June 11, 2014

Sugar, Blood Glucose, Diabetes, and… Food Labels


Diet and exercise. The more I learn, the more I understand that our well-being often comes down to these two things -- which we can control.

While I could do better with the exercise part, I’m pretty good with the diet part. For a long time, I’ve essentially followed a basic Mediterranean Diet, considered by most health and nutrition professionals to be as good-for-us as any diet on Earth, and probably better.

I’ve developed a favorite snack: dried apple slices. They’re delicious and satisfying, I know they contain vitamins and minerals that are good for me, and I get them at my local Sunday farmers market – which I love to visit each week.

In my internet rambles, I found a site that listed the many benefits of eating apples:
  • Apples contains 6mg of vitamin C per 100grams.
  • Apples are a low-calorie snack. An average apple will contain under 85 calories.
  • Apples have been called nature’s toothbrush because they stimulate the gums, increasing saliva flow and decreasing the build-up of bacteria.
  • Women who eat three apples a day while dieting lose more weight than women who do not.
  • Apples may be the fountain of youth. They contain the compound procyanidin B-2 which prevents wrinkles and inhibits hair growth.
  • Eat apples with the skin on for maximum nutritional benefit.
  • Rich in dietary fiber, apples prevent the absorption of LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • People who consume diets that are high in flavonoids, like those found in apples, are 20% less likely to develop cancer.
  • Apples have NO fat, cholesterol, or sodium!

Then, There’s the Sugar
Here’s the rub: apples also contain sugar – in the form of fructose. And dried fruit – since most of the water has been removed -- is considerably higher in sugar by weight than fresh fruit. The dried apple slices I enjoy also don’t have some of the advantages shown above for fresh fruit.

The Healthy Eating  Healthy Eating website offers this alert:
Drying fruits decreases their water content and concentrates their natural sugars. A handful of raisins, or about 1/4 cup, contains over 30 grams of carbohydrates, or about 8 teaspoons of sugar. Many varieties of dried fruits, such as dried cranberries for instance, also often contain extra carbohydrates from added sugars. If you can't stick to a small serving of dried fruits and are tempted to overeat them, avoid dried fruits completely to prevent a sharp rise in your blood sugar levels.

I snack on dried apples in small quantities only, so I’m not concerned about their glycemic index (GI). The one-to-a-hundred GI helps identify the impact that particular carbohydrates have on our blood sugar, compared to straight glucose (at 100). Any carb rated below 55 in considered unlikely to raise blood sugar levels significantly. Apples have an average GI rating of 39, though a similar weight of dried apples would be higher.

Would You Like Some Cheese with That?
How we eat carbs matters, too. For example, pairing a piece of cheese or some protein-packed Greek yogurt with apples – fresh or dried – can reduce the impact the fruit has on blood sugar. It’s just like the benefit we get by adding protein-rich, low-glycemic beans to carb-heavy, glycemic-high white rice – a complete carbohydrate that doesn’t cause potentially dangerous blood sugar spikes.

We all know the danger that prolonged high blood sugar brings – diabetes, with all its attendant issues. I see the word “diabesity” in my research more and more.

Here’s something else I see more often: food labeling in America does not make determining sugar content in food very easy. A “sugar-free” promise on a label does not mean the product has a low GI. Something touted as “naturally sugar-free” can mean only that there is no added refined sugar. It may contain lots of fructose, or lactose (from milk), or “alternative, natural” sweeteners like honey, or maple, date, and agave syrups.

Starchy foods – white bread, pasta, some vegetables – also get converted quickly to sugar. All these “sugars” are essentially processed the same way in the body, creating sugar spikes, then insulin resistance, and – if unchecked – diabetes.

Still, the Labels Don’t Help Much
Should all these “sugars” be honestly represented on labels? Food marketers, of course, are much more interested in their profits than our health. So far, they have carried the day.

But consumer groups argue more and more that sugar – in all its forms… refined, unrefined, natural, and unnatural -- is a harmful addiction that kills more people and burdens the American healthcare system more than any other food. Nonetheless, careful labeling remains an elusive goal.

Products that act in our bodies like sugar are still labeled “sugar-free.” As Nicole Mowbray – author of the book “Sweet Nothing: Why I Gave Up Sugar and How You Can Too” – said in an interview on June 7, 2014, in the U.K.’s Daily Mail:
You wouldn’t be able to say that something that had milk in it was “lactose free” or something that had wheat in it was “gluten free”, for example. This is perhaps because there are people who suffer from serious lactose and gluten allergies, whereas avoiding sugar is perceived as being more of a lifestyle choice.

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The growing diabetes epidemic in America has made news again this week. More on that tomorrow.



3 comments:

Susan O'Shea said...

So true! Thanks for the blog.

Myself am become expert with the USDA site. I buy base ingredients to make food and have developed some great recipes.

The chest freezer is my friend.

http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list

John Schappi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Schappi said...

Today I experimented with combining two of Sunday's Farmer's Market buys-- fresh strawberries and applesauce. How could something so heavenly also be healthy?




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