Here’s a scary Halloween statistic. Oct. 31 marks the beginning of the holiday season, the time of year when the average American gains the most weight. For a lot of us, controlling our sugar consumption can be one of the best ways to help ward off the horrors of becoming a weight-gain statistic.
We know a regular exercise program and proper nutrition can result in improved health, feelings of well-being, and weight loss. The types of food we consume play a tremendous role in these factors. Think of food as fuel. Fat storage is generally related to the intake of too much fuel (calories) but it’s important to also consider the quality of fuel. All calories are not created equally. Just like your car, your body will not perform as well on low-quality fuel. Recently, sugar seems to be everywhere; not just in our foods, but also in the news headlines. While some sugar is essential and our body’s main source of energy, overconsumption of sugar can have extremely negative effects on our bodies. One of the leading causes of weight gain is our addiction to sugar and the excess calories we consume in the form of sugar.
Sugar refers to a simple water-soluble crystalline carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the body, and they are the main source of calories in virtually every diet worldwide. When reading labels, look for words ending in “-ose.” Some examples of sugar include glucose, fructose, lactose (milk sugar), and sucrose (or table sugar).
Most carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, the main source of energy for the human body. When digested they can be directly metabolized by the cells throughout the body. Glucose is the basis for all cellular energy and is used almost immediately once available in the body. Any small amount left is converted by the liver to fat and stored for later use.
While fructose does provide energy for the body, it must first be processed by the liver before it can be used by the cells. However, once processed, a high percentage is converted to fat. Research has shown a whole host of potential negative side effects associated with high fructose consumption, including:
♦ An increase in visceral fat, or the fat around the internal organs;
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♦ Increased risk for heart attack;
♦ Suppression of leptin (the enzyme that tells you to stop eating);
♦ An increase in triglyceride levels (indicator of heart disease risk);
♦ Decreased HDL (“good” cholesterol) and increased LDL (“bad” cholesterol).
Sucrose is made up of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule. It does provide cellular energy through glucose but has the same side effects as fructose. Sugar can occur naturally or be added to foods in a processed or refined form. Fruits contain naturally occurring fructose, as well as an important balance of fiber. Fiber has a moderating effect on the way fructose moves through the body. Sucrose comes from sugar cane and other sources like sugar beets. These also contain large amounts of fiber that affects the way the sugar is metabolized. However, much of the fructose and sucrose consumed today is highly refined. The fiber associated with these sugars in their natural state has been removed. While fructose and sucrose are natural, much of the way we now consume them is not. There are many ways to reduce the amount of refined sugar we consume:
♦ Choose fresh fruits for snacks and desserts instead of processed, high-sugar foods. Natural sugars in fruits are part of a complex carbohydrate package that provides fuel and energy for your body;
♦ Avoid drinks that have a high-sugar content like sodas, juices and sports drinks. Consuming one 12-ounce can of soda every day may equal 15 pounds of weight gain over a year;
♦ Eat fresh foods and avoid fast foods and other processed foods. Fresh foods contain the appropriate balance of fiber and unrefined sugar to help maintain a stable blood sugar level our body needs for energy.
In summary, eat a balanced diet with reasonable portions made up of natural whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Eating more of these foods to fuel your body rather than packaged processed foods helps create a healthier lifestyle while reducing total sugar consumption. Enjoy your Halloween, but remember that candy should be a treat. Treats are occasional indulgences. Consuming it daily will be a bad trick to play on your fitness and health.
Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as an exercise physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and fitness nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Email him at [email protected] Follow @ptgym on Twitter.