Why we Need Sugar
Many people have become conditioned to fear sugar like it’s the plague. In reality, our body needs sugar. At the cellular level, glucose is utilized by our body to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which provides a direct source of energy for various cellular functions. Though a rather small molecule itself, ATP is utilized to make larger molecules such as hormones. Our brains sole fuel source is glucose. In essence, we need sugar for our body to function, the trick is knowing what kinds of sugar to eat – refined versus complex, and when throughout the day our body uses sugar the most.
Though our body does need sugar to function, it is important to bear in mind both the type of sugar as well as the quantity we consume. Continuously having high amounts of sugar in our diet puts us at risk for many diseases and unwanted health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hyperglycemia, heart disease, and various nutrient deficiencies.
Though sugar is an energy source for our body, it also fuels pathogens in our body that we don’t want to feed, such as Candida and parasites. An overgrowth of pathogens can further hinder our energy levels, as well as our mood, stamina and cognitive functioning, all while increasing the need to supplement with a high-quality probiotic to help rebalance the flora in our gut. Finally, there is outstanding evidence to show that sugar plays an integral role in feeding cancer cells in oncology patients. The intention of this message isn’t to cause alarm but rather to make one aware that the effect of sugar on our body is far more serious than simply adding a few inches to our waistline.
Different Types of Sugar: Simple vs. Complex
Often we hear people say, “I’m avoiding all carbohydrates because they’re full of sugar”. Yes, it’s true that all carbohydrates will breakdown to sugar in the body, but as mentioned, our body needs this energy for human metabolism and cellular function. The real concern is the rate at which the sugar is broken down and how fast this sugar is absorbed into our bloodstream. Simple sugars are mostly isolated from other macronutrients – protein, fat and fiber – that help to slow down the rate at which the sugar is broken down and absorbed. Simple sugars spike blood glucose levels immediately, and though this ‘sugar high’ may be initially pleasant and even euphoric for many, it is typically followed by a crash in energy and mood.
When you think of simple sugars think of processed foods like candy bars, ice cream, baked goods, pasta, and white bread. More often than not these foods have little to no nutritional value. One exception is honey – it is classified as a simple sugar as it still spikes our blood sugar, however, it has health benefits when enjoyed raw and unpasteurized.
A helpful guide to follow is the glycemic load. The glycemic load is a measure that roughly estimates how much your blood sugar rises after eating particular foods. Complex carbohydrates tend to have lower glycemic loads and therefore less of an impact on blood glucose levels.
Complex sugars are also referred to as unrefined carbohydrates as they have not been stripped of other nutrients that help to slow down the rate at which the sugar is broken down and enter the bloodstream. Some great sources of complex carbohydrates come from starchy vegetables, squash, beets, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa or rolled oats. These foods have fibre, fat and protein to help slow down the rate at which our body breaks down the food, allowing for a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream. This is why having a breakfast and lunch with complex carbohydrates helps us to sustain energy throughout the day and avoid the afternoon energy lull. This also promotes mental clarity by helping to avoid the brain fog we experience when our blood sugar is low.
Blood Sugar Balancing at a Glance
The notion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day isn’t an old wives tale. Even while we sleep we are still expending energy to repair our bodies as this is when our body repairs. Breakfast is the first opportunity we get to refuel our bodies and energize us for the day. Because we are in a fasting state and have likely not eaten anything since dinner time – as much as 10-12+ hours prior, the choices we make at breakfast time can really impact how we feel for the rest of the day. Sadly, breakfast is the meal that often gets neglected as people either choose to eat sugar ladened processed cereals or opt to skip it altogether. It is no surprise that when people clean up their eating habits and start their day with a nutritious and balanced meal that they experience an improvement in energy levels and mood and even have a tendency to see weight loss (should the body need it).
‘Breaking the fast’ with complex carbohydrates coupled with some protein and healthy fat helps to keep you satiated and energized. Some healthy breakfast ideas are a warming bowl of large flake or steel cut oats with a tablespoon of coconut oil or nut butter and sprinkle of cinnamon and hemp hearts or two poached eggs with sautéed greens or avocado on sprouted grain toast.
Lunch is another time to enjoy complex carbohydrates. For fall try homemade bean chili and brown rice or a medley of roasted root vegetables (beets, carrots and onions) on a bed of greens.
Dinner is a time when you may choose to have fewer carbohydrates. This makes sense not only for your waistline but this is also typically the time when you are winding down for the day and require less energy. Consuming sugar in the evening time, even if it’s converted from grains, can potentially interfere with a deep and restful sleep. For dinner try having a source or protein with non-starchy vegetables such as wild salmon and arugula salad or curried chickpeas and cauliflower.