Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Healthy Sugar-Free Alternatives for Everyday Foods

If you're having a hard time staying on your Sugar-Free, Low Carb diet or watching your Added Sugar intake, keep this chart handy! We've provided some simple alternatives for choices people regularly make.

Diabetic Living Online also has a handy guide for common snack foods to chose over their full-Sugar counterparts.

And a very important tip we always follow is to Make Dessert Special. Instead of reaching for cookies or candies or even junk foods at the grocery store that we may have a spontaneous craving for, we save up our "sugar allotment" for something truly special for a special anniversary or birthday. In my experience, the less sugar I eat, the less I crave it so it becomes a lot easier to give up the junk aisles at the grocery store. Reserving your sugar allotment for something truly special will make you enjoy it even more!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Is Sugar Like Drugs?

Recent evidence suggests that Sugar and Drugs may have a striking similarity in the way they affect our brains and bodies.

Withdrawal is commonly seen among individuals quitting drugs, and, you may be surprised to learn, sugar as well. From a neurological perspective, when you consume sugar, your brain releases dopamine (a neurotransmitter). This makes you feel elated and dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior, namely reinforcing ones which make us feel pleasurable.

According to a recent New York Post article, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology have discovered that after long-term abuse of sugar consumption, the levels of dopamine fall, causing us to crave and seek a higher consumption of the substance while trying to maintain that elated feeling.

Studies show that Sugar affects learning and memory, as well as contributing to anxiety and depression 

One study from 2012 has already shown that a diet high in fructose (or sugar) hinders learning and memory by slowing down the brain. In rats, this even caused damaged synaptic activity - affecting brain cell communication. Insulin typically has a protective effect on the synaptic connections between brain cells to help them form stronger memories, but when these levels are lowered from excess sugar consumption, cognitive effects are observed. 

Sugar has also been linked to depression and anxiety. When levels of blood sugar fall, this can cause a sugar crash where you can experience irritability, mood swings and fatigue which can lead to feeling anxious and depressed. Frequently activating serotonin (which is what happens when we consume sugar, specifically in large quantities) acts as a mood-booster and removing sugars and carbohydrates can deplete the limited amounts of serotonin in our brains, contributing to depression symptoms.

In the most extreme cases. it been observed that obese children's brains are much more responsive to sugar, parts of their brains signifying "food reward" are highly activated. This creates dangerous circuitry to predispose them to crave and seek out even more sugar than average throughout their lives.

Processed foods and added sugars account for a massive increase in global sugar consumption

It's easy to see how all of these factors can spell a recipe for disaster for future generations as well as current ones, creating a world-wide health pandemic. In the United States, the average consumption of sugar is over five times that which is recommended. It is highly likely that we all experience these effects to some degree.

In many ways, it is a sobering realization that our brain's reward response and addiction cycles to Sugar are very much one and the same to those reacting when abusing drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. Society, as a whole, has been much more accepting of this addiction for decades to drive company profits at the expense of the population's health.

If you think you have any addiction (drug, alcohol, cigarette, sugar or otherwise) please seek help from your physician and family. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Differences and Similarities of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

It can be confusing to try to understand the differences and similarities between Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes so we decided to put together a simple guide. Since Diabetes affects people of all ages, races and gender, we wanted to compare and contrast it.

Whether it's from a commercial advertisement for medication or knowledge of a loved one that developed it, Type 2 Diabetes awareness appears to be more prevalent. This may be due to the fact that 90-95% of all diabetics diagnosed are Type 2.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes is when your blood sugar (also known as blood glucose) is too high. As explained on other posts, glucose comes from food we consume and is also made in muscles and your liver. Glucose travels through your blood to specific cells in your body for use as energy to power cellular mechanisms.

The pancreas is an organ which lays behind your stomach and helps with digestion by releasing the hormone insulin into your blood to help use up. If there is not enough insulin or it does not work the way it should, glucose stays in the blood and never reaches the cells. As a direct consequence of this, pre-diabetes and subsequent Type 2 diabetes can occur.

Pre-diabetes is sometimes viewed as a warning-phase when the body's level is above normal but not quite high enough to be considered diabetes (see our previous post about Insulin Resistance & Pre-Diabetes).

In Type 2 Diabetics, pancreatic cells which produce insulin (islets of Langerhans) are still functioning but the body does not produce enough insulin or has become resistant (or both).

Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

The Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
Sources: WebMD & American Diabetes Association

Type 1 Diabetes

Previously referred to as "Juvenile Diabetes", Type 1 Diabetes often, but not always, develops in young people. It is characterized differently than Type 2 Diabetes because in this case, your body no longer makes enough or any insulin due to the body's immune system. 

The immune system typically protects from infection, kills bacteria, viruses and other harmful substances. In Type 1 Diabetics, through a mechanism which is unknown, the immune system attacks and destroys the cells islet cells which make insulin in the pancreas. It is thought that genetics and certain environmental factors (such as viruses) may trigger the disease.

Since a significant number of islet cells are destroyed, the result is you produce little or no insulin. For Type 1 Diabetics, there is no insulin or not enough present to let glucose into the cells so it builds up in the bloodstream, causing similar complications to Type 2 diabetes, which can be life-threatening.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetics must worry about Hyperglycemia (when blood sugar levels are too high), but Type 1 Diabetics can also experience Hypoglycemia (when blood sugar levels are too low). Many people experience hypoglycemia as a side-effect of treatment with blood-sugar-lowering medication. There are a variety of symptoms and causes for both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, you should take note of these and call your healthcare provider if you have any concerns as they can be very detrimental to your well-being if left untreated.

Similarities Between Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

The similarities between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are vast, despite the way they differ in their mechanisms. People who suffer from Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes experience many of the same symptoms and need to keep close tabs on the amount of sugar in their blood. Elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) are a common in both types of diabetes.

Almost all of the same complications can affect both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetics. These can include, but are not limited to, circulatory problems, cholesterol, hypertension, stroke, and heart attack. Diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure.

Although Type 1 Diabetics use injections to replenish their body's supply of insulin, Type 2 Diabetics do not usually begin their treatments with injections but rather with medications. However, over time, even Type 2 Diabetics may have to use injections as their cells fade in their ability to produce enough insulin. It is important to stay in contact with a diabetes specialist (endocrinologist) and your management team often.

Managed diet and exercise are helpful for all kinds of diabetes, taking significant healthy steps can reverse or slow pre-diabetes development.

Sources & Further Reading:
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases - Your Guide to Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2
WebMD - Diabetes Health Center - Diabetes: Differences Between Type 1 and 2
MayoClinic - Type 1 Diabetes
American Diabetes Association - Diabetes Basics
American Diabetes Association - Statistics About Diabetes
World Health Organization - 10 facts about diabetes
Joslin Diabetes Center - Ten Things You Might Not Know About Diabetes

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What are Different Types of Sweeteners?

A sweetener is a substance which is used to sweeten foods or drink, especially ones other than conventional sugar.

Sweeteners can be broken down into 4 separate categories. We want you to know the difference between them and make your choices according to what you & your doctor feel is best for your body and metabolism.

Natural Sweeteners

These are all extracted or created from plants. All of these types of sugars have roughly the same amount of calories and sucrose is technically one of them since it comes from sugar cane or beets.

Some people consider that healthier alternatives can be agave, maple syrup, molasses and honey. There are pros and cons to their usage, however.

These sweeteners contain potent antioxidants but also can contain up to 90% fructose. Fructose is low on the Glycemic Index (approximately at 25, while table sugar is 100), however its perils lie in the way it interacts with our bodies. The toxicity of fructose depends on your body - for example, if you are overweight, insulin resistant, well- fed and getting both fructose and glucose together (like many people in modern societies are) it gets converted to fat at a very high rate, approximately 30% of your intake will be directly converted (see article in The Guardian). Added fructose has been found to be a leading cause of Type 2 Diabetes.

Thus, it is wise to consume fructose in small quantities as many consider it more harmful than sucrose (or table sugar) for overall morbidity and even fertility levels.When abused, natural sweeteners have the capability of being just as unhealthy, if not moreso, than traditional sugar.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are sweeteners which have reduced-calories and are manufactured from sugar or extracted from a plant. They usually taste less sweet than sugar and can be extracted or synthesized from various fruits and vegetables. They are generally used as sweeteners in chocolates, candies and desserts for their texture. These are an attractive alternative for using in baked goods because they help keep food moist, prevent browning when heated and can often have a cooling sensation when tasted (ie. gym or xylitol mints).

Despite their name, sugar alcohols do not contain any alcohol (or ethanol), which is found in alcoholic beverages.  Examples of sugar alcohols include Maltitol (most commonly used), Xylitol (often found in gums and breath-mints), Sorbitol and Erythritol.

These are not necessarily calorie-free but they are metabolized much slower in the body than sucrose. Their Glycemic Index level is lower than sugar because the body cannot completely absorb them so much of the sugar gets excreted out. Due to this effect, some individuals may experience a laxative effect when consuming too large of a quantity. Erythritol does not tend to cause gastric side effects and is the lowest on the Glycemic Index.

Novel Sweeteners

These are new sweeteners (such as Stevia) which can either be extracted naturally or as a manufactured byproduct. Stevia is the most common and is isolated from the stevia plant. Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar and may have a bitter after-taste. It is for this reason that food manufacturers often have to get creative in ways that they mask this flavor. Some blends such as Truvia are known for using sugar alcohol blends to remove this after-taste.

Tagatose and Trehalose are other examples of novel sweeteners because of their chemical structure. Tagatose is a low-carbohydrate sweetener, similar to fructose and it occurs naturally, but it is mainly manufactured from lactose in dairy products (since it is not found in large enough quantities naturally). Trehalose is found naturally in honey and mushrooms.

Artificial Sweeteners

These were synthesized in a lab and they are not properly absorbed by the human body, and therefore they have no calories. They are typically much sweeter than regular sugar because of the way they react with your taste buds and how much stronger of an interaction it is. Good examples are Sucralose (Splenda), Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) and Saccharin (Sweet'N Low). Usually only a small fraction of these is required to be added to sweeten a beverage or food.

These sugars can be difficult to cook with because they have different properties than natural sugars and are often recommended to diabetics because they have a Glycemix Index value of 0 and therefore do not increase blood sugar levels.

No matter which type of sugars you plan to incorporate into your diet, a good idea is always to run your plans through your doctor or dietitian, specifically if you have diabetes.

If you have any concerns about how much alternate sweetener you are consuming, make sure to check the FDA's website because they have established acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener - the amount is roughly 1/100th of the amount that would cause adverse health effects.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Health Benefits of Tea

Adding to the abundant reasons you can see above in the quick and easy guide designed, here area a few more reasons you should enjoy tea as often as possible!

Tea has antioxidants

These eliminate "free radicals" in our bodies and help keep us young and protect our cells from damage. Tea also appears to be responsible for helping your immune cells reach their target quicker, thus boosting your immune response.

Tea has less caffeine than coffee 

If you're careful to consume herbal teas, you can be guaranteed that they do not have caffeine and traditional tea has approximately half of the caffeine found in coffee.

Lowered risk of Heart Attack & Stroke

Evidence suggests drinking more than 3-4 cups of coffee a day can lower your risk of a heart attack by 35% and lower cholesterol levels overall.

Bone loss prevention 

Recent studies suggest that specifically green tea may help prevent osteoporosis

Keeps teeth clean & bright

Tea doesn't contain any enamel corroding substances, so if you want to keep your pearly whites the way they are, it can protect against bacterial growth by changing the pH in your mouth.

Keeping digestion healthy

While mint tea is known to regulate bowel movements and help push food along the digestive tract, those that may suffer from IBD (irritable bowel disease) should consider consuming chamomile tea to soothe their intestines. If you experience nausea, try ginger tea.

You can boost its flavor naturally 

Consider adding some ginger, nutmeg, cocoa or cinnamon to your tea to make it your own without adding any extra calories or unhealthy sugars.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What Sugar to Cut and Why?

It's important to realize that the "going Sugar-Free" is nowhere near as difficult as it sounds. Sugars are prevalent in many fruits, vegetables, and naturally occurs in our diets. 

What nobody tells us is that our bodies have the added capability of transforming fats and proteins into sugars (one such example is gluconeogenesis). The human body has several mechanisms used to maintain blood sugar levels and avoid harmfully low levels (hypoglycemia).

Sugar is a carbohydrate and recommended dietary guidelines tell us that they should make up 10-20% of our daily intake. Many of us are consuming upwards of 266% of the recommended intake (according to the American Heart Association), which inevitably makes us unhealthy. 

If you're not trying to lose weight, you may realize that an added benefit to cutting out all that extra sugar can really affect a positive change in your waistline. Bonus, right?

Foods to Avoid

Soft drinks: Sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest source of added sugar intake
Fruit juices: Fruit juices actually contain the same amount of sugar as soft drinks!
Candies and sweets: You should drastically limit your consumption of sweets (eliminate it entirely if you can). We know this is hard, that's why you can eat Sugar-Free substitutes to satisfy your cravings. Trust us, if you find good gourmet, alternative options, this makes it very easy!
Baked goods: Cookies, cakes, etc. These tend to be very high in sugar and refined carbohydrates - (again, there are substitutions)
Canned fruits in syrup & jams: Fresh fruits are always the wiser choice and offer more nutritional value
Low-Fat or Diet Foods: Be wary of these because foods which have fat removed from them are often very high in sugar - the sugar is added to substitute flavor
Dried fruits: Tend to have very concentrated, high levels of sugars
Processed foods: Typically these are preserved with copious amounts of sugar and salt.
Alcohols: Often cocktails and mixed drinks as well as pina coladas are full of sugar and beers are high in carbohydrates
Fruits: Some fruits are just as high in sugar as candy, specifically grapes, sweet apples, melons and pineapple should be consumed in moderation
Drink water instead of soda or juices and try to avoid adding sugar to your coffee or tea. Instead of sugar in recipes, you can use sugar alternatives and substitutes (we will delve into these in detail in another post). Typically, ones to choose should be low on the Glycemic Index (causing a very small change in blood sugar after consumption or have no effect whatsoever).

We found the below useful infographic to give you an idea of how much added sugar is in commonplace food staples.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What is Pre-Diabetes and Do I Have It?

The increasingly prevalent research of the harmful effects of excess sugar in our diets have led us to realize that not only does it cause seemingly benign problems such as hyperactivity and tooth decay, it is a prime cause of obesity, heart disease, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

How Do You Know?

I have been living a sugar-free lifestyle for 1.5 years since September 2014 when my physician told me that my A1C level (fasting glucose blood test) was so high that he considered me pre-diabetic. I was young, 28 years old at the time of diagnosis and certainly not obese and I'm sure some would argue I wasn't even overweight. I will say that my body mass index could definitely have been better and I was not what I would consider to be in shape. I felt fantastic aside from the obvious highs and lows in energy that I felt, attributing it often to just being tired or hungry.

I was wrong, I changed. I am one of the most stubborn people I know, and maybe that helps, but I was not willingly going to get the Type 2 Diabetes that my doctor informed me I would almost certainly have within the next 5 years. I have a family history of diabetes ranging from my grandfather (Type 2) to my maternal cousin (Type 1). This was an imminent existential crisis, my wake-up call.

Honestly, I love sugar but I love and cherish my wellness even more. I didn't realize I even had an addiction, as I'm sure most of us don't, until I cut it out. Don't imagine for one second that I'm a fool who brazenly indulged in buckets of candy or anything of the sort. I ate like a normal American.

The Truth About Pre-Diabetes

The Centers of Disease Control have discovered that most people with pre-diabetes are not yet diagnosed. Recent statistics suggest up to 90% of adults of the 86 million in America (yes, that's more than 1 in 3 adults) are unaware of their condition.

If you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, this means your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not quite as high as a diabetic. This means your body is in a phase of developing insulin resistance (see previous post about Sugar & Insulin Resistance). Approximately 90% of those diagnosed with diabetes in the United States are Type 2 diabetics. In Type 2 diabetics, this means their body does not make enough insulin and becomes insulin-resistant.

It’s real. It’s frighteningly common. And most importantly, it’s reversible. You can stop prediabetes from developing into type 2 diabetes. It takes some simple and proven steps to adjust and adapt your lifestyle.
I am not ready to give up. I am not ready to perpetuate an unhealthy lifestyle just because it's easy. And I don't want you to accept that either. We're on this journey together.

Get Tested

Earlier, I mentioned that my doctor decided to run a panel of tests on me, including the A1C test. This was part of my annual check-up. I realize that I am lucky to have a caring and disease-prevention oriented physician and I couldn't be more thankful. This isn't the case for everyone, so I urge you to request the test from your doctor.
The A1C test is a blood test, which does not require fasting, that provides information about a person's average levels of blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) over the past 3 months. It is also commonly used for diabetes management and can be used to monitor the effectiveness of dietary and lifestyle changes. It is the primary way to gain insight into your risk for Pre-Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes.
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