Sugar, Sugar Everywhere
As I spoke about in my previous entry, there’s sugar in nearly all processed food. I’m not certain as to WHY you’d want pork rinds with sugar, or high fructose corn syrup in your ranch dressing, but it’s there. In fact, sugar is so ubiquitous that most basic recipes of food WITHOUT sugar are considered “specialty foods”.
Really? I have to go out of my way to find and spend more on something that doesn’t have sugar, when it shouldn’t have sugar to begin with? How can you justify charging me more to leave something out?
Ok, rant over. Because this sugar is in processed foods pretty universally, I hope that it’s becoming clearer why it’s so common for people to exceed – by a large amount – a healthy amount of added glucose in their diet. When measurable blood sugar comes from anything with carbohydrate, you need to pay attention to more than just “sugar” on a nutritional label, because for the most part, your body doesn’t care where the carbs come from. With that in mind, a little numeric guide:
Carb Levels and Expected Outcomes:
151 or more grams a day: This is where most people start to slowly gain weight. Significantly more than 151 grams a day and you might find the weight gain isn’t even that slow!
100-150g/day: This is a great amount of daily carbs for someone who is at or near their ideal weight, is active, and/or who doesn’t have much to worry about in terms of metabolic dysfunction. A person with this level of daily carb intake could probably eat whatever vegetables they wanted to, fruit, dairy, and a reasonable amount of oats, quinoa, beans, or other starches. You could even lose weight with this amount of carb intake, but you’d need to focus more on energy balance (calories in vs calories out), and keep a daily deficit. It is possible, though!
50-100g/day: Carb restriction at this level will make weight loss fairly easy, and eventually your body will enter ketosis, the state of burning fat for fuel instead of sugar. Eating this level of carbs for a prolonged period will provide better insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and a host of other positive effects. You likely wouldn’t be able to eat processed sugar at all in order to keep this level of carb intake, or at least very sparingly, but you’d be able to indulge in fruits periodically and nearly any non-starchy vegetables (and occasional sweet potatoes). Virtually no grain here, though.
25-5og/day: This is a more traditionally ketogenic level of carb restriction. Mostly meat, leafy vegetables, eggs, some dairy (hard cheeses, for instance) nuts, seeds, and fats. Keeping your carb intake to this level will make weight loss truly easy, as a constant state of ketosis will provide mental clarity, appetite reduction, blood sugar stability (further preventing extreme swings in hunger and energy levels) and shedding of excess body water.
While I practice and advocate a ketogenic lifestyle (I keep my carbs around 30g a day most days), you can still achieve results and get healthy eating more, as long as you keep it somewhere around 100 or less, assuming you still actively need to lose body fat for health. You could go higher if you’re active and already fit. The key is cutting out all the added sugar, and then reducing from there. White bread isn’t your friend. Pasta (sorry nonna) isn’t your friend. Sugar definitely isn’t your friend, nor are any of it’s differently-named-but-still-the-same friends.
With that in mind, it should be time to start looking at alternatives to your current way of eating. You can simply strip out the sugar but following a meal plan and a specific way of eating that has traction and a community will help you quite a bit in both knowing what to eat, how to eat, and staying on track. I have listed a few great eating disciplines below, a few of which I followed or follow myself, but of course you can adapt any desired way of eating to a lower sugar principle. These are by no means the only ways to improve your diet, but the overall inter-related practice of cutting down processed food and sugar are the key to healthy eating for the rest of your life.
There’s a LOT out there about this way of eating, but the intent is taking you back to cooking at home, using whole ingredients and cutting out processed sugar. Pinterest is FULL of recipes dedicated to this lifestyle, and it’s pretty easy to stick to. The focus is on eating healthy, whole, self-prepared foods, rather than on tracking calories and macros. Like a lot of the other examples I will provide, this relies on your hunger self-regulating as your blood sugar evens out when you’re not bombarding it with glucose constantly. In addition, removing processed flavors and certain other chemical additives will help you eat less as your cravings for certain foods (McDonald’s fries, for instance) will diminish or extinguish without the input of the addictive substances added to them. Whole30 is so-named because it is initially a challenge of sorts; eat like this for 30 days, with no cheats, no slips, nothing. After a few weeks, it definitely becomes easier.
Like Whole30, paleo or primal eating focuses on whole foods. The divergence however is that primal focuses on WHOLE foods entirely – no breads, not even homemade ones. It also is a little fast and loose with “added sugar”. A lot of paleo recipes I see use honey and agave nectar because they’re “natural” but honestly they’re still sugar. That said, paleo emphasizes healthy proteins, vegetables, fruits, and no grains. Lots of eggs, nuts, and very little dairy, so if you’re a cheese fan, this might not be the way of eating for you, or at least not in its strictest form.
The low carb diet that started me down this path, Atkins is pretty simple: keep your carbs under 25g a day, and you’ll lose weight. This is pretty spot-on, because when your carb intake is that low, your body stops craving food. High levels of insulin, driven by out-of-control sugar intake, cause extreme swings of hunger and mood, but without those insulin levels – and the resulting increased levels of leptin – your hunger is quelled. Atkins is great because it’s simple – the only variable you really track is carb intake. That said, it can stall you if you just eat and eat and eat and never heed energy balance (calories in vs calories out). The various Atkins diet products are rough, too, as they’re technically “sugar free”, but they use maltitol as a non-sugar sweetener, which has a pretty high glycemic impact.
Keto/Low Carb High Fat
This is the diet I personally follow. I keep my carbs low, only getting them from dairy or non-starchy vegetables for the most part. I aim for at least 100g of protein a day on sedentary days, and more on days I lift weights, and I eat fat when I’m hungry. Ketogenic eating has the benefit of keeping blood sugar stable, allowing for a natural reduction in hunger and calorie intake. In addition, because fat and protein are so filling and slow to digest, keto provides another layer of hunger reduction through the main foods you’ll be eating.