By: Jamie McManus, MD
Sugar—this 5 letter word has become one of the most demonized words in any language and yet it is absolutely required for life. “Sugar” is blamed for obesity, heart disease, mood disorders, addiction, and more, but glucose (a simple sugar found in many foods) is the basic source of energy essential for the functioning of our brain, muscles, and organs. It is not sugar that is harmful but rather excess sugar that can lead to inflammation, weight gain, and more. Excess calories (more than your body needs) are the problem—whether those excess calories come from carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. So, let’s dive into this to help you understand how to include sugar in a healthy diet.
A Calorie Breakdown
Calories come from three food sources: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Proteins and carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram while fats provide 9 calories per gram. Most health experts agree that the breakdown of how these macronutrients provide our daily caloric needs should be approximately 50% from carbohydrates, 25% from proteins, and 25% from fats. Ideally, the protein calories are coming from lean and/or plant-based sources (containing little to no saturated fats) and the fat calories are primarily coming from polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils (fats that are liquid at room temperature).
It’s important to eat a nutritious array of carbohydrates since they are our major source of calories. All carbohydrates are broken down into 3 sugars in our bodies—glucose, fructose, and galactose (milk sugar). All fruits and vegetables contain glucose and fructose and they should be the primary source of sugar in our diet but should be balanced with complex carbohydrates from whole grains (brown and wild rice/quinoa) and starchy vegetables (sweet potato/corn/root vegetables).
The government publishes recommendations for healthy eating every 5 years or so and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 for the first time defines “moderation of added sugar intake” as being less than 10% of your daily calories. That would mean up to 150 calories if you’re consuming 1,500 calories/day, which would be 37 g or 9 teaspoons of added sugar. Of course the devil’s in the details, and with sugar, it’s all about delivering the glucose your body needs along with fiber and protein so that the breakdown of the food and the delivery of the nutrients to your cells is a balance of glucose and fructose alongside amino acids (from proteins), fatty acids, and fiber. It is the balance of all these nutrients that determines the glycemic index of carbohydrate foods. The glycemic index of a particular carbohydrate is the impact it has on your blood sugar as compared to consuming an equivalent amount of straight glucose. Consuming straight sugar has a glycemic index of 100. High glycemic index foods result in a higher insulin response, which tells the body to store any excess calories as fat—thus fueling weight gain and the heightened risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, dementia, and many other chronic diseases. Understanding and utilizing the glycemic index of foods you eat is the most important aspect of achieving a healthy intake of carbohydrates. A glycemic index of 55 or less confers a “low glycemic index” claim for that food.
Sugar and Shaklee
So how do we use the glycemic index at Shaklee? Since we have an extensive line of “healthy meal,” “meal replacement,” and “healthy snack” options, our scientists and product development team have always been committed to making sure our food products are high in nutritional value AND low on the glycemic index. Although it is not required, we have always had our shake and bar formulations tested at the globally recognized Glycemic Index Testing Center at the University of Sydney in Australia. All of our shakes and bars have glycemic index scores in the 30s, well under the 55 lower limit for calling a food “low glycemic.” Our food products are carefully formulated to provide a healthy balance of macro- and micronutrients in a delicious and flavorful form so that people can and will use them to support healthy eating to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Being at a healthy weight (BMI 19–25) is one of the most important determinants of helping transition to “well care” oriented healthcare.
Choosing the Right Food
When looking at labels, focus on the grams of fiber and protein as well as added sugar. As long as the grams of fiber + protein significantly exceed the grams of sugar/added sugar, that food should not have a significant insulin effect. Check out some examples listed below:
Apple, medium: 85 calories/19 g sugar/4 g fiber
Banana, medium: 110 calories/20 g sugar/3 g fiber/1 g protein
Carrots, 2 medium: 60 calories/10 g sugar/4 g fiber/2 g protein
Broccoli, 1 large stalk: 45 calories/5 g sugar/3 g fiber/4 g protein
Whole grain bread, 1 slice: 80 calories/0 g sugar/3 g fiber/4 g protein
Shaklee 180® Snack Bar (Cherry & Almond): 140 calories/6 g sugar/3 g fiber/9 g protein
Life Shake™ (Soy Vanilla Stevia Free): 150 calories/5 g sugar/6 g fiber/20 g protein
Our bodies need sugar, but we need to consume most of our sugar from natural sources, especially whole fruits and vegetables as well as carbohydrates that are high in fiber. Ideally, your meals should deliver lean and plant-based protein and a colorful array of carbohydrates with small amounts of healthy fats. Explore new carbohydrates—especially vegetables and whole grains as these are the most nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods that will fill you up so that you don’t consume excess calories. Plus, they provide a great nutritional foundation for achieving weight control and living a longer, healthier life.