and ‘simple sugars’ and focus on a food’s GL.
MYTH 2 Drinking fruit juice is as good as eating a piece of fruit
GL (Glycaemic Load) is a quick way to tell how much impact a serving of carbs will have on your blood glucose and insulin levels. The higher the GL, the bigger the impact, which is why some foods can leave you feeling wired, shaky and desperate for more. Fibre helps lower a food’s GL, and as you know a whole piece of fruit contains more fibre than the juice.
FACT 2: Whole fruit has more fibre and a lower GL than the fresh juice. Serving for serving juice releases much more sugar and has a greater impact on your blood glucose, insulin and energy levels. It’s far better to eat a piece of whole fruit and to drink juices in moderation.
MYTH 3 You must eat plenty of carbs to have enough energy
True – all carbs are digested into glucose, an important fuel which supplies energy to every cell in your body, and especially your brain. But fats in our diet also provide fuel, which burns slow and steady compared to the ‘quick’ energy released from glucose.
FACT3: Combining healthy oils (coconut, avocado, flax, olive and organic butter from grass-fed cows) with high-fibre / lower-GL carbs will give you sustained energy throughout the day.
MYTH 4 Eating loads of fruit is the best way to get your 5-a-day
When compared to vegetables, most fruit has way more glucose and fructose per serving. These two types of sweet carb have a huge impact on insulin levels, hunger signals and your long-term health.
FACT 4: It’s better to eat more greens to reach your 5-a-day. Aim to choose low fructose fresh fruit (did you know blueberries, cherries, apples, mango and grapes are all rather high in fructose?) and try not to overdo it – a portion of fruit is only what you can fit in your hand.
MYTH 5 Agave, coconut nectar and honey are better than sugar
A lot of these alternatives are marketed as ‘healthy options’ because they’re low GL. They might not have lots of glucose, but what about fructose? Well, something must be making them sweet! Unfortunately, high fructose diets generate more AGEs (scientifically known as advanced glycation endproducts), a type of randomly produced, unwanted molecule which builds up in your cells, cause loads of damage and, literally, age you.
FACT 5: Low-GL sweeteners may still have lots of fructose, which means in the long-term they’re not so great for your health. As with sugar, you need to eat them in moderation. My advice is to cut back on these wherever possible.
MYTH 6 You can’t live without sugar
YES YOU CAN!!! Your waistline, skin, mood, digestion and energy levels will thank you for it too. Unlike protein and fat, we don’t have to eat carbs to survive – remember there are essential amino acids and essential fatty acids that we need to get from our food, but no essential carbohydrates. Similarly, we don’t need barrel loads of added sugar, artificial sweeteners and sugar alternatives in our diet. Humans are hardwired to seek out sugar – to use as fuel and help store fat in times when food is scarce, but honestly, how often does that happen to you?
FACT 6: So you’ve decided to cut back on sugar and carbs. (Those with pre-diabetes may even want to look into ketogenic diets). Yes, it will take time, will-power and a bit of trial and error until you find the foods that keep your sugar-cravings at bay, and your energy levels perfectly balanced. But once you’ve cracked it you can look forward to having better skin, better teeth, better digestion, fewer aches and pains, and bags more energy. Yippee!!
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Over to you
Do you ever worry that you’re addicted to sugar? Or have you found a way to cut back on carbs and find a happy balance between sugar and your health? Did you adapt any recipes so you can still have the occasional ‘treat’?
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Until next time,