So many of you may have heard this. It is usually one of the number one food changes to make when you want more energy, fat loss or weight loss. It can also be linked to those wanting better health. But, when asked why, many of you aren’t 100% sure. We know sugar puts weight on, but how?
Some say it’s to do with your insulin, others energy and cravings or fat storage. All are correct, but let me help clear up the process for you.
Before we go on, I want to explain about two hormones and their nicknames:
- Cortisol – stress hormone, when elevated helps our fight or flight mode. It’s that rush of adrenaline you feel when you realise you’ve forgotten something, or when something makes you jump. Cortisol can also be raised through other elements not just someone saying Boo! Things like not getting enough sleep or overtraining. But for now, I just want you to understand that cortisol is your stress hormone.
- Insulin – fat storage hormone, helps take excess sugar from our blood and stores it as fat.
Insulin and cortisol are necessary for life, without these you would be dead, but as with most hormones, they should be balanced. When in excess, hormones can have a variety of negative consequences on your body. So, the first ones we are looking to help change with this specific food focus is your cortisol and your insulin hormones. Be mindful, this “red food focus” may take more than one week for MANY of you. For some it may take THREE or FOUR weeks. So, before I even chat further about this, please be mindful this one may take you a little longer than just a wave of your magic wand.
Firstly, let’s talk about sugar, because when I am talking about decreasing your sugar intake, I am not just talking about the white, bagged sugar type. There are what we call ‘trojan’ sugar food sources, those that are hidden among other foods. Foods such as:
- Sauces you add to meals
- Breakfast cereals
- Pop and fizzy drinks
- Refined foods such as white pasta, breads, pastries
- Sweets and chocolate
- And of course the white, bagged sugar
- Often, ‘fat free’ yogurts are high in sweetener or sugars to make them taste good
All of these contain high levels of sugar without some of us really even realising. So, when we eat these foods, we are intaking a high level of sugar in one sitting, which will affect our blood sugar management system, or otherwise known as our blood sugar levels.
So, let’s talk about this. Your blood sugar management system is one of the most important systems to make sure is better balanced. When we overeat on sugary foods such as any of the ones I have mentioned, we effectively mess with this balance. The better our blood sugar levels, the more they are kept at a healthy range, the more healthy, strong and energetic we feel. Unbalanced blood sugar levels put us at risk of a few things, and can amount to excess fat and weight gain as well as consistent energy dips.
It is dangerous for our blood sugars to be too high, so for that reason, our body has a safety system, whereby it detects the high level of sugar in the blood, and increases the insulin hormone. This then works to take the excess sugar to the liver where it is stored as saturated fat. So with excessively high levels of sugar in the blood, more insulin is required in order to work at converting it into stored fat. The less sugar in the blood, the less this occurs. When we have lower blood sugar levels, the more the body will look to other sources to use as fuel, i.e. your stored fat.
In the beginning, when you are working to better balance your blood sugar management system, you can feel REALLY tired. The reason for this, is because your body is used to gaining a surge of energy and insulin. But, insulin does not know HOW much sugar to leave in the blood, it just simply knows that it needs to decrease the amount. So, after a surge of energy, insulin takes this out of the blood, and you get an energy dip. This is also why, if this is your current cycle, sometimes the sugar kick can last for a little while, and then you need another. Alternatively the sugar gives you a TEMPORARY energy kick.
Sugar has been linked to being more addictive than heroin. It stimulates the brain more than the drug does. So, when working at decreasing sugar, be mindful that you may have a few ‘off plan’ episodes. But the main element that you need to be mindful of is accepting that it will happen and when it does, you’ve already planned for it. Your plan will be to GET BACK ON with your plan straight after. This means paying attention those thoughts such as ‘I’ve gone and done it, I’ve messed it all up’ or ‘I’ve ruined it now’, and although you hear them, you change the action associated with these thoughts by NOT going on the warpath and giving up for the next few days. Simply get back on the program.
Here is a very interesting fact for you. You may have heard that chocolate increases your endorphins. Well, this is true but it doesn’t take a whole bag of chocolate. It only really takes 1 cube of chocolate to kick in your endorphins. After one cube the level of endorphins do not rise further, so, really, after 1 cube, the rest is habit and cravings!
At the beginning I talked about refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta, and for a few of you this may have sounded a little odd, as these technically fall under the carbohydrate food lists. So, let me explain this a little further.
When we eat carbohydrates such as grains (like pasta, bread, rice and so on) they are broken down into smaller molecules. One of these is glucose, which is a form of sugar found in a lot of foods and used by the body for energy.
The more refined a food, the sweeter or paler the colour, such as white bread and pasta, which means their make-up is a little simpler. The simpler the food, the quicker it is digested. The quicker something is digested that contains sugar (or glucose as we now know), the larger the impact on our blood sugar levels. And, as we already know, the higher the levels of blood sugar at one time, the more our insulin will work to decrease this and turn it into fat.
In our daily lives, many of the foods in our diets contain lots of glucose –especially the refined food types such as white bread and pasta, as well as sauces, stir fry sauces, sauces that we add to chips as well. So, when I talk about refined, I am talking about these foods, foods that have been changed, or altered and refined in order to taste nicer.
So, how does fruit work, or brown rice and pasta? Many of you may be asking this as technically fruit is sugar and if white bread and pasta is made of glucose, so are brown bread and rice.
This is all correct. The key thing to understand is something called “glycemic load”. This is simply the impact a food will have on your blood sugar levels. The higher the glycemic load, the more impact it has on your sugar levels. Think of it like a heavy weight, the heavier the weight the more impact it has if you drop it, the lighter the weight the less impact.
Foods are the same, some foods cost you more in relation to your blood sugar levels, because they get digested quicker, or they have higher levels of glucose per gram.
So, let’s take an apple – it may have a glycemic load of 5, meaning it won’t raise your blood sugar levels very high. Whereas chocolate has a glycemic load of 100. This is significantly higher than the apple, which means it will raise your blood sugar levels significantly in the same time.
The higher the glycemic load, the more impact that food will have on your body.
So, when it comes to fruit and brown rice and the less refined foods, yes these have glucose (sugar) in them, but the load they put on our blood sugar levels are lower, so the impact is lower.
So, your aim:
- Work at decreasing the amount of processed foods, such as sugar, sauces, chocolate and so on.
- Stick with this food focus until you’ve got it.
And, to help you, here are a few tips:
- Remove all sugary things from your kitchen, these can be very tempting especially at night when you have the urge to go walkabouts in your kitchen when you are bored.
- Know your hot-spot areas, for example if you know that when you go shopping you always want a to buy a bag of chocolate, make sure you know what you will buy instead and always aim for this. Simply being aware of these less than helpful situations and creating a turnaround action can help you.
- Have swap outs. These are foods that taste sweet and curb the craving yet are actually better than having chocolate. We have a few below for you to help you along with the portion sizing.
- Tell your partner, flatmate and friends as social support is a huge one to help with sticking to this! If they keep bringing home lots of sweet stuff, it can be a real bug bear to your motivation and willpower. If it isn’t there you can’t get tempted!
- If you are one of those people who have ⅔ sugars in their tea, several times a day, work at diminishing this rather than cutting it out altogether, get used to it one week at a time. It can be very difficult to go from that number to nothing at all. Work slowly but consistently at diminishing the amount you have. And the same goes for if you drink a great deal of coke.