In week one’s nutrition article, you were given some tips on how to begin good eating habits. One of those tips was to count your sugars and, if you’re an active adult, your daily sugar intake should be between 40 – 45 grams. I know what you’re thinking – okay, I’ll skip adding sugar to my coffee in the morning and not have that last little taste of something sweet right before I go to bed. Or, I’ll just cut back on my sweet tea during the day, that will keep my sugar in line for the day.
Ummm, probably not. Sugar, that wonderful substance that most of us love and makes things so delicious, hides in more places than you think, not just in the syrupy sweet tea, desserts and other obvious delicious things. Sneaky little devil. It also has absolutely no nutritional value at all. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Completely empty calories.
One thing I learned the hard way is that if you’re eating healthy your fats will pretty much fall into line, but even on a healthy diet your sugar intake can still be high. I had been exercising regularly and eating very healthily for seven months when routine blood work came back with a slightly elevated A1C (three-month average of your blood sugar). Though only slightly elevated, it was enough to be a red flag that if I didn’t take steps to lower it now it could possibly become a serious future problem. I immediately began to study foods and sugars and how your body breaks down and processes them. One of the first things that I learned was that premixed fruit yogurts, juices, milk and certain fruits were high in sugar and are considered high glycemic foods. Huh? Glycemic? I’d never heard that term before (or maybe just had selective hearing because I didn’t want to know about it!) and I became a woman on a mission to education myself on the subject.
The key to managing your sugar intake is to understand the Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL), and it’s not difficult at all. Simply put:
- The GI measures how fast foods break down as sugars in your bloodstream, thus letting you know how quickly it will turn to sugar in your body. Foods with a 55 or less rating is considered low GI, 56 – 69 medium and 70 and above high.
- The GL measures the amount of carbohydrates in each food serving and lets you know how quickly a food will cause your blood sugar to spike. Foods that are 10 and under on the GI scale should be your first choice as carbs. Eleven – 20 on the scale has a medium GI and should be used in moderation. Twenty-one and above will cause blood sugar and insulin to spike quickly and should be eaten very sparingly and infrequently.
Your body needs carbohydrates for energy as well as protecting against disease and controlling weight. However, the term “carbs” or “carbohydrates” has gotten a bad rap as the enemy to avoid. When we hear the term carbohydrate we think of bread, crackers, rolls, potatoes and other starchy foods and we need to eliminate and go carb-free or low-carb. The key is to have a healthy balance of carbohydrates on a daily basis by eating mostly low and some medium GI and GL foods to keep your blood sugar at a consistent level. Also, you don’t have to be diabetic to be conscious of your daily sugar intake. The earlier you begin to make it a habit to eat healthfully and keep your sugars in check, the less likely you are to develop diabetes later in life.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that fat and fiber tend to lower the GI and GL values of a food. When a food is processed, the processing takes away some of the nutrients (such as fat and fiber), then is added back through a chemical process to make it more palatable, which in turn raises the GI and GL values. For instance, the whole grain oatmeal used in last week’s recipe has a GI of 55 and a GL of 13, where instant oatmeal (processed) has a GI of 83 and a GL of 30*. Another example – oranges have a GI of 40 and a GL of 4, and orange juice (unsweetened) has a GI of 50 and a GL of 12. The lessons here, fresh is best and eat the fruit don’t drink it!
A good rule of thumb is to simply count your carbohydrate intake for the day and to aim for most of your carbs to come from fresh fruits and vegetables. The average, healthy, active adult on a 2,000 calorie per day diet should have 225 – 325 grams of carbohydrates per day, with a maximum of 40 – 45 g of those carbs coming from sugar (I keep mine below 30 g). Just about everything you eat has a nutrition label with the total carbohydrates and the sugar breakdown or, if you’re unsure, you can search the web.
One more tip – some foods have a high GI and a low GL, and vice versa, a low GI and a high GL. When in doubt, it’s usually safer to choose the high GI and a low GL, as the higher GL foods will cause a blood sugar spike, which you don’t want!
The list below contains a few foods that are good choices on a daily basis that help to keep your blood sugar stable.
- Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, such as carrots, zucchini, green beans, bell peppers, grapefruit and apples.
- Beans: kidney, pinto, soy, black
- Legumes: lentils and farro
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage
- Any of the leafy green vegetables: lettuces, spinach, collards
- Sprouted grain bread
You can also find Glycemic guides listing common foods most people eat in a day and their Glycemic values. Click here for a basic list: http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods
Remember, this is just a guide and a starting point. It’s not something you can learn all at once, it takes a little time. Don’t try to make huge changes and become overwhelmed. Try cutting out (or at least cut way back) on one unhealthy item in your diet per week and substitute it with something healthy. You’ll feel better, look better and, best of all, you’ll please your Creator!