In the last article, we talked about exercising at home and I provided ideas on how to do this with minimal equipment or items you likely already have at your disposal. In this article, I want to address nutritional changes that you can make that only require small changes to your shopping lists and cooking habits. In particular, I want to discuss reducing the sugar or carbohydrates in your diet as a starting point.
A personal trainer that worked with us previously, had these little challenges that she often did with her clients. For December, she had a no sugar challenge. I admit that I have a big sweet tooth and three years ago, I would have said “no way”! Now I can confidently say, “No problem, I got this” because I have been eating a ketogenic diet for almost 2 years now. I will not try to push this diet on anyone, and I am not going to talk specifically about a ketogenic diet, but if you would like to discuss this with me further, please feel free to contact me. One of the biggest benefits from this diet, is that it took me off of sugar and I have found that it really is amazing what you can make your body do by eliminating sugar from your diet.
The GDP for sugar and confectionary products in Canada during 2019 was $1.6 billion (Statistics Canada). There is a lot of money in sugar. However, sugar also has a large effect on our health care system.Sugar has been shown to cause inflammation, high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease, all of which are linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke (Harvard Health Publishing, 2017).
Did you know there are 11 million Canadians living with diabetes or prediabetes (www.diabetes.ca)? There is a very good chance you know someone living with this disease. Men have a higher incidence rate than females in all age categories with the peak age of incidence in the 65-79 age group (Canadian Public Health Infobase).
As diabetes runs in my family, I knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to prevent this disease from taking over my life. I also knew I was addicted to sugar. The more you have, the more you crave. I would get a crash around 10-11am if I had a breakfast too high in carbohydrates. And I was not eating terribly, usually a bagel with cream cheese ( a common breakfast). This would prompt the need for a mid-morning 2nd or 3rd coffee (with sugar and milk) to hold me until my lunch. My lunch would consist of leftovers from the night before dinner. Veggies with some steak and rice, forexample. However, I would then have an intense tiredness again around 3 or 4pm. Dinner again, depending on the day of the week, could be anytime between 5 and 8pm, but would consist again of some protein, with a higher percentage of carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, etc…). Do these meals sound familiar? They are not too far off of what “we” as a population consider normal.
When you are training as an elite level athlete, where your caloric needs will be quite high, the amount of carbohydrates you take in will be on the higher side. But for the majority of us, are not elite level athletes and our caloric intake needs to meet the metabolic demands of the body, whether that may be a zero exercise level or a mild-moderate exercise level, in order to prevent accumulation of fat on the body. In other words, when we are eating too high a percentage of carbohydrates, we end up storing more, likely as fat, than what we actually burn off. And now we risk the chance of developing insulin resistance, leading to diabetes and all the other problems that come along with it.
Insulin resistance is what happens when we constantly have a high amount of glucose in our blood and the resulting high insulin levels. Our body stops reacting the way it needs to due to the high levels of insulin and becomes “resistant to insulin”. There are so many chemical reactions that occur or don’t occur because the insulin receptors become overwhelmed with work. This includes triggering inflammation in the body and causing free radical formation. Free radicals further damage anything they come into contact with, like DNA and cell membranes. Reducing the amount of sugar can, therefore, dramatically affect the glucose and insulin levels in the blood preventing further damage.
The following ingredients are used to sweeten foods and have been shown to increase blood insulin levels. We want to avoid these as much as possible:
high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, maltose, dextrose, glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, agave, brown rice syrup, molasses, caramel, beet sugar, brown sugar, sorghum syrup, fruit juice, coconut sugar, date sugar, ethyl maltol, dextrin, barley malt.
What we want is to be metabolically flexible. We want to be able to balance our insulin levels so we don’t crave sugar but also burn sugar or fat as fuel when needed.
Try eliminating sugar from your diet. Start with eliminating foods with any of the sugar ingredients listed above. Refrain from high starch foods like potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, and fruits/veggies with a high glycemic index (high sugar content). Drink water, or tea and/or coffee (with no sugar). Limit your alcohol consumption. Ensure you are getting an adequate amount of protein, Health Canada recommends 0.80 g/kg /day of protein. Add healthy fats like avocado oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds in your meals or snacks. Start with some of these and see how well you do.
I expect that you will see that eliminating some of the sugars and replacing with more nutrient dense foods will keep you satiated and you will stop craving the sugar. If you are ready to kick it up a notch from here, let me know and we can discuss your nutrition further.