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Six Week Diet Turnaround: Slash the Sugar

Week Two

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Updated February 04, 2014

In week 1, you learned about the importance of body composition measurements and why you should keep a food diary. Now let's put those food diaries to work. This week is going to be all about reducing the amount of sugar you eat. By sugar, I mean table sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, turbinado sugar, brown sugar, and even honey.

First let's look at a little sugar chemistry.

Simple Sugars

These are little molecules made up of one or two sugar units. The most basic simple sugars are glucose (the type of sugar our bodies and brains use for energy every day) and fructose (found in fruits and in vegetables). Sucrose, or table sugar, is formed by the combination of fructose and glucose molecules.

High fructose corn syrup is very similar to table sugar in that it is made up of fructose and glucose. Table sugar is half glucose and half sucrose while HFCS is about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. As far as your body is concerned, there is almost no difference between regular table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Maltose, or malt sugar, is made up of two molecules of glucose. It's produced during the malting of cereals such as barley.

Simple sugars are water-soluble and easy to digest (break down in the digestive tract). The glucose and fructose molecules are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream via the small intestine. This can be a problem for people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome who have to watch their blood sugar, or blood glucose levels.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are long chains of the single sugar units. For example, the complex carbohydrate we know as starch is made up of many glucose units. Starches are not water-soluble and require digestive enzymes called amylase (released from your pancreas during digestion) to break them apart.

Another complex carbohydrate is cellulose, the structural component of plants. Cellulose helps plants keep their shape; so in a way, cellulose acts like a plant skeleton. We are unable to digest cellulose; however, cellulose is one of the important components of fiber, along with lignin, chitin, pectin, beta-glucan, inulin and oligosaccharides.

Dietary starch and cellulose are the complex carbohydrates that are important in nutrition. Potatoes, dry beans, grains, rice, corn, squash and peas contain large amounts of starch. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, lettuces and other greens are not starchy. That's because the stems and leafy parts of plants do not contain much starch, but they do contain more cellulose. Since we can't digest cellulose, that means that the green and leafy vegetables contain fewer calories than the starchy vegetables.

There's no need to avoid all (or even a lot) of carbohydrates. In fact, carbohydrates should supply about half of your daily calories. One gram of carbohydrate, whether is it is sugar or starch, contains four calories. One slice of bread has about 12 grams of carbohydrates. One typical chocolate bar may have about 50 grams of carbohydrates. A medium potato has about 35 grams of carbohydrates.

Although all carbohydrates have four calories per gram, some sources of carbohydrates are better for your diet. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains are healthier carbohydrate sources than candy, sodas and pastries. Why? These carbohydrates have large amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. Fiber is especially important because it keeps you feeling full longer.

Candy, sodas, pastries and other junk foods usually are poor sources of nutrients and sometimes we refer to these foods as having "empty calories," which means they have lots of calories with little or no nutritional value plus they are usually low in fiber.

This week you are going to work on eliminating the excess added sugar that is used during the manufacturing of many processed foods. You don't need to avoid natural sugars like those found in fruits and some vegetables because those foods are good for you (in fact, next week you'll start increasing your fruit and vegetables intake).

The type of sugar I want you to eliminate is the added stuff that is present in a lot of processed foods and high-calorie sugary sodas and treats. It sounds easy, but sometimes you'll need to read food labels to find hidden sugars. You may worry about not getting enough carbohydrates -- don't worry, you're not giving up healthier carbs, and your body can make glucose from proteins by a process called gluconeogenesis.

Some sugary foods are obvious, such as sugar-coated cereals, sweet soft-drinks and bottles of syrup, but you'll also find lots of sugar in healthier looking foods like instant flavored oatmeal, salad dressing, and cups of flavored yogurt. Even ketchup has sugar in it. When you're shopping, look on the ingredients list for added sugar.

Here's what to look for:

  • Sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Corn sugar
  • Syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Sucrose
  • Raw sugar
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Honey

When you see these on the ingredients list of a packaged food, ask yourself a couple of questions.

How much sugar is in a serving of this product?

Look at the Nutrition Facts label under "sugar" to see how many grams of sugar are in one serving. We're going to calculate how many grams of sugar you should stick to each day -- can the amount of the label fit in easily?

How much of this food will you eat?

You might drink a whole can of soda, but only use a small amount of ketchup. Will you eat just one donut or will you be tempted to eat the whole package?

Make smart decisions about foods that contain added sugar and put the package back on the shelf. Look for healthier versions without the added sugar or chose other items. Drink sparkling water instead of soda. Buy fresh fruit instead of the donuts. Or if you really want a donut, buy one, not a whole bag.

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