Sugar 101

By Tia Norris, January 2018 Issue of Echo Magazine in Phoenix, AZ.

Sugar. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything. And it’s always a hot topic of discussion when it comes to theories and guidelines for those who indulge.

As we all know, the holiday season always presents increased opportunities for sugar consumption – whether it’s grandma’s famous cookie recipes or champagne toasts – so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to serve up Sugar 101, everything you need to know before indulging this season.

Yes, you need sugar to function; the amount you need depends on your physical activities and fitness goals. No, you most likely don’t need to consume as much as you currently are; and ultimately, you cannot and should not avoid it forever. Like with most things in life. Here are four tips to help you navigate the sweet post between these two extremes:

1. You Need Sugar To Function (To Some Degree)

Sugar is a basic, essential group of molecules that our bodies need for everyday functioning. So really, we should start calling them “sugars.”

Sugars fall under the macronutrient, carbohydrates, which also include starches (like those found in potatoes and grains) and fibers (like those found in legumes and fruits). Starches and fibers are more complex molecules which digest more slowly. Sugars are generally simpler in structure, and therefore digest more quickly. This can be good and bad, in terms of health – the second section will discuss when you’ll want slow versus fast carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates, and particularly sugars, are your body’s preferred source for energy; fats are second and proteins are last. Generally, the reason low-carb dieting works is because when you remove your body’s preferred energy source, your it is forced to consume, in part, body fat for energy. This is also the reason performance athletes are always trying to “carb up,” carbs are your body’s favorite and easiest source from which to produce energy.

2. The Amount You Need Depends On Your Activities And Goals

Consider two very different profiles: First, a triathlete, who exercises four to six hours per day and burns thousands of calories in those workouts; and second, a sedentary individual who does not exercise at all and is unhealthy in every way.

Of course, the demand for sugars between these two individuals is vastly different. Here are my formulas to guide your sugars consumption:

The performance-based athlete, particularly of the cardio variety, should generally consume 100calories per hour of activity. So, the chews, goos, gels, sodas and all those sugary fuel sources are exactly what you need.

The sedentary individual should consume as little as possible sugar as possible. With low activity levels, your body will not be needing sugars for fuel, and so most consumption will directly add weight.

For everyone else, who most likely fall in between these two, consuming as few grams of sugar is recommended for achieving results. Generally, half a gram per pound of body weight is a good starting point.

3. You’re Probably Consuming Too Much

Because most people do not exercise enough, they don’t need much sugar for functioning. However, most people consume more than 15 tablespoons of sugar per day (that’s at a minimum). All the extra sugarthat’s not used is quickly stored as fat.

The myriad of sources citing overconsumption of sugars and the associated dangers of such are overwhelming. However, my favorite summary of the sugar epidemic in this country is the book Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat It by Jeff O’Connell.

4. Balance Is Key

If you’re being smart about your activity leveland sugar consumption ratio, then virtually everyone can have SOME sugars SOME times. You simply won’t be able to avoid it forever. And you shouldn’t! Remember, sugar is an essential, basic nutritional necessity, to some degree! If you need help with making a plan as to which amounts correspond to your goals and lifestyle, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.

There is so much more to cover when it comes to sugars. This was, after all, just the 101 course. But, for the season ahead, remember that moderation is always a good thing. Savor the season, be safe and overindulge, because in most cases it will just lead to steeper, stricter New Year’s resolutions.

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