Sugar is probably one of the most demonized nutrient that we all try to avoid. You’ve heard it left and right – “if you want to lose body fat you need to cut out sugar”, “sugar is bad for you and it makes you fat”, “sugar is the work of the devil!”… Ok maybe the last one is a bit made up, but you get the point.
The idea behind these negative statements is that sugar is a short-chain carbohydrate. This means that your body can easily break it down and use it as energy. And because of it’s simplified construct, sugar supplies you with energy only for a short period of time. Your body does not have enough time to use all of it as energy and the majority of the calories consumed in the form of sugar are thus stored as body fat. Simple, right?
This is only logical, speaking from a biological stand-point. Carbohydrates, of any shape and size, are broken down into what is commonly known as glucose. Glucose, or sugar, is the final form of carbohydrates. This explains why sugar is so easy to break down, I mean, after all sugar is the final and simplest form of a carbohydrate.
Nowadays, most foods seem to contain sugar, even the ones that do not have much of a sweet taste. Those who are obsessed with healthy eating and dieting do their very best to avoid those types of foods. So much so that some people have completely eliminated fruits and vegetables (no joke) from their diet because, you guessed it, they contain sugar.
The worst part is that there are online fitness gurus that genuinely recommend this methodology – avoiding fruits and vegetables.
Now, I don’t know to what extent are you familiar with this but fruits and vegetables are pretty much your primary natural source of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Without them you’re pretty much putting your body in a self destruct mode.
And it gets worse! People avoid dairy products such as Milk because of its lactose content (lactose if a form of sugar).
Listen, I’ll let you in a bit of a secret. Are you ready? It’s a doozy. Ok, here it goes – SUGAR DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT!
Wait, what? But all of those ripped and shredded fitness models keep telling me to avoid sugar if I want to lower my belly fat. You trippin’, John! You trippin’!
Well I ain’t trippin’ and I’ll tell you why. Instead of looking at the sugar content of the food that you’re about to consume you need to start thinking about another index, the glycemic index.
The glycemic index (GI) is a number that is associated with a specific type of food that indicates the food’s effect on an individual’s blood glucose (blood sugar) level. It represents the total rise in a person’s blood sugar level following consumption of the food in mind. In other words, it shows you how quickly sugar from food is absorbed into your food. The higher the index of the food, the faster the sugar enters your blood, and the more body fat you will accumulate.
On the index 100 indicates the form of pure glucose (the quickest acting carb).
The problem with this index is that 1) not everybody is aware of this measurement in the first place; and 2) no company writes down the glycemic index at the back of package where you get your nutritional data table (the nutrition facts provided on the right side are those of cherries, by the way).
So what how exactly are you suppose to find out where a specific food is with a low glycemic index. Well, you can always visit the internet and Google to find out whether the food that you’re about to sink your teeth into has a high/low GI.
Or, something that I would recommend getting the hang of, is looking at another number that is located in the nutrition data table – the dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is the one number at the back of the package that you are interested the most. The higher the fiber content of the food the longer it takes for your body to break it down to glucose. Usually, complex carbohydrates and fiber go hand to hand.
Have you ever noticed how healthy foods that are a source of complex carbohydrates (complex-chain carbs) like wholemeal, apples, broccoli, and beans have a really good dietary fiber content (3-6g per 100g) when compared to foods that are a source of simple carbohydrates (simple-chain carbs) like white rice, white bread, white pasta, potatoes and, my favorite, sugar have a really low fiber content (0.5-2)?
What do foods that are high in fiber have in common? You guessed it, they have a low glycemic index.
This is why people who suffer from diabetes – you know, the state in which your body is incapable of producing insulin (insulin is released in the body by the pancreas in order to stabilize your body’s blood sugar) – can eat foods that contain sugar but have a low glycemic index.
Interestingly, honey, food that contains <0.1 fiber in 100g and is a pure form of sugar, has a low glycemic index of 55. And if this doesn’t mean much to you, I want you to know that Oats have a GI of 58 and baked potatoes, the ones that almost everybody consumes, have GI of 85! Fascinating, isn’t it?
Everything contains sugar, even broccoli has about 1.7g of sugar per 100g, however broccoli is with a really low glycemic index – 10 GI (this is because broccoli is a really powerful source of dietary fiber – 100g of raw broccoli gives you 3g of fiber, which is super impressive considering that broccoli has a pretty low carb content of just 6.6g).
Another good example are apples. Apples contain 10g of sugar per 100g but have a low glycemic index of 34.
Keep in mind, the glycemic index is not a tool that can be used for foods that contain sugar alone, but for all foods that are a carb source. For example, white wheat bread (this will also explain to you why white bread is a no-no) has a 71 GI; white rice – 89 GI; white wheat bagel – 95 GI; and the list goes on and on. This is why there are so many fitness experts that would always give you the same piece of advice “Eliminate white bread, white rice, white potatoes, white wheat in general”.
And, here is where the fiber-carb connection comes into play, the dietary fiber content of the above listed foods are low as hell. Like for real, white rice has 0.4 per 100g! Whereas, brown rice has 2g of dietary fiber and a 50 GI. This is why foods that are considered to carry fat-burning properties all have low glycemic indexes.
The whole idea behind this article, guys, is to show you the truth behind sugar content. In the end of the day you are interested of not how much sugar you’ve consumed (of course this does not mean that you can eat a ton of sugar and not worry about your weight) but what is the glycemic index of the foods that you’ve indulged.
*If you are interested in finding out more about specific foods and their GI check out the Harvard Medical School Publication of glycemic indexed foods – it has a list with 100+ foods based on their glycemic index*