Sugar is getting more and more attention. And not without reason: our (often processed) food contains sugar in almost everything. As a result, obesity, type 2 diabetes and other diseases are on the rise. Your body needs sugars, or better said carbohydrates, to provide energy. But here it makes a big difference whether you eat fast or slow carbohydrates.
Fast carbohydrates make your body's blood sugar rise quickly and provide a boost of short-term energy. That's why we call them fast sugars. If you eat more complex carbohydrates, they take longer to enter your bloodstream as glucose, so they keep blood sugar levels stable and give you long-term energy. Oats are an example of slow sugars. The advantage of this is: it gives you long-term satiety and you don't get hungry again so quickly.
Unfortunately there is a lot of sugar in today's, often processed, food. We consume far too much sugar without realising it. ALL sugars, no matter what it says on the label, have the same effect on your body: they raise the blood sugar level and insulin production.
Insulin is the body's main regulator of fat metabolism. When insulin levels go up, we store fat. When insulin levels drop, we use fat for fuel.
So besides the process of fat storage shortly after a meal, eating too much sugar can cause an increase in body fat and make the body more resistant to insulin. This causes the insulin production to increase, and more fat is stored automatically. Result: we get fat.
What else does sugar do?
1. Sugar increases the risk of heart disease:
Sugar increases your risk of heart disease in several ways. For example, eating too much added sugar increases your levels of triglycerides, which is the primary type of fat in the bloodstream and adipose tissue. Additional risks for heart disease include insulin resistance and diabetes, as well as increased inflammation levels.
2. Sugar leads to inflammation:
Sugar is converted into glucose and that can contribute to inflammation, the body's response to internal damage. Thus, it is associated with many chronic diseases, including heart disease, dementia, depression, cancer. Sugar also affects the so-called low-grade inflammations, which are mild inflammations that are barely measurable in the blood but which activate your immune system, resulting in chronic conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis or skin problems like eczema.
3. Sugar lowers your resistance:
Did you know that a moderate dose of sugar suppresses the immune system for 5 to 6 hours? This reduces the body's ability to fight infections and inflammations. Read here what you can do to support your immune system.
How can you measure the effects of sugar intake?
Biomarkers (indicators used in medical research) like hs-CRP (high-sensitive) can measure inflammation, while Triglycerides and ApoB can help you assess your heart health. And HbA1c measures your average sugar level over the past few months. Periodically checking your biomarkers is a powerful way to make connections between what you're doing to stay healthy and how your lifestyle is affecting your overall health.
If you take a blood test before you start these 5 steps and repeat it after 4 months, you can see how your efforts have had a positive impact on your overall health. To measure is to know!
Whether you want to improve your immune system, lose weight, or just feel better and optimize your health, reducing your sugar intake is an important step!
5 simple steps to cut down on sugar
Step 1: Know what you eat
There are many more names and aliases than "sugar" on an ingredients list. These can be divided into refined sugars (from the factory, such as granulated sugar), natural sugars (honey, coconut blossom sugar) and naturally occurring sugars (found in fruit and vegetables). Here are a few: agave syrup, soft sugar, brown sugar, caramel, dextrose, fructose, fruit extract, fruit sugar, sugar syrup, glucose syrup, honey, cinnamon sugar, coconut blossom sugar, granulated sugar, lactose (milk sugar), corn syrup, maltose, palm sugar, sucrose, wheat syrup, fruit sugar....
And then you have sweeteners that are often referred to by an E-number: E950 Acesulfame K, E951 Aspartame, E952 Cyclamate or Sucaryl, E954 Saccharin, E955 Sucralose, E957 Thaumatin, E958 Glycyrrhizin, E959 Neohesperidin DC, E960 Stevioside or Stevia, E961 Neotame, E962 Aspartame-acesulfame salt.
Sweeteners, whether or not from a plant, are often many times (up to 1000x) sweeter than sugars. There is a lot of discussion about whether sweeteners are healthy or not. But know this: the body recognizes all these sugars as simply sugar and processes them as such. If you know that sweeteners are much sweeter (read: more sugar) than sugar, your body will process them as such, with all its consequences. Aspartame and stevia are 200-300 times stronger than sugar: just count what your body does with them....
Ingredients are listed on labels in descending order by weight. If you see that sugar is one of the first ingredients, the product therefore contains a lot of (added) sugar. Sometimes you will see multiple forms of sugar listed on the ingredients list. In that case, it does not seem as if it contains that much sugar, but if you add up these forms (which you have to do) you will come to a completely different conclusion!
Conclusion: the only reliable way to identify added sugars is to look at the ingredient list and know what you are eating and drinking.
Step 2: Write down what you eat and drink
Keep track of everything you eat and drink for a week. For each meal, drink and snack, look up what's on the ingredients list and note your sugar consumption at each step.
Reading labels and taking notes is an effective way to:
- Learn how much added sugar you consume, whether it's choosing a cookie between meals, soda at lunch, or having a nice dessert after your evening meal.
- You become more aware of how much sugar you consume (often unintentionally), because there is sugar in all our processed food. Sugar is a cheap preservative and sugars are often used as filler in foods you don't immediately associate with sugar, such as yoghurt, bread, meat and condiments.
- You will gain insight into when you consume sugar, is it mainly in the afternoon or after dinner or do you start with a sugary breakfast? When do you feel like eating sugar or candy? And what does this do to your energy level?
After this week, when you have written everything down, count how much sugar you consume on average each day. Be honest: you are doing it for yourself so you become aware of what you are ingesting. For reference: 1 teaspoon is 4 grams of sugar.
Step 3: Determine your new goal
The WHO (World Health Organisation) strongly recommends in its Dietary Guidelines* that "free sugars should not exceed 10% of total energy intake, with the conditional recommendation being 5%". Free sugars are simply the added sugars; sugars naturally present in vegetables, fruit and dairy are not included.
The American Heart Association recommends a similar limit for added sugars - no more than 100 calories per day for most women and no more than 150 calories per day for most men. That's about 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and 9 for men.
Fact: a can of soda contains about 160 calories = that's about 10 teaspoons of sugar. So with one can of soda you are already over your daily limit of sugar intake, and you haven't eaten yet.
Step 4: Remove a sugary meal or beverage
It's OK to start with a small step. Thanks to your eating log, you now have a good understanding of your sugar consumption habits. Now it's time to make a choice in which area you would like to reduce or eliminate your sugar intake: that could be changing an entire meal or something smaller like a snack or (soft) drink. For example:
- During your lunch, swap the soft drinks for mineral water or tea.
- Change your breakfast, switch from yogurt with granola and syrup, to, say, Greek yogurt with nuts, raisins and a tsp of raw honey.
- Choose black coffee once a day instead of sweetening it with sugar or sweeteners.
These are just examples, but think about what suits you and implement it immediately. Change your habits in small steps, then you have the best chance of success. Depending on how easy it is for you, take another step after two weeks. If it doesn't work out one day: don't be too hard on yourself but go back to your step-by-step plan.
Step 5: Test and track your progress
Now that you're taking all these steps, you also want to test how it's doing.
There are several ways to monitor the effects of reduced sugar intake on your health.
You've probably noticed a change in your energy and mood and your sleep quality. You may even have fewer headaches or suffer less from mood swings or PMS. And most likely you are regularly on the scale and or have your weight and body fat percentage measured at the gym.
If you want to monitor your progress properly you can have your blood tested prior to your diet (or rather lifestyle change) and repeat this after a period of 4 months to see how your biomarkers are doing then.
How bloodvaluestest.eu can help
The biomarkers mentioned above that relate to sugar intake and lifestyle habits include hs-CRP (high-sensitive), triglycerides and ApoB and HbA1c.
Bloodtesting.nl offers several tests to measure these biomarkers: 6 important biomarkers and the National Health Check-up or your Fat Profile Plus.
Testing your blood levels is an accurate way to see where you are doing well and where you need to improve, and it can give you the motivation to stick with it and continue your positive changes.
Regular blood tests are crucial to understanding how your health works. This allows you to track your progress; detect any diseases, infections and inflammation in a timely manner and then work in a targeted manner to resolve any issues.
Many people today suffer from insulin resistance due to the frequent intake of sugars. You can read here what the symptoms of this are and how you can recognize it. If you don't succeed in losing weight you can test what the reason might be with the insulin test or HOMA IR.
The total test as mentioned in this blog can be ordered by putting the test "blood test weight loss" in your shopping cart and checkout.
And you don't manage to adapt your own diet and lifestyle or are you running into (health) problems? Go to your doctor with your blood results and ask for a referral to a lifestyle coach. Since this year, this intervention is increasingly reimbursed from the basic health insurance.