Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sugar: Eliminate, Cut Back or Load up? (OK, not that last one.)

The fact that in the U.S., individuals eat way too much sugar is well-documented, and we know that because sugar’s ill effects on the body have been well researched. Sugar is not only high in calories, the calories are really just plain useless, once the initial “ohmygodthatwassogood” moment passes. Once sugar is down the hatch, the body begins breaking it down—into glucose and fructose. And it’s not the good “breaking it down” like I do in the studio; it’s some heavy lifting for the pancreas, liver and other organs. Eat a handful of processed sugar multiple times a day and you are really stressing out your organs and systems.

In a nutshell, too much sugar wreaks havoc on some pretty major organs in the body, namely the liver and pancreas. It interferes with normal hormone production and regulation, such as insulin, which the body produces to counteract the huge surge of sugar after eating a high-sugar snack or meal (soda, candy, fruit juice, but also simple carbs – starchy foods like overly processed breads, muffins, crackers, etc.)

What you’re left with is a roller coaster of sugar surges, then crashes. And all that sugar that couldn’t be burned off? It’s eventually stored as fat.

This Holiday Season, consider cutting back from high-sugar snacks and give your organs (and your belly fat) a break. If you’re not sure how, here are a few tips. Each day, do the best you can. If you can hit most of them, most days of the week, you’ll be way ahead of the game come January 1. As I’ve mentioned recently, here and here, there’s no time like the present to start thinking about what you want to achieve in the New Year, setting some baby-step goals, and actually feeling like you have a head start on your healthy habits come Jan 1.

1. Monday through Friday in the month of December, make a decision to eat a high-protein, high-fiber, super-low sugar breakfast. This will help your body burn energy more efficiently and you’ll stay fuller, longer. Try to skip that mid-morning coffee and pastry. Instead, have a stash of high-protein, low-sugar snacks or a few cherry tomatoes and a slice of cheese instead. That’s right, cheese: a Babybel or slice of Swiss cheese and a half-dozen cherry tomatoes is far better than a muffin or other sugar-laden carb.

2. Same goes for lunch: Do NOT eat a super high carb, or carb-only lunch. No giant plates of pasta and bread. If you are a sandwich junkie, use only whole grain breads without added sugars. Read the labels. If you see sugar in the first five ingredients, it’s not bread. It’s sugar disguised as bread. Try an open face sandwich if bread isn’t that important to you. That’s half the carbs/calories! Just make sure you choose “whole grain.”

3. If you are going out to dinner or a holiday party after work, eat some nuts first. Keep a container of unsalted nuts in your car, or in your desk, and eat a handful before you go. Why unsalted? That saltiness with give rise to a thirst—and we all know what that means this time of year. The protein will fill you up and it will be easier to stay away from empty, sugary carbs while you’re out.

4. Skip dessert during the week. Just think: If you refrained from dessert of any kind Monday through Thursday in the month of December, you’ll be avoiding tens of thousands of calories.

Wondering where the sugar is lurking? Here’s a quick-and-dirty list of the worst sugar hiding spots:
  • Bottled sauces (BBQ, sweet n’ sour, teriyaki, ketchup, etc.)
  • Bread (see above)
  • Pasta sauces (store bought)
  • Soda and store bought tea. If you are buying pre-made teas in large containers or cans, you are loading up on sugar.
  • Dried fruit (some dried fruits have a whopping 24 grams of sugar in just a 1/3 of a cup.)

Remember, the point of these December posts is to help you edge toward some serious changes next month. Don’t give yourself a green light to over-indulge in December just because you have a big plan for January! Cut back in little ways now, make healthier choices, and you’ll be ahead of the game in January and more apt to really stick with your diet and exercise plans, long term.

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