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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How Sugar Affects the Brain

How Does Sugar Affect the Brain? By Nicole Avena of TED-Ed

Want to know what happens in the brain that makes sugar-rich foods so hard to resist?

Does eating a little bit of sugar make you crave more? And can you become addicted?

Watch the beautifully animated video above by Neuroscientist Nicole Avena to learn the answer to these and many questions, including how we have confused evolutionary biology with our diets.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Sugar and Insulin Resistance

Sugar-Free Diets can offer many health benefits, but you may be wondering why you should take the leap into a sugar free lifestyle. "Natural" food labels do not necessarily indicate low carbohydrate and are not always representative of sugar free foods. Many sweeteners such as honey or agave are natural but can cause a significant increase in blood sugar. 

Why is blood sugar important

When our blood sugar is too high on a frequent basis (sometimes this elevated level can even last for years) it can lead to insulin resistance. This is a state in which the cells in our bodies fail to respond to heightened levels of the hormone insulin. In our modern day societies, the level of sugar and carbohydrate consumption has become a concern. This is alarming because Americans are now consuming roughly three times the recommended daily sugar consumption. It has become an increased public health concern, often perpetuated by the convenience of foods which have added sugars that we wouldn't even expect.

U.S. Sugar Intake Average (American Heart Association)

What does insulin do?

In a nutshell, insulin is made by the pancreas which has the primary function of helping the body store and use sugar (specifically in the form of glucose). Insulin is the pathway by which sugar is transported from the blood into the places it is required most, such as muscles and liver which use it as fuel. The regulation of insulin is a very specific and regulated process which is triggered by our dietary intake of sugar. The more sugar we eat, the more insulin is released
Pancreas produces the hormone Insulin in response to blood sugar levels

Carbohydrates & Diabetes

Constantly high levels of sugar (which are very commonplace in most of our diets) are a leading cause of insulin resistance and subsequently can cause further damage in the form of Type 2 Diabetes. It is often misunderstood that this is a disease of the elderly since it can affect people in all walks of life.
Diabetes indicates hyperglycemia or elevated blood sugar because ones body does not use insulin properly anymore (insulin resistance) or the body cannot product insulin (in Type 1). Type 2 diabetes is caused by the pancreas eventually not being able to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable (see the American Diabetes Association definition). 

How can Sugar-Free foods help?

Sugar-Free foods do not contain glucose and usually contain sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners (note: these are not identical, stay tuned for a post dedicated to explaining the difference between the two). Some sugar substitutes do not add calories or carbohydrates. In general, most sugar substitutes are much lower on the Glycemic Index, meaning that they have a lesser effect on blood sugar than glucose. Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on blood glucose. This means that if you are observing a sugar-free lifestyle, you may also want to consider lowering your carbohydrate intake for maximum benefits.

If you are concerned about heightened blood sugar or A1C levels, you can take proactive steps by significantly reducing the sugar dependency (do you get cranky headaches? feel tired often? these are pretty good signs of Sugar Addiction).
For pre-diabetics and diabetics, it is crucial to speak with your primary healthcare provider about the different types of foods you should be eating and snacking on. Likely this will include a carbohydrate and sugar counting meal plan to manage blood glucose.
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