Some people may understandably be confused by recent calls for the moderation of sugar in the diet — wasn’t too much fat the cause of obesity? More and more nutritionists are now targeting excess sugar as part of the effort to control rising obesity rates. The issue may seem a little complicated, but there are some common-sense things you can do to help stay healthy.
What’s the problem with sugar?
Sugar is a component of foods ranging from carrots to donuts. Sugar consumption used to be limited to natural sources such as fruits or honey, but its presence in the food supply has grown exponentially with the development of high-fructose corn syrup.
“Sweetness” is everywhere now: about 80 percent of the packaged foods in America have sweeteners, according to Dr. Robert Lustig. That doesn’t mean that you should avoid all forms of sugar.
Studies have shown clear differences in sugar-containing foods based largely on the amount of fiber they contain. For instance, fiber in fruit can slow sugar’s digestion and help you feel full for longer. However, this effect doesn’t occur with soft drinks or sources of refined sugar, like cookies. In fact, these foods might make you feel even hungrier.
Hormones: why you’re not losing weight
Your body doesn’t want to lose weight because it’s easier for things to stay as they are. Hormones control your appetite, and the presence of sugar can cause them to work against your weight-loss goals. One of these hormones, leptin, is especially picky with sugar.
When your body digests a large amount of sugar at once, such as that in a can of soda, it can actually stop leptin from doing its job. Leptin is there to tell your brain whether you’re hungry or not, but too much sugar can cause your insulin to spike and confuse the signal the brain receives. So you can take in a lot of refined sugar and still feel hungry, which only encourages you to eat more than you otherwise might.
What can you do differently?
Much of the food supply contains added sugars that can negatively affect your weight-loss goals. A diet that’s low in sugar and high in fiber can offset this by helping your hunger hormones regulate themselves naturally. Fiber, which is found in foods like whole grains and vegetables, helps you feel fuller faster, so you avoid overeating and actually stick to your calorie budget.
Since processed foods tend to have more added sugar, it’s best to shop the fringes of grocery stores and purchase the unprocessed foods you find there. Also, avoid drinking your calories; even supposedly healthy sweetened beverages, like fruit juice, can interfere with your hunger hormones. Rather than drinking orange juice, eat an orange so you can have both the sugar and the fiber.
The important thing to remember is that no health expert is recommending the complete removal of sugar from the diet. It’s an important source of energy, and fruit is a valuable addition to any meal. But if you rethink your relationship with sugar, you might just be able to take control of your body and adopt a diet that’s right for you.