Understanding Sugar, Curb cravings and prevent crashes

TORONTO, April 16, 2015 /CNW/ - We all have a love-hate relationship with sugar. It seems, almost daily, reports come out with new findings on the risk of high-sugar diets.

Once a staple item, sugar has been linked to speeding up aging, cardiovascular disease, tooth decay, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Most health experts agree that reducing sugar in our diet is essential. In fact, the new World Health Organization guideline recommends that adults and children should reduce daily sugar intake to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake. However, if you can reduce it to less than five percent of total daily energy intake, you will reap even more health benefits.

But how much harm can these sugary foods cause? When you consume foods high in sugar, like a cupcake or a glass of apple juice, it causes your blood sugar levels to spike. Picture a roller coaster, says registered dietitian Dara Gurau. "The highs and lows of a roller coaster ride is what your blood sugar and insulin levels look like over the course of a day. After we eat a meal or snack containing carbohydrates, our blood sugar spikes and then rapidly falls," she says. What we should aim for, she continues, is for our blood sugar levels to remain steady, say, like the moderate rises and falls of a coaster designed for young children.

This concept is known as the glycemic index (GI). This scale ranks carbohydrate-rich foods from 1 to 100 based on how much the food causes our blood glucose levels to rise compared to standard white bread. It's a tool that is not only helpful for people with diabetes and those trying to lose weight, but for everyone. Paying attention to the glycemic index will help you from experiencing those highs and then the crash and burn as your blood glucose levels plummet (this is why that mid-afternoon cherry danish perks you up temporarily, only to be followed by feeling sluggish).

Reading the labels on your food is the first step to understanding what you're putting into your body. Look for low-sugar, high fibre options in the cereal aisle. For example, Weetabix, a biscuit cereal, comes pre-portioned and contains only 2 grams of sugar per serving. Some conventional cereals can have upwards of 22 grams of sugar in just one bowl!

However, its not as simple as just looking at the nutrition facts label. What you add to your meals will affect the food's GI ranking. Top a cereal with fruit, and the GI goes up (and even more so if the fruit is overly ripe or tropical); the type of milk you pour in with it will also affect the meal's GI (skim milk has a GI of 32 compared to full-fat milk's 41). And while you wouldn't necessarily calculate a meal's GI as a number, taking each component's GI offers a method to help balance out its effect on blood sugar, she says. Add healthy fats such as olive oil or cheese to pasta, or nuts and seeds to cereal for examples, and this will help lower the total GI of the meal, says Gurau (who co-founded the healthy food blog, www.howtoeat.ca).

Furthermore, how much a food is processed affects a food's GI. "That's why steel cut oats have a lower GI than instant oats," says Gurau. Even how you cook a food can be a factor: take pasta. Overcook it and it has a higher GI than if you'd prepared it al dente.

The goal isn't to consistently eat low GI foods. That would be unrealistic and you'd miss out on healthy, tasty foods, says Gurau. "The GI system can help you manage your blood sugar, and also help you choose foods higher in fibre, but it's not the be all and end all for healthy eating," says Gurau. Consider that many healthy foods have a high GI value, such as watermelon and oatmeal (which has a higher GI than chocolate). Aim to maintain a balanced GI as a way to manage your blood sugar, but, of course, maintain other healthy diet practices, such as limiting portion size and salt.

SOURCE Devon Consulting

Image with caption: "Dietitians say that eating clean, high-fibre foods in the morning helps maintain stable blood sugar and ward off sluggishness throughout the day (CNW Group/Devon Consulting)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20150416_C4501_PHOTO_EN_14347.jpg

For further information: Adrienne Fraser, adrienne.fraser@gmail.com, 905 464 4167

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