Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Does sugar make us fat?

Sugars are simple carbohydrates composed of a single sugar (ie. glucose, fructose) or 2 sugars together (table sugar, sucrose, is made of glucose linked to fructose).
In comparison, starch is a complex carbohydrate- made of lots of glucose molecules linked together in very long chains.
The long chains can't be absorbed by the intestine but have to be broken down to single units of glucose to be useable. Simple carbohydrates, though, are readily useable. But do they make us fat?

We know that a calorie is a calorie. Excess calories from sugar will lead to weight gain, just like extra calories from protein or fat. However, when you eat too much glucose at a time, the body can't handle it. What happens is that your pancreas makes too much insulin. Insulin is supposed to take the glucose and put it in your body tissues so it can be used. When there's too much insulin though, it grabs all your available glucose, including the little bit that's supposed to stay in your blood. The result is that your blood sugar drops and you feel hungry.
You then eat more and those extra calories will lead to weight gain.
Moreover, your muscles cells start to resist taking in the excess glucose resulting in that excess getting stored as fat.

So yes. Eating too much simple sugars does put you at risk for weight gain.

Fibre slows down the absorption of glucose which is why a high fibre diet- a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains- prevents heath problems.

The Glycemic Index ranks foods according to how quickly they break down to glucose. Click
here to read more about Glycemic Index from a previous blog entry.
In general, highly processed starchy foods- crackers, pretzels, cookies- and sugary foods- sodas, candies, desserts, sugary cereals- have no fiber and will cause havoc for your metabolism, providing a huge influx of glucose.

How much sugar is too much sugar?

Per day, it's recommended that less than 10% of your total calories come from added sugars (this doesn't include sugar found naturally in fruits and plain milk). In a 2000 calorie diet, that means you should be aiming for less than 50 grams (about 10 teaspoons) of added sugar a day. The average American eats double that a day.

Sweet tips to limiting your sugar intake

Avoid or cut back on non-diet soft drinks. A 12 oz can of Coke has practically your daily limit of added sugars, 40 grams!!

Watch out for fruit 'drinks', 'beverages', and 'cocktails'- they contain very little real fruit juice and a lot of sugar.

Limit candy, cookies, cakes, pies, doughnuts, granola bars, pastries and other sweet baked goods- eat fruit instead. Desserts in restaurants, with their huge portion sizes, have a large amount of added sugar. A medium chocolate milkshake at McDonald's has a whopping 111g sugar!

Remember that 'fat-free' does not mean 'sugar-free' or 'calorie-free' .

Look for breakfast cereals with less than 10 grams (ideally less than 8 grams) of sugar per serving- read the label!

I found this cool site, sugarstacks.com , that shows us how much sugar there are in some foods. Pretty eye-opening!
They use sugar cubes- 1 cube is equivalent to 1tsp or 4grams.


Chow and Chatter said...

great pics

Gina said...

Great post!!! You know what? I thought the recommendation was 40 grams per day, but I think you are right because I looked it up. This makes me HAPPY because often I get a little over 40 (some days I go way over, but I try to limit hose days). I don't actually count but I kind of guess. Anyway, thanks for the sugar review!

Jme said...

is there a ratio of fibre to sugar that we can aim for in a meal that sort of neutralizes the sugar?

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Gina- You know what? I've seen both. I did see that the USDA recommends less than 40g on a 2000 calories diet. However, I learned that the recommendation is less than 10% of calories (which is 50g)...
Thanks for looking it up though...!

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Interesting question Jme!
The simple answer is: no. There is no specific ratio of sugar to fibre that would neutralize the effect of sugar. However, the higher the fibre content, the slower the sugar will be absorbed.
I mentioned that a better choice of breakfast cereal has less than 10g (ideally less than 8g) sugar per serving. You should also choose a cereal with 5g or more fibre per serving.
Choose whole grain breads with more than 2-3 g fibre per slice.
The recommendation for fibre is 25-35g/day.
Although fruit is high in sugar (fructose), it's also a great source of fibre, as well as phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. As such, these healthy compounds found in fruit supersede its sugar content.
Hope that kind of answers your question!

Jme said...

So 10 celery stalks cancel out 1 Litre of ice cream? Just kidding, thanks again!

Ailsa Forshaw said...

Hi, Sybil! I'm a Canadian, too, living in Los Angeles... we're doing a lesson on Nutrition, this morning in my Special Ed class, and we happened upon your excellent blog -- fantastic information! How do I become a Follower on your blog? I just started a new blog for diet and exercise tips, and how to build a house (I'm everywhere! lol!)... but would be great to link sites through my website, too... http://www.buildyourownhouse.ca
Thanks, Ailsa Forshaw

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Thanks for visiting and your nice comment, Ailsa!
Thanks for the link to your blog too- it was great getting to know you through it!