The Caveman’s Essential Nutrients #5: Sugar

These days, sugar gets kind of a bad rap. Between the sugarless diet fads and the invention of Splenda, sugar is on the no-no list for a lot of people trying to lose weight. But sugar can’t be the dietary boogeyman, right? Well your ol’ pal Scratch is here to put to rest a couple of sugar related myths and give you the real scoop on the sweet stuff.

The first thing you need to know about sugar is that it isn’t as simple as that pack of sweetness you put into your coffee in the morning. Sugars are a form of carbohydrates, and carbohydrates can be really good for you – provided that you eat the right kinds in the right amounts. Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. If you’ve ever heard of someone “carbo-loading” before a big race, this means that they’re loading up on carbs so that they’ll have more energy to burn during their exercise. Even if you don’t need to outrun a hungry Sabertooth every day, your body still needs a lot of carbohydrates. For the average person, 60 to 70 percent of your total calories each day comes from carbs, though these levels vary since all bodies operate differently.

Now, it’s important to remember back to your old middle-school health class and recall that there are two types of carbohydrates: Simple carbs and complex carbs. While both types of carbohydrates are ultimately released into the bloodstream, there are major differences between the two and how they can affect your health. A good rule of thumb: simple carbohydrates (like candy) aren’t as good for you as complex carbohydrates (like wheat pasta).

But just because you need sugar and carbs doesn’t mean you should be eating the wrong kinds of sugar and carbs. While it may be true that your favorite candy bar is sugar-filled, it doesn’t make it good for you. Over-processed, factory-made sugars and starches lack the nutritional value of natural sugars and carbs.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth that you need to satisfy, try to stop reaching for the chocolate and start grabbing things like fruits. Simple carbohydrates like candy, fudge, and cakes enter the bloodstream very quickly and cause blood sugars to spike. This can be especially dangerous for diabetics. If you’ve gotta have that simple carbohydrate fix, try a grapefruit, apple, pear, or a handful of berries. These take longer to digest than candy so they reduce the amount of time it takes for blood sugar levels to increase.

If you’re trying to up your sugar game, try indulging in a complex carb like pasta, sweet potatoes, or oatmeal. These foods help you maintain good, stable glucose levels (important for everyone, especially diabetics).

Maintaining a good level of sugar in your body is important for many reasons including regulating blood sugar, maintaining good blood pressure, and even improving your brain function. Studies show that proper sugar intake can improve your brain function. Don’t believe me? Ever experienced that sense of excitement and agitation from a sugar buzz or slumped down to a state of lethargy in a sugar crash? Believe me now? The moral of this story is: a spoonful of sugar might actually be as good for you as the medicine that it helps go down!

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