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Nutrition Myths, Busted: The Sugar Edition

Nutrition Myths, Busted: think sugar is addicting? Is the sugar in fruit bad your you? Does sugar cause diabetes? Read on to learn what the science has to say!

Sugar. We know too much of it is bad for our health. Too much sugar can cause weight gain (1), increase cardiovascular disease risk (2), and displaces nutrient-rich foods in the diet. Sugar is readily available in our food system in the form of snack foods, beverages, packaged desserts, yogurt, ketchup, candy…the list goes on!

The USA recommends Americans consume no more than 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or less than 10% of daily calorie needs (3). But, the average American consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar per day (4)!

We can all agree that we should limit our sugar intake for good health. But, there are some nutrition myths regarding sugar floating around. Learn what the recent research says about sugar!

Myth #1: All sugar is bad for you, even the sugar in fruit.

Sugar nutrition myths, busted - Daisybeet

First, let’s clarify something. All sugar, regardless of what kind, is ultimately broken down into simple sugars. A majority of the sugar we digest is broken down into glucose, and some of it is converted to fructose. So, no matter if you eat a cinnamon bun, an apple, or a literal spoonful of sugar, it all gets broken down into the same thing. Ultimately, your body will use or store the glucose from fruit and a pastry the same way.

That being said, the sugar you consume with fruit comes with a lot of other beneficial nutrients! First, fruit is full of vitamins and minerals our bodies need, such as vitamins A, C, folate, and potassium. Also, fruit is a good source of fiber. The fiber in fruit fills us up, but it also slows down digestion. Therefore, the sugar within fruit is broken down and released into the bloodstream more slowly, preventing a rapid spike in blood sugar.

Fruit can absolutely be part of a healthy diet. The current dietary guidelines recommend about 2 cups of fresh fruit per day. Make sure to keep the skin on, because that is where the fiber lives! Choose fruit over processed foods, like cookies and sugary cereals, to avoid consuming too much added sugar.

Enjoy 2-3 servings of fruit per day to get important vitamins, minerals, and fiber in your diet. Regardless of where it comes from, all sugar is broken down by the body into simple sugars to be used for energy or stored as glycogen or fat. Excess added sugar is where we get in trouble, because it displaces more nutrient-rich foods in the diet.

Myth #2: Sugar is just as addicting as drugs.

Many of us have seen headlines comparing sugar to cocaine, heroine, and other highly addictive drugs. But is sugar addicting, just like these commonly abused drugs?

The idea that sugar is addicting is based on the premise of how the brain responds to sugar. When we eat sugar, the pleasure center in the brain lights up. Dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, levels surge. What else also activates the reward center and triggers dopamine release? Highly addictive drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and opiates (5).

But, sugar is different from these drugs. First, our bodies naturally will crave and enjoy sugar, because sugar = energy for our cells and brain. We are rewarded with feeling good when we eat sugar, because we need some to function!

A recent review of the literature about sugar addiction showed key differences between drug addiction and sugar (6). Rats given sugar or cocaine would seek cocaine despite negative consequences, which was not observed with sugar. Also, when presented with environmental stimuli associated with sugar or cocaine, rats who previously had cocaine displayed patterns of habitual drug seeking. This review concluded that there is little evidence to support sugar as an addictive substance.

While sugar activates the same reward center in our brains as drugs, there is little evidence to show it is an addictive substance. Our bodies need sugar in the form of glucose for energy, so eating sugar makes us feel good.

Myth #3: Eating too much sugar causes Type 2 Diabetes.

Glucose and insulin have a close relationship. Insulin is a blood sugar regulating hormone. When we eat sugar, our bodies break it down into glucose, and it travels to the blood. This triggers the pancreas to release insulin, which allows glucose to enter our cells. This process lowers our blood sugar levels to normal after we eat.

Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the body’s ability to metabolize and regulate blood sugar levels. A person with type 2 diabetes will either not respond properly to insulin, or not produce enough insulin. So, they struggle with maintaining a safe and stable blood sugar level. A normal fasting blood sugar level is <100 mg/dL, but someone with diabetes may have a much higher level, because they aren’t able to move the sugar from their blood to their cells.

A common misconception about type 2 diabetes is that eating sugar causes it. When you think about it, this idea kind of makes sense. You have too much sugar in your blood, so you must be eating too much sugar. That’s why it is so important to have a grasp on sugar digestion, absorption, and insulin regulation.

What really causes type 2 diabetes?

Some risk factors include: overweight/obesity, genetics, age, race, physical inactivity, or other conditions like PCOS or gestational diabetes (7). Poor diet also may elevate risk of Type 2 Diabetes, which includes an excess of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. But whether or not you develop a disease is complicated and individualized, so no one risk factor determines your destiny.

There are several risk factors for developing Type 2 Diabetes, but specifically eating too much sugar is not one of them. To reduce your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, manage your weight in a healthy way, exercise, and eat a balanced diet that limits saturated fats and added sugar.

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Weight Loss Nutrition Myths, Busted

In this edition of ‘Nutrition Myths Busted’, we are talking weight loss. From carbs to calories to skipping meals, get the most up to date research here!

weight loss nutrition myths

Since starting my nutrition private practice this year, almost every single one of my clients has wanted to lose weight. With that goal comes a flood of questions. Should they try Whole30? What about keto? How about meal replacement shakes?

After I say my part about weight loss, balanced meal planning, and macronutrient needs, my clients are sometimes a little underwhelmed. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, magic pill, or specific diet that guarantees weight loss fast.

The good news is, weight loss is possible and attainable. Just like most changes in life, weight loss is built on the culmination of healthy habits. Make small, sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle, and you will see results! It takes a little patience because healthy weight loss is slow and steady, but you absolutely can be successful at weight loss.

Today, I’m breaking down three weight loss nutrition myths I hear and read over and over. I’m covering carbohydrates, calories, and skipping meals and how they all relate to weight loss. Read on for the science-backed details!

Weight Loss Myth 1: Carbs make you fat.

Spring pasta dish - weight loss nutrition myths

Back in the 1990s, the low-fat craze took over in America. But now, things have shifted, and low-carb diets are all the rage. From paleo to keto, many of today’s hottest diets promote low carbohydrate intake.

For reference, the Dietary Guidelines recommend 45-65% of our diets come from carbohydrates, or about 225-325 grams of carbs per day. The ketogenic diet (which was developed for people with epilepsy) recommends just 50 grams per day.

The research shows that in the short term, low carb diets might be slightly more effective for weight loss than other diets (1). When I say slightly, I mean the difference of 2-3 pounds over 12 months. A difference this small is negligible for those with a significant amount of weight to lose. Furthermore, research shows that adherence to very low carb ketogenic diets is nearly nonexistent after 6 months.

What all this tell us is that low carb diets may jumpstart weight loss in the short term, but after a year of dieting, the difference is inconsequential. Also, low carb diets, especially the ketogenic diet, are not sustainable long term. When considering a diet, ask yourself if you think you’ll be eating this way when you’re 85. If the answer is no, it’s probably not a sustainable pattern of eating that will produce long term results.

Furthermore, when you eliminate carbs, you are eliminating super important vitamins, minerals, and fiber! A high fiber diet is actually extremely conducive to weight loss, because it fills you up on fewer calories. The takeaway here is to choose whole grain, complex, fiber-rich carbs to promote weight loss while still meeting your micronutrient needs. Check out this post for to learn more about fiber-rich foods!

Weight Loss Myth 2: I can eat whatever I want and lose weight, as long as I stay under my calorie goal.

Cookie dough fudge - weight loss nutrition myths

I think a lot of us have experience with counting calories. When we have a specific number in mind about how much we should eat every day, this can quickly become the most important driving factor of our food choices. We choose 100-calorie packs over satiating nuts for a snack because they are lower in calories. But, there is so much more to a calorie than the number, and the quality of your calories matters.

Not all calories are created equal

The calories in our food have different effects on metabolism when the food is actually digested and absorbed (2). For instance, an apple and a slice of white bread have roughly the same number of calories. But, the apple has 4 grams of fiber, whereas the white bread has none. The fiber in the apple will slow the digestive process, keeping us full for longer, and avoiding a quick spike in blood sugar. The white bread breaks down quickly, so the sugars rapidly absorb into our blood.

When we choose meals and snacks that have a balance fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats, our bodies digest them more slowly, we have a more stable blood sugar curve, and we feel fuller for longer. The benefits of fiber in particular are extra notable, because we don’t even digest it! It passes through our digestive tract, feeds the good bacteria in our guts, or gets exits our bodies. When we feel full, we eat less overall, which ultimately leads to weight loss.

Of course, consuming an excess of ANY macronutrient will be stored as fat. But, we can prevent eating in excess in the first place by choosing balanced meals, never restricting ourselves too much, and practicing mindfulness while eating.

The best foods for sustainable weight loss are not low calorie foods, but whole, unprocessed foods from all food groups because they metabolize more efficiently, keep us full, and help prevent overeating in the first place.

Weight Loss Myth 3: Skipping meals will help me lose weight.

Skipping meals may work for short term weight loss, but it is absolutely not sustainable or healthy for the long term. In fact, it might actually disrupt your metabolism. Metabolism is all the chemical processes that happen inside our bodies that keep us alive. It encompasses burning calories and fat for energy, and using energy to rebuild tissues.

One study found that there was no difference in body weight after 1 year between breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers (3). Also, the breakfast eaters had higher intakes of important nutrients, like thiamin, niacin, and folate.

Another study looked at breakfast skipping, dinner skipping, and eating a conventional 3 meals per day (4). After the breakfast skipping trial, post-meal insulin levels and fat oxidation increased. This may signify changes in metabolism that could lead to increases in inflammation and difficulty managing glucose levels in the long term. This increases risk of Type 2 Diabetes and weight gain.

Skipping meals and it’s effect on metabolism

We can rev up our metabolism to a degree every time we eat. Protein and fiber-rich foods have high thermic effects, because they take longer to digest and absorb than refined carbs and fat (5). This means it takes more calories to digest protein and fiber than other foods. Skipping meals has the opposite effect on metabolism. Our bodies are very smart, and will go into “starvation mode” when they are severely calorie restricted. We become accustomed to burning less calories to perform necessary functions and hold on tight the the calories we DO get (6).

While skipping meals may induce weight loss via a calorie deficit early on, it is not sustainable and may damage our metabolism, which makes it even harder to lose weight in the long term.

I hope you guys enjoyed reading this weight loss nutrition myths post! To summarize, there is no quick fix for weight loss if you want it to last long term. Small changes that work within your lifestyle will lead to weight loss success, along with a well-balanced diet that includes fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat. Check out my last ‘Nutrition Myths, Busted’ post here!

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