Sugar can be a tricky thing to monitor when it comes to eating healthy. Of course, you could always rely on the “if it tastes sweet, it has sugar” method, but most of us would be surprised – even shocked – by how much sugar we eat each and every day. Even though it’s fat free, sugar plays a big role in storing belly fat. Fat through the midsection is more than an eyesore, it’s a health threat. Unneeded fat throughout the abdominal region places a lot of stress on all the vital organs.
Sugar is an easy thing to become desensitized to. The more you eat, the less you’re likely to experience “sugar shock.” I’ve worked with a lot of people who have eliminated sugar from their diet for as little as four or five days, only to reintroduce it again with a sip of soda or a bite of a cookie. Each and every time these people are surprised by how much sweeter these foods taste than what they experienced a week earlier.
According to the American Heart Association, maximum limits for sugar range from 3 teaspoons (kids), 6 teaspoons (women), and 9 teaspoons (men). Spread that over 24 hours, and you’ll find it doesn’t go very far. A lot of people surpass their limits by breakfast.
- Starbucks Vanilla Latte (Grande) contains 35 grams = ~ 8 teaspoons
- Yoplait Original (99% fat free) contains 25 grams = ~ 6 teaspoons
- Strawberry Pop Tart contains 17 grams = ~ 4 teaspoons
- Vanilla Almond Milk contains 15 grams = ~ 3.5 teaspoons
- Chocolate Brownie CLIF Bar contains 17 grams = ~ 4 teaspoons
- Jamba Juice Banana Berry Smoothie (original) contains 82 grams = ~ 19.5 teaspoons
- Simply Apple Apple Juice contains 28 grams = 6.5 teaspoons
- Skinny Cow Low Fat Chocolate Fudge Ice Cream Cone contains 19 grams = ~ 4.5 teaspoons
- Raisins* contain 70 grams = ~ 16.5 teaspoons
- Skittles candy contain 72 grams = ~ 17 teaspoons
- Grapes* contain 18 grams = ~ 4 teaspoons
- Smuckers Strawberry Jam contains 12 grams = ~3 teaspoons
- Special K Cereal contains 19 grams = ~ 4.5 teaspoons
- Special K Chocolate Protein Shake contains 18 grams = ~ 4 teaspoons
- Bananas* contain 16.5 grams = ~ 4 teaspoons
Note: 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4.2 grams. The food mentioned above are approximations, and have been rounded to the closest half teaspoon.
Watch my segment on WGN. I give a few good visuals of just how much sugar we all eat.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: Please don’t look at the list and think “Oh, Skinny Cow has so much less sugar than Skittles. I’ll just eat that instead.” That’s not the point. Skinny Cow’s 4.5 teaspoons is still quite a lot and should be considered a treat. I just wanted to give you an idea of just how much sugar is in commonly eaten food.
How Sugar Stores Fat
1) For the purposes of weight gain, think of insulin as a fat storage hormone. After we eat a sugary meal, insulin levels go up – we feel good. After a while, blood sugar levels fall. We want to eat again, we need a pick-me-up, or we feel tired. We crave more sugar, so we eat again. Fat gets stored and the number on the scale goes up.
2) Once insulin is thrown off, it starts to affect other hormones, like cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone. Cortisol sends messages that say “Help me, I’m in trouble.” From a physiological perspective, the best way to protect your body is store store fat through the belly area because that’s where all your vital organs are.
3) You’ll notice I had healthy foods, like *raisins, *grapes and *bananas on the list. Fruits are very good for us, don’t get me wrong. They’re loaded with nutrients our body needs. The type of sugar they contain, however, is called fructose. Fructose doesn’t get metabolized in the same way other sugars do. Eating a banana or a handful of grapes is just fine, as long as you don’t have too much food in your belly. Here’s why. Think of your liver as a gas tank. When we eat a meal, our “tank” is full. We don’t need any more fuel. But when we eat a little extra, particularly in the form of fruit, our body’s reserve mechanism is to store fructose as triglyceride, and ultimately as fat. This is simply how our body works. So not only have you stored a little extra fat, but it’s also possible that you’ve elevated your triglycerides.
Bottom line on fruit if you have belly fat. Eat a little, not a lot.
Keep in mind that most packaged foods contain some sort of fructose (often as high fructose corn syrup). Fruit is not the only food that has the potential to store fat, all high sugar foods do.
Sugar is really addictive, so the first few days of going sugar free can be tough. Most people have strong cravings that can feel unavoidable. But after you get over the hump of cravings, you’ll be on easy street.
- Substitute stevia for table sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar or honey.
- Drink less caffeine throughout the day as it has a tendency to throw off insulin levels as well, making you feel hungrier faster.
- Put cinnamon in as many foods as possible. Cinnamon works like a charm when it comes to controlling blood sugar levels.
- Instead of a fat free breakfast, lunch or dinner, add healthy fat to slow down the breakdown of carbohydrates that ultimately turn to sugar in your body.
- Don’t forget about lean proteins. They’re just as important as healthy fats in getting blood sugar levels under control.
- Drink water like it’s your job! A lot of people confuse thirst as hunger. Make water your quick fix before you reach for anything else.
- Be mindful of what you eat. Keep a food journal, read labels and know how much sugar you’re taking in.
Looking for more info like this? Sign up for my newsletter!
How can I help you reach your ideal weight, create a juicing plan or get you fit? Check out my weight loss and fitness coaching services and let me know.
Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.