Sugar By Any Other Name…

Glucose.

It’s the basic form of energy we need to survive. Every cell and every process in our body is fueled by glucose. This simple monosaccharide (read: sugar) is what every carbohydrate we eat breaks down into.

Carbohydrate: Anything that comes from a plant. Lettuce is a carb. So is wheat flour. So is table sugar. So are oranges.

Every time we eat carbs, our body breaks them down into their simplest base molecule, glucose, and uses it for energy. (Or stores it as fat, if we eat more than we need. Remember, fat doesn’t make you fat–SUGAR makes you fat!).

I get asked a lot what the “healthiest” form of sugar is to eat.

Guess what? Sugar is sugar is sugar. No matter whether it’s honey, maple syrup, orange juice, or the white stuff in the sugar bowl, your body does the same thing with it. (Except for one key exception, which I’ll talk more about below, read on!) Sugar gets broken down and used for energy, and/or stored as fat.  (Sugar also is being shown to be a highly addictive substance, and to cause significant and damaging inflammation down to the cellular level in the body. It causes serious adrenal issues, leads to diabetic conditions, and feeds cancer cells. Added sugar should be kept to an absolute minimum in the diet.)

Bummer, right?

There are a few sweeteners that, while still reduced to glucose after all is said and done, will provide you with minerals, anti-oxidants, and phytonutrients. These should definitely be used very sparingly, in an effort to keep added sugar out of the diet. But for an occasional treat, consider:

  • Unsulfured blackstrap molasses:  The final by-product of the sugar refining process, this nutrient-dense sweetener is low in sugar and high in minerals and other nutrients. It contains lots of B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
  • Coconut sugar comes from coconut flower sap. It doesn’t rapidly spike your blood sugar, and also contains lots of B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, iron, and potassium.
  • 100% pure maple syrup, the darkest you can find (grade B or C). Minimally processed, high in minerals.
  • Dates: dried, wholesome, delicious dates are full of minerals and fiber. Dates can be soaked in water to rehydrate, then blended into a paste that can be used in baked goods. I like to throw whole dates into my smoothie.

Remember above, when I said there’s one form of sugar that doesn’t get processed the same in your body? Agave nectar has become very popular as a “raw and natural” sweetener. The problem is, agave is highly processed, and is chemically almost the same as high fructose corn syrup. Agave is a minimum of 55% fructose. Fructose doesn’t break down the same way as other sugars, and its processing puts a big strain on your liver. High consumption of fructose can lead to weight gain and fatty liver disease, among other things. Agave nectar is found in a variety of supposedly “healthy” food products, but really should be entirely avoided.

I do want to mention that the sugar that is naturally found in whole foods like fruits, veggies, and dairy products act a bit differently in your body. The fiber, protein, and fat that is naturally contained in those foods acts as a buffer to slow down the absorption of the sugars into your bloodstream. This reduces blood sugar spikes and the adrenal stress that goes along with it. Fruit, for example, contains fructose, but also vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and fiber, in an unprocessed package. As long as you are eating a balanced diet of about 40% carbs/30% protein/30% fat, the natural sugars you’re eating will fuel you in a healthy way. ADDED sugars and sweeteners are the bad guys we’re trying to avoid.

How to Undo When you Overdo

I’m not going to be another one of those experts telling you about all the ways to make healthy choices at the holidays. Cut your wine with seltzer. Fill up on shrimp cocktail and baby carrots. Cover half your plate in veggies. Save your calories for your favorite items and pass on the others.

Ok well, actually, that’s all really good advice.

But let’s be honest. There’s a pretty darn good chance that you are going to overdo it at some point this holiday season–if you haven’t already! You’ll drink too much. You’ll keep eating even though you’re full. You’ll have some of every dessert offered. You’ll eat pie for breakfast. So, here are some ideas on how you can undo some of the damage and start to feel better, fast.

Imbibed a bit too much? Alcohol increases urination and dehydration, taking lots of electrolytes with it. Before bed, drink coconut water to try to replenish some of those electrolytes. In the morning, continue the coconut water, eat some eggs for the important minerals and amino acids found in the yolks, and drink some bone broth or homemade chicken soup for the healing minerals and soothing collagen. Avoid taking Tylenol or Advil, as these will further stress your liver. Black coffee can help with headaches by fighting blood vessel constriction.

Tummy not happy?  Gastritis is the fancy term for an upset stomach, with symptoms such as pain, nausea, burning, belching, and heartburn . One of the best cures for gastritis is a supplement called DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). DGL acts as a demulcent, which means it coats and soothes the lining of the stomach. A couple of tablets chewed up can really bring relief. DGL is widely available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other natural foods markets.

Stuck in a cycle of poor choices? Pie for breakfast. Donuts for a snack. Fudge just because. Cookies cookies cookies. You’re eating this stuff every day and feeling worse and worse. One of the best ways to gird yourself is to start your day with a healthy, filling breakfast. Start there, and see if you’re not inspired to make better choices later in the day. Focus on getting lots of protein and fats: eggs, healthy meats, cheese, plain whole fat yogurt, berries, sauteed plantains with coconut oil.

Bloated like Santa’s belly? Water water water!  Dehydration, which will occur when we are eating poor food and drinking lots of alcohol, will cause the body to retain water. Increasing your water intake will flush that retention out, and help you beat the bloat. It sounds counterintuitive, but drink water to make the body excrete water.

Here’s wishing you a holiday season filled with good choices. But just in case, now you know what to do!

Why Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

If you’re like me, you grew up hearing the message that eating fat would make you fat. Low fat eating was the only way to go. We cooked out of the American Heart Association’s low fat cookbook, we ate Snackwells fat-free cookies, and butter might as well have been arsenic. Americans ate that way for decades. And guess what? As a nation, we got sicker and fatter.

Fat is an absolutely essential ingredient for life. Just some of the many roles our dietary fats play in our bodies include:

  • Fats make up the membrane of every cell in our body. The health of that membrane is critical to every process every cell needs to do, whether it’s excreting toxins, taking in nutrients, or making a muscle contract.
  • Fats are critical for the absorption of many of the vitamins we eat. Without fat, those vitamins (A, D, E and K, specifically) cannot be utilized and are just excreted after eating.
  • Fats play a vital role in fighting inflammation and promoting healing.
  • Fats are critical to the creation of hormones, including those all-important sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
  • Fats make you feel satiated, make your food taste good, and allow you to eat less food and feel fuller, longer.

Our bodies are meant to run on fat, as it provides us with the best long-burning source of energy. Unfortunately, most of us are fueling our bodies with carbohydrates/sugars. (Note: carbs are anything that comes from a plant, which includes sugar and grains and fruits. Every carb we eat is eventually broken down into its simplest sugar form, glucose.)

Every time you eat carbohydrate-heavy foods, it sets off a cascade of hormones in your body, as the body tries to process all that glucose and store it away for use. The problem is, our bodies become so hyper-sensitive to the nonstop flood of sugar most of us are eating, that our hormones overreact and do too good of a job processing the glucose. As a result, our blood sugar levels plummet (you know that crash you feel an hour after you eat a giant plate of pasta? Yeah. That.), and we are left craving more sugar or stimulants such as caffeine to try to get our energy back up. Low-fat high-carb eating sets off a chain of events that can lead to hypoglycemia, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and even type II diabetes. Our bodies can only handle so much sugar bombardment.

Beyond that blood sugar roller coaster though, the fact is our cells can only store away some of that processed glucose. Once our cellular and liver storage is full, but we continue eating more carbs, that processed glucose gets stored away as fat. There’s just nowhere else for it to go. Body fat. Belly fat. Fat. Sugar makes you fat.

When we eat meals that contain a good portion of fat, a few things happen. First, we feel full, happy, satisfied. We eat less. And we can go longer without wanting to eat again, because we’ve given our body long-burning fuel. Our cravings are reduced. Fat also slows the absorption of carbohydrates, so any sugars you have eaten will be much less likely to spike your blood sugar. And at the cellular level, we are building strong bodies, tissues, and cells.

Low-fat eating is a certain route to cravings, blood sugar issues, sleep disturbances, and even more severe disease. Give your body what it needs, and include some healthy fats every time you eat.