When people ask me about my daily diet I really like to throw them for a loop by saying, “I always make sure I get enough highly refined sugar every day!” It’s fun to watch their faces. Some people look at me like I’m joking and others just shake their head and act like I’m a naive little child who hasn’t learned better yet and they’re probably thinking “just wait until you’re older, young man, then you’ll know!” Others still chalk it up to luck or genetics. Whatever the case, they don’t believe that there are actually ways to incorporate sugar into a healthy diet and eat it in a healthy way.
What they don’t understand is that I’m as lean, healthy and strong as I am because of my sugar consumption rather than in spite of it. The only difference is that I’ve built up a different perspective on sugar that’s given me the skills to use it as the wonderful nutrient it is. So without further ado, here are my tips for the skillful use of sugar.
The Poison is in The Dose
Like all nutrients, the healthiness of a food or nutrient depends upon whether or not your body can use it. It’s not about being good or bad, but rather useful or not useful.
Sugar is just like any other nutrient or food stuff. It has the potential to be both a poison as well as a medicine. The governing factor is how much you consume within a given period of time.
Calling out any food or nutrient as blatantly good or bad means to ignore this fact. It’s like swearing off using a hammer ever again because it’s a bad tool. On the flip side, it wouldn’t be a good idea to say that a hammer is great and to try to use it for everything.
It’s All About The Balance Between In vs Out
Again, like all aspects of nutrition, your body is constantly in a state of balance between consumption and expenditure or use. It’s this balance that is important, not just the intake or the expenditure.
Focusing on just one half of the balance means you ignore one half of the ratio and thus still leave your results up to chance no matter how tightly you control either your intake or your expenditure.
The intake of sugar is simple, it’s consumed through the diet in various forms ranging from simple sugars to more complex forms like grains and complex carbohydrates.
Expenditure is also pretty simple. You’re always burning sugar 24/7. The only change is what the rate of your sugar expenditure is. As a general rule of thumb, the more intensity you apply to your training, the more sugar you’re burning. This is why high intensity training methods like sprinting and weightlifting can have a favorable influence on weight loss.
Sugar is Stored as Fat as a Last Resort
A lot of weight loss methods out there are based on the idea that when you consume sugar your blood sugar spikes and insulin shuttles it right into your fat cells. It’s a nice and tidy theory but it has some holes. The first one being that whole deal about the rate of consumption that I discussed in rule #1. A few crackers won’t spike your blood sugar nearly as much as a king size candy bar.
The second is this theory fails to recognize that your body has 3 other sugar storage tanks that sugar goes into before it is primarily stored as fat. The first 2 are the biggest tanks which store sugar in the form of glycogen in your liver and your muscles. The third storage tank is your blood itself.
So if you consume some sugar and it can go into your liver, your muscles or even to level out your blood then it’s not going to be so eager to jump into your fat cells. Even then, if it does go into your fat cells there’s no guarantee that you’ll gain weight. Once again, results are all about a balance between in versus out. Fat enters your fat cells on a daily basis. It’s also leaving your fat cells as well. Gaining or losing weight is about the balance of that fat entering and leaving those fat cells. No one ever gained weight by fat going into their fat cells, nor has anyone lost weight by fat leaving the fat cells. It’s the balance between the two that’s important.
Sugar is a Super Fuel
People love to talk about superfoods, but they seldom ever mention sugar. If anything deserves superfood status it’s sugar. Sure, refined table sugar doesn’t have vitamins or minerals, but that’s not what it’s for. On a side note, if sugar did have all of the vitamins and minerals we would ever need then would it then be healthy? Can we call Pixy Stix a superfood if they are fortified with other elements of nutrition? Anyway, one of the reasons I love sugar is because it’s the highest form of fuel we humans can consume.
The human body runs off of food just like your car runs off of petroleum. Also, just like with fossil fuels, the more refined the fuel is the more power it can deliver. This is why high-end cars require more refined fuel than the average car. Race cars require even more refined fuel and those rockets we send up into space don’t run off of the gas you pump at the local station.
Sugar is the nutritional equivalent of rocket fuel. It’s refined and as pure as we can get when it comes to physical fuel. A lot of dietary theories are based on the idea that foods should be unrefined so they take a long time to digest. After all, that is what your body does, it takes complex unrefined foods and then breaks them down and refines them. So refined sugar is essentially saving your body the trouble of refinement.
In keeping with the car analogy, eating complex carbs and fat is akin to dumping crude oil into your car’s gas tank. Thankfully, we can refine our own fuel which forces a longer, slower burn. However, sometimes the last thing you want is a long slow burn. Sometimes you want to put some high-powered fuel into your tank and nothing is a higher octane than sugar.
Consume Sugar with Fat and Protein
So let’s flip the tables and say you do want to have that slow burn, but you don’t want to have to completely eliminate sugar from your diet. This is simply done through adding in some of the fats, proteins and fiber that the body will then need to further refine out through the digestion process.
All through history, cultures around the world have discovered that combining fat, protein and carbohydrates can result in a satisfying and nutritious dietary staple. Examples can be found in everything from wontons to perogies to burritos and even the humble sandwich. Through adding fat and protein to starches and grains the short-term impact of sugar is drawn out into a much longer more sustained burn. This way, you get the super fuel benefit of sugar with the long-lasting burn of more complex nutrients like fats and fiber.
I fully agree that we have many health and wellness challenges due to our modern diet including far too much sugar and not enough expenditure. It’s a pretty good bet that giving a recommendation to someone to reduce their sugar intake will bring positive results. But let’s keep in mind that if someone is better off consuming less sugar that it’s the amount of sugar that’s the issue, not the sugar itself. If we can keep this in mind, we can use the above rules to include sugar into a diet in a healthy way and not have to worry about how much sugar there is in a spoonful of peanut butter.