A teaspoon of sugar. . . A drop in the ocean or a dangerous liaison?
Sugar, once the only supposed causative culprit of high blood sugar, is actually now accepted as a lesser evil than various other sweetened and even unsweetened foods.
Caryn Davies, a registered dietician shares some perspectives on the sugar saga. Diabetes management is no longer solely focused on restricting all dietary items that contain sugar, but is rather centered on an understanding and avoidance of the foods which can dramatically raise blood sugar. Surprisingly, ‘sweetness’ is not necessarily an accurate predictor.
Of course, a teaspoon of sugar will increase one’s blood sugar, but more dramatic effects are interestingly noted after the consumption of highly refined carbohydrate foods, such as a slice of white or brown bread, a cup of certain breakfast cereals or fruit juice and even one rice cake. The ability of foods to affect our blood sugar after eating has been qualified and quantified in the context of the Glycemic Index (GI) and the Glycemic Load (GL), which give us insight into the type and amount of carbohydrates that should be consumed for optimal blood sugar control.
The best food choices for diabetics include carbohydrates that have been minimally processed (low GI carbohydrates), as these will result in a more gradual rise in blood sugar after eating, than the highly processed, more refined alternatives (high GI carbohydrates). Unlike carbohydrates, protein and fat do not exert an immediate rise in blood sugar and the effect of eating carbohydrates in conjunction with a small amount of healthy fat or lean protein is beneficial to overall glycemic control, as is the presence of fibre.
Many foods do contain a combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat, but some contain disproportionate amounts of fat, which is especially unhealthy for diabetics, as a high fat intake has the ability to reduce the efficiency of insulin, (the hormone which controls rising blood sugar). Thus, the key to effective diabetes management is to eat mixed and carefully balanced meals and to choose combination foods that are high in fibre and low in total and saturated fat.
Food shopping can get decidedly overwhelming as the topic of health can be interpreted and marketed in many different ways. Furthermore, food labeling is not always easy to decipher or even available.
The road to becoming consumer savvy starts with familiarizing oneself with common low GI foods and the concept of portion control. Well, renowned low GI foods include unrefined starches, such as brown rice and oat bran; high protein grains such as quinoa, most legumes (beans, chickpeas & lentils), raw nuts and fruit & vegetable varieties that are eaten with the skin on. Whole foods, eaten as close to their natural form as possible, are the ultimate benchmark. Second to this, is portion control, because even a low GI carbohydrate consumed in large quantities could send blood sugar skyrocketing! (Potentially more than some high GI foods consumed in very small quantities.)
This brings us back to sugar –the currently considered vice of the modern diet! Perspective from the Glycemic Index yields it somewhat acceptable in moderation. However, issues arise when portion control (the Glycemic Load) is ignored. Although a teaspoon of sugar in an afternoon cup of tea, may be relatively slight in effect, 4 cups of heavily sugared caffeine in a day paints another picture altogether. This coupled with the added sugar that is found in most cereals, convenience snack foods, sweetened dairy products and the diversity of drinks stocking the supermarket shelves these days, suddenly collaborate as a lifestyle risk factor for sugar addiction, insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity! (All of which can be exacerbated by an excess of sugar in the diet.)
These statistically increasing conditions of lifestyle, despite being manageable, are to a large extent preventable! All it takes is a little bit of consumer savvy! Choose high fibre carbohydrates (> 6g fibre per 100g,) products that are low in fat (<3 g per 100g,) and practice portion control! (Add extra salad for satiety!) These simple principles, although used as the base of diabetes management, are not only useful for diabetics, but for anyone seeking good health, weight control and sustained energy!