WTF Wednesday – The Sugar Detox

One item in our food supply has been under attack.

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Seemingly, this ingredient didn’t do anything wrong. It made cookies taste good, made bitter foods, like coffee, bearable, and sometimes just put a darn good smile on our face. So how did we end up here? For this week’s WTF Wednesday, we’re talking about the sugar detox your friends, relatives, and that neighbor down the street have embarked on.

Let’s start from the beginning. Sugar is the general name for a group of molecules that fall under the class of nutrients, called carbohydrates. The sugars that have been getting the bad rep lately are fructose, found in fruit, and sucrose, commonly known as “table sugar.” Oh, and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which is a mix of two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose, and used widely by the food industry…we’ll go there later.

Sugar has been a common ingredient in our food supply for a long, long time. It’s what gives food that amazingly sweet taste! We are wired to enjoy foods with sugar because the taste is, well, delicious, aaaand the sweetness signals that this food is a source of energy (a.k.a. calories). Sugar can be pretty awesome because the monosaccharide, glucose, which is the major sugar found in our body and food supply, is the exclusive fuel for our brain (side bar: when we don’t eat enough carbohydrates, our body can make a limited amount of glucose from breaking down muscle and produce ketone bodies from fat stores to fuel our brain…but this is super not ideal). However, besides calories, sugar lacks other nutrients making it a nutrient-poor food.

Sugar can be found intrinsically in foods, like fruit and milk, or it can be added to foods, like baked goods, soda, yogurt, and all sorts of unsuspecting goods, like bread, tomato sauce, ketchup, etc. HFCS came into play when the the food industry started using a mix of glucose and fructose sugars to sweeten foods because it was cheaper than cane sugar (sucrose) and tasted sweeter. Sugars that have been added to foods were given the name “added sugars.” Due to studies showing that higher consumption of sugar may be linked to metabolism problems and weight gain, sugar, especially added sugars, have gotten a ton of buzz in the past couple years.

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Added sugars have been hit hard because they’re not found “naturally” in certain food items, so they’re seen as removable. Also, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the top sources of added sugars are sugar-sweetened beverages (I’m looking at you, soda and juice), as well as snacks and sweets. We can all agree that we feel less than optimal after eating too many nutrient-poor foods (candy) and not enough nutrient-dense foods (veggies and hummus).

The current recommendation for added sugars is to limit our intake to less than 10% of our total calories. So if you’re consuming a 2,500 kcal diet, you’re aiming for less than 250 kcal from sugar. There are 16 kcal in 1 teaspoon of sugar, so roughly you’re limited to about 15 teaspoons. Since carbohydrates provide 4 kcal per gram, you’re looking at ~60 grams. If you were to go for 2 glasses of sweetened iced tea, you’re done. Forget getting a cocktail. That’s way too easy to go overboard.

Hence, here we go with the sugar detox. People are attempting to completely remove sugar from their diet. Some are just removing added sugars (added sugar is sneaky and hides in foods, so this will be difficult), others are attempting to remove both intrinsic and added sugars (eek, bring on the low energy). The problem here is similar to my previous post. Banning foods is not a sustainable strategy to teach good nutrition.

Sure, we can all put more effort into choosing foods that provide more nutrients, instead of relying on sugary snacks for a quick energy source. But we also can’t forget that the sugar, glucose fuels our brain. Fruit is also a great source of different nutrients, including certain vitamins and minerals, water-soluble fiber, and phytochemicals (that have antioxidant properties). Plus, fruit tastes good, so it’s easier to adopt eating fruit into the diet.

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Eating is all about creating a pattern. Healthy eating is about creating a pattern centered around nutrient-dense foods, with the allowance for the occasional treat. Don’t bother with starting the New Year with a sugar detox. Instead, practice these sustainable nutrition strategies to lower your sugar intake:

1. Choose Carbohydrates Wisely: Go for whole-grains, like oats, brown rice, barley, buckwheat, and whole-wheat couscous. These whole-grains will provide fuel for your brain and body, while also giving you other nutrients. Plus, you cook all these yourself, so you avoid mystery sweeteners that appear in pre-packaged foods.

2. Sugar-Free Hydration: Make water your primary drink of choice. You can add citrus or cucumbers and mint for added flavor, or even go with seltzer for a pop! As for alcohol, your best bet is vodka with seltzer and lime wedges.

3. Calculate Your Energy Needs: Find out your estimated energy requirement using a tool, like the USDA SuperTracker, to figure out roughly your calorie recommendation for the day. From there, calculate your sugar allowance of 10% of total calories.

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Have you ever tried a sugar detox?

What are your food goals for the year?

 

2016 – The Year of Growth

There are tons of posts, memes, statuses, tweets, etc. floating around on social media about how 2016 was the worst. There’s even a song about it. True, 2016 certainly had its low points, just like every year. I definitely experienced quite a few! But, 2016 needed to happen. 2016 was the year of growth.

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Reflections on 2016

2016 was the year I became a researcher. I designed and led my own pilot study and a whole lot went “wrong.” At least that’s how I felt in the moment. I struggled with having parts of my pilot study not go exactly how I meticulously planned. But, that’s the nature of research. You can plan the perfect study, but the secret is that there’s no such thing as a “perfect study.” Research is about executing a well-designed study, and that also includes having multiple back-up plans. I learned how to re-group and ask other questions to guide my pilot study. I formulated new hypotheses and took a slightly different direction. Nothing was ruined. In fact, this made my pilot study stronger because I thought more about what I was doing, decided precisely how my hypotheses were to be measured, and grounded my study design in theory. This experience helped me design an even better full-fledged study that was built off of the pilot study.

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2016 was the year I took a risk. I took on a big leadership position and I was so excited. But, at first I had much to learn about being a leader. My passion came off as overbearing and my meticulousness came off as constraining. However, I was willing to learn, to change, to become better. I researched leadership styles, took workshops, read books, talked to others in leadership positions, and, most importantly, practiced. Slowly, I started seeing improvements. I’m still working at this position every day, but I feel this is the way it’s supposed to be. To be an effective leader you need to constantly work to improve.

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2016 was the year I gained confidence. I started believing in myself and what I have to offer to the nutrition world. I learned how to speak more confidently and act more like a professional. Gone are the days of wearing gym clothes to the office. Dressing more professionally really does make you feel more confident :). I passed my Qualifying Exam in November and being more confident was likely a contributing factor (along with a whole lot of hard work, research, studying, coffee, and practicing).

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2016 was the year I finally became a morning person. I used to dread getting up before 8:00am. However, going through graduate school, I realized I needed to get up earlier in order to accomplish more and have time for a sit-down breakfast (my favorite part of the day!). I started small, setting my clock back to 7:30am, then to 7:00am, and finally to 6:30am. This isn’t super early, especially compared to a lot of other people, but to me this is a whole lot earlier than where I started. Some days I even set it back to 5:40am to catch a sunrise spin class :). Starting my day earlier gives me more time to ease into the day and I feel less rushed. Less rushed = less frazzled and being less frazzled is better for everyone.

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This past year, I grew a lot as a researcher, leader, professional, student, and a friend. I’m excited to see what 2017 brings. This year, I’m making SOULutions (not resolutions), thank you Robyn.

This year, I will be…

present. I will take time to truly relish moments, people, places. When I’m with others, I will be in the conversation and not thinking about my to-do list.

organized. On that note, segmenting my time into chunks throughout the week will better help me stay on task and increase efficiency. I’ll have discrete times to think about my to-do list. Segmentation is the best.

supportive. I want to use this platform to share evidence-based nutrition advice and help you achieve your goals. I want to show you how to incorporate aspects of healthy living into your life.

I hope you have a Happy New Year and cheers to 2017!

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What are your SOULutions for 2017?

How are you ringing in the New Year?