Summary

Too much refined sugar takes a toll on your body and blood sugar levels. Thistle’s nutritional team explains how. We also offer tips for limiting the amount of refined sugar you consume, and cover other ways to mitigate the negative impact of refined sugar. Don’t worry; with less-refined sweeteners like maple syrup and date sugar, you can still indulge your sweet tooth, but in a way that’s better for your body.

Thanks to technology, food is easy to produce and readily available. But these advancements are often to the disservice of our health. Processed food is usually packed with added calories and refined sugar, and has little to no nutritional value. Some sobering statistics: 1 in 10 adults in America have diabetes. 1 in 3 are pre-diabetic. In this post, our nutritional team unpacks the perils of refined sugar and offers advice for curtailing the amount you eat.

Your Body + Refined Sugar: Defining the Relationship

Your body’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates. But that doesn’t mean your body requires the refined sugar found in foods like soda and candy. Sugar is part of the carbohydrate family and comes in many forms, with the body using natural and refined sugars differently. After eating sweets or carbohydrate-dense meals, the digestive system breaks the food down into simple forms of glucose, fructose, and lactose. When absorbed through your intestines, these sugars enter the bloodstream to provide the fuel your body needs.

A word about fructose: Don’t worry about the kind that’s found in whole foods like fresh fruit. Foods made with nutritionally-void high-fructose corn syrup, such as soda and candy, are the ones to avoid. Your diet ought to include lots of fiber, nutrients, and water, which is exactly what you’ll find in fructose-rich fruit. 

Unlike refined sugar, apples are filled with natural sugar, fiber, and nutrients that are good for your body.

As for refined sugar in general, it’s the simplest form of carbohydrate we can eat. In contrast, whole grains and starchy vegetables contain fiber and complex chains of simple carbs that make them “slow release,” or harder to break down and digest. 

Why does refined sugar cause your body’s energy levels to spike and crash? The less complicated the structure of a carbohydrate, the easier it is to digest, which means it hits your bloodstream at a rate that’s too fast to be healthy. That’s the spike. The crash comes when your body releases lots of insulin to deal with all the excess sugar in your blood. This leaves you feeling hungry. And if it happens on a regular basis, you’re at risk of becoming insulin-resistant and type 2 diabetic.

So not only is refined sugar void of nutrients, but it also keeps you hungry. It doesn’t satisfy. Naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit and other complex carbohydrates are not refined, nor are they considered added sugars. They won’t cause those dreaded spikes and crashes.

Refined Sugar: Our Advice

So what type of sugar should you be eating? Unrefined varieties that are but one ingredient in a complex carbohydrate meal or snack. Think: the opposite of soda. You want something that’s sweet, but also packed with nutrients and fiber. Your body typically needs a slow stream of steady energy, not a tidal wave of sugar crashing over it. Give it what it needs.

This doesn’t mean you must avoid all added sweeteners 100% of the time. Occasional blood sugar spikes won’t cause much harm. It’s chronically elevated levels due to regular consumption of refined sugar like soda and lack of physical activity that increase the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes. 

You may think the solution lies in zero calorie sweeteners like stevia or artificial saccharin. Think again. While they do not raise blood sugar at all, the sweet taste tricks the body into expecting a sugar rush. This may only increase your appetite, which defeats the purpose of limiting calories and sugar intake.

At Thistle, our plant-forward food helps keep your blood sugar levels stable. Not only are our meals full of fiber-rich and nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates, but we also limit our added sweeteners to 1 tbsp (~13g) per day, which is in line with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

Our added sweeteners include fruit—you’ll find it pureed in our smoothies and swirled into oatmeal—and other less refined, natural sweeteners that are the least processed and have some other great nutritional benefits. With options like our Chunky Monkey Smoothie, Brownie Batter Smoothie, and Lemon Mousse Tart, you can satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthier way.

Thistle’s Favorite Less-refined Sweeteners 

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup offers much more than refined sugar.

Maple syrup offers nourishing potassium and calcium and quick energy. It also raises blood sugar levels less than refined white sugar. Grade C maple syrup is the darkest brown and most complexly-flavored variety. It has a higher mineral content than more delicately flavored amber-colored Grade A maple syrup. Studies also show that it’s antibacterial, antidiabetic, and anti-cancer.

Date Sugar & Syrup

Date sugar is a great refined sugar alternative!

Containing only ground, dehydrated dates, date sugar is rich in fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Dates also help with constipation, heart problems, anemia, abdominal cancer, and muscle development.

Coconut Sugar/Syrup

Coconut syrup is less processed than other sugars, such as refined sugar.

Made from the sap of the coconut palm tree buds, coconut sugar is less processed as other sugars and is rich in vitamin B8 and potassium.

Monk Fruit

Thanks to an antioxidant called mogrosides, monk fruit tastes very sweet but has no effect on the blood sugar like other sweeteners. It fights free radicals, stimulates insulin production which can help with diabetes and keep energy levels steady—and protects against cancer due to high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Even with minimally processed foods like these sweeteners, it’s important to read ingredients lists. Too much salt, oil, or sugar can turn a simple, plant-based food into one that’s unhealthy and processed. Some so-called health foods (boxed cereal is a common culprit) can still cause the sugar highs and lows you’re trying to avoid. So read those labels! And pay close attention to the Nutrition Facts’ carbohydrates section. If most of the carbs come from added sugars, consider another choice.

Exercise: Another Way to Battle Refined Sugar

Besides limiting refined sugar intake, there’s another thing you can do to maintain healthy blood sugar levels: exercise. And it doesn’t have to be super strenuous or complicated. Regular cardiovascular exercise like walking, hiking, biking, gardening, or even dancing helps the body burn through sugar. Do whatever you can to integrate more movement into your day! 

Blood sugar balance has a complex effect on one’s health. It impacts mood, brain function, immune health, body weight, cardiovascular function, cancer risk, and diabetes risk. There’s so much at stake! And because blood sugar levels are determined by what we eat and how we move, eating well and exercising go hand-in-hand in the fight against the damaging effects of refined sugar. 

The sooner blood sugar issues are addressed by diet and lifestyle changes, the better. With whole, unprocessed, fresh, plant-based food that's free of refined sugar, your very next meal (or treat, even!) can be a step in the right direction. Thistle has plenty of options to get you started.

Get meals delivered to your door
We believe eating delicious is crucial to a healthy diet. Each week, our team of chefs design a new menu for what's in season, fresh and flavorful.
TRY THISTLE
Posted 
May 29, 2020
 in 
Nutrition
 category.
Summary

Too much refined sugar takes a toll on your body and blood sugar levels. Thistle’s nutritional team explains how. We also offer tips for limiting the amount of refined sugar you consume, and cover other ways to mitigate the negative impact of refined sugar. Don’t worry; with less-refined sweeteners like maple syrup and date sugar, you can still indulge your sweet tooth, but in a way that’s better for your body.

Thanks to technology, food is easy to produce and readily available. But these advancements are often to the disservice of our health. Processed food is usually packed with added calories and refined sugar, and has little to no nutritional value. Some sobering statistics: 1 in 10 adults in America have diabetes. 1 in 3 are pre-diabetic. In this post, our nutritional team unpacks the perils of refined sugar and offers advice for curtailing the amount you eat.

Your Body + Refined Sugar: Defining the Relationship

Your body’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates. But that doesn’t mean your body requires the refined sugar found in foods like soda and candy. Sugar is part of the carbohydrate family and comes in many forms, with the body using natural and refined sugars differently. After eating sweets or carbohydrate-dense meals, the digestive system breaks the food down into simple forms of glucose, fructose, and lactose. When absorbed through your intestines, these sugars enter the bloodstream to provide the fuel your body needs.

A word about fructose: Don’t worry about the kind that’s found in whole foods like fresh fruit. Foods made with nutritionally-void high-fructose corn syrup, such as soda and candy, are the ones to avoid. Your diet ought to include lots of fiber, nutrients, and water, which is exactly what you’ll find in fructose-rich fruit. 

Unlike refined sugar, apples are filled with natural sugar, fiber, and nutrients that are good for your body.

As for refined sugar in general, it’s the simplest form of carbohydrate we can eat. In contrast, whole grains and starchy vegetables contain fiber and complex chains of simple carbs that make them “slow release,” or harder to break down and digest. 

Why does refined sugar cause your body’s energy levels to spike and crash? The less complicated the structure of a carbohydrate, the easier it is to digest, which means it hits your bloodstream at a rate that’s too fast to be healthy. That’s the spike. The crash comes when your body releases lots of insulin to deal with all the excess sugar in your blood. This leaves you feeling hungry. And if it happens on a regular basis, you’re at risk of becoming insulin-resistant and type 2 diabetic.

So not only is refined sugar void of nutrients, but it also keeps you hungry. It doesn’t satisfy. Naturally occurring sugars such as those in fruit and other complex carbohydrates are not refined, nor are they considered added sugars. They won’t cause those dreaded spikes and crashes.

Refined Sugar: Our Advice

So what type of sugar should you be eating? Unrefined varieties that are but one ingredient in a complex carbohydrate meal or snack. Think: the opposite of soda. You want something that’s sweet, but also packed with nutrients and fiber. Your body typically needs a slow stream of steady energy, not a tidal wave of sugar crashing over it. Give it what it needs.

This doesn’t mean you must avoid all added sweeteners 100% of the time. Occasional blood sugar spikes won’t cause much harm. It’s chronically elevated levels due to regular consumption of refined sugar like soda and lack of physical activity that increase the risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes. 

You may think the solution lies in zero calorie sweeteners like stevia or artificial saccharin. Think again. While they do not raise blood sugar at all, the sweet taste tricks the body into expecting a sugar rush. This may only increase your appetite, which defeats the purpose of limiting calories and sugar intake.

At Thistle, our plant-forward food helps keep your blood sugar levels stable. Not only are our meals full of fiber-rich and nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates, but we also limit our added sweeteners to 1 tbsp (~13g) per day, which is in line with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

Our added sweeteners include fruit—you’ll find it pureed in our smoothies and swirled into oatmeal—and other less refined, natural sweeteners that are the least processed and have some other great nutritional benefits. With options like our Chunky Monkey Smoothie, Brownie Batter Smoothie, and Lemon Mousse Tart, you can satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthier way.

Thistle’s Favorite Less-refined Sweeteners 

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup offers much more than refined sugar.

Maple syrup offers nourishing potassium and calcium and quick energy. It also raises blood sugar levels less than refined white sugar. Grade C maple syrup is the darkest brown and most complexly-flavored variety. It has a higher mineral content than more delicately flavored amber-colored Grade A maple syrup. Studies also show that it’s antibacterial, antidiabetic, and anti-cancer.

Date Sugar & Syrup

Date sugar is a great refined sugar alternative!

Containing only ground, dehydrated dates, date sugar is rich in fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Dates also help with constipation, heart problems, anemia, abdominal cancer, and muscle development.

Coconut Sugar/Syrup

Coconut syrup is less processed than other sugars, such as refined sugar.

Made from the sap of the coconut palm tree buds, coconut sugar is less processed as other sugars and is rich in vitamin B8 and potassium.

Monk Fruit

Thanks to an antioxidant called mogrosides, monk fruit tastes very sweet but has no effect on the blood sugar like other sweeteners. It fights free radicals, stimulates insulin production which can help with diabetes and keep energy levels steady—and protects against cancer due to high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Even with minimally processed foods like these sweeteners, it’s important to read ingredients lists. Too much salt, oil, or sugar can turn a simple, plant-based food into one that’s unhealthy and processed. Some so-called health foods (boxed cereal is a common culprit) can still cause the sugar highs and lows you’re trying to avoid. So read those labels! And pay close attention to the Nutrition Facts’ carbohydrates section. If most of the carbs come from added sugars, consider another choice.

Exercise: Another Way to Battle Refined Sugar

Besides limiting refined sugar intake, there’s another thing you can do to maintain healthy blood sugar levels: exercise. And it doesn’t have to be super strenuous or complicated. Regular cardiovascular exercise like walking, hiking, biking, gardening, or even dancing helps the body burn through sugar. Do whatever you can to integrate more movement into your day! 

Blood sugar balance has a complex effect on one’s health. It impacts mood, brain function, immune health, body weight, cardiovascular function, cancer risk, and diabetes risk. There’s so much at stake! And because blood sugar levels are determined by what we eat and how we move, eating well and exercising go hand-in-hand in the fight against the damaging effects of refined sugar. 

The sooner blood sugar issues are addressed by diet and lifestyle changes, the better. With whole, unprocessed, fresh, plant-based food that's free of refined sugar, your very next meal (or treat, even!) can be a step in the right direction. Thistle has plenty of options to get you started.

Get meals delivered to your door
We believe eating delicious is crucial to a healthy diet. Each week, our team of chefs design a new menu for what's in season, fresh and flavorful.
TRY THISTLE
Posted 
May 29, 2020
 in 
Nutrition
 category.