All Sugars Are Not Equal: Part 1

I saw it all too often during my days as a personal fitness coach.  The avid Weight Watchers participant who sat across the table from me adamant about not eating bananas because they were worth three points instead of one.  (I was certainly relieved when Weight Watchers changed their system for a majority of fruit and vegetables to be free, no point foods.) My clients would often argue that they preferred to save their points for other foods, such as (artificial-, and chemically-laden) Weight Watchers bars or not-as-healthy dinners.  Blindly only considering the demonized nutrient of the moment, these well-intentioned weight loss enthusiasts would overlook the potassium, vitamin C, B-6, and resistant starches (indigestible starches that are found in more green bananas) that also reside within bananas.

Going hand-in-hand with my previous entries on “Eating Real,” “Mostly Plants,” and “Fiber 101” and “Fiber 201,” all sugars are not equal.  But first a run down on what I mean by sugar in this sense.

 When people think of sugar, typical table sugar comes to mind or the sensation of sweetness.  Sugar in this context, however, includes all carbohydrate-containing foods, which are eventually converted into glucose for our bodies to utilize as energy (or stored as fat if consuming too much).  Carbohydrate-containing foods include:

  • Bread
  • Pastas
  • Beans
  • Grains (rice, popcorn, rye, oats, barley, etc.)
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit juices
  • Desserts
  • Sugary-beverages
  • Dairy products (milk, yogurt, and kefir)

The form that exists in pastas, breads, beans, and grains for example are more complex and include many glucose molecules linked together (polysaccharides).  Meanwhile, the sugar in fruits, vegetables, desserts, dairy products, and fruit juices contain what are considered simple sugars (mono- and di- saccharides). As the name implies, these sugars have a more simple structure comprised of either a single sugar molecule (monosaccharides: glucose, fructose, or galactose) or two bound together to form disaccharides (sucrose, lactose, or maltose). When we consume these sugars, however, enzymes must convert them to glucose. Fructose, for example, must be converted into glucose in our liver.

So when I say sugars, I am considering the breakdown process in our bodies. When looking at the sugars and carbohydrates that you consume, it’s best to look at your diet as a whole and how much you’re actually consuming.  Eat more natural, sugar-containing foods such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables (bananas included!) and you will get more bang for your buck in terms of nutrients (both known and unknown).  The important thing is to consider what else, or better yet what you aren’t getting, when choosing an iced tea or a fortified granola bar instead of a piece of fruit or yogurt.

Natural foods are your best supplement, so please don’t fall into the hype and instead take advantage of what nature provides!

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