The Not-So-Sweet Side of Sugar

ImageWe all know that excess sugar in our diet can cause weight gain and lead to diabetes.  But the latest research now reveals more serious effects of added sugar.  Here’s the latest article by IDEA Health & Fitness Magazine

Now there’s another reason to encourage clients to limit their sugar intake: Eating added sugar is associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a study published February 3 online in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study focuses on sugar added in the processing or preparing of foods, not naturally occurring sugars in fruits and fruit juices.

Recommendations for added sugar consumption vary, and there is no universally accepted threshold for unhealthy levels. For example, the Institute of Medicine recommends that added sugar make up less than 25% of total calories, the World Health Organization recommends less than 10% (but in March 2014 proposed a further reduction to below 5% for additional benefits), and the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to less than 100 calories daily for women and 150 calories daily for men, according to the study background.

Quanhe Yang, PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, and colleagues used national health survey data to examine added sugar consumption as a percentage of daily calories and to estimate association between consumption and CVD.

How Much Sugar Are We Eating?

Study results indicate that the average percentage of daily calories from added sugar increased from 15.7% in 1988–1994 to 16.8% in 1999–2004, but decreased to 14.9% in 2005–2010.

In 2005–2010, most adults (71.4%) consumed 10% or more of their calories from added sugar, but for about 10% of adults it made up 25% or more of their calories.

The Risks of Too Much Sweetness

The risk of heart-related death increases 18% for people consuming an average American diet with about 15% of daily calories from added sugar, compared with those whose diets contain little to no added sugar, the study authors found.

The risk is 38% higher for people who receive 17%–21% of their calories from added sugar, and more than double for people who get more than 21% of their daily diet from added sugar, Yang said.

Laura A. Schmidt, PhD, who wrote commentary on the published research, says, “Yang . . . shows that the risk of CVD mortality becomes elevated once sugar intake surpasses 15% of daily calories—equivalent to drinking one 20-ounce Mountain Dew soda in a 2,000 calorie diet. From there, the risk rises exponentially as a function of increased sugar intake, peaking with a [400% higher] risk of CVD death for individuals who consume one-third or more calories in added sugar.”

Another key point: The study found that the added sugar that Americans consume as part of their daily diet can—on its own, regardless of other health problems—more than double the risk of death from heart disease.

“[This] new paradigm [that Yang’s research falls within] hypothesizes that sugar has adverse health effects above any purported role as ’empty calories’ promoting obesity,” notes Schmidt. “Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”

Guideline for Better Health

So what is a good general guideline for sugar consumption? “Until federal guidelines are forthcoming, physicians may want to caution patients that, to support cardiovascular health, it is safest to consume less than 15% of total calories as added sugar,” says Schmidt.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 12, Number 3
March 2014
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Outsmart Holiday Weight Gain

T’is the season for weight gain!  Along with all the delicious food around at this time of the year, comes the added pressure to over eat.  The holidays also place extra demands on our time, and more often than not, eating out of convenience ends up being the choice for many.  So let’s face it, nobody expects to lose weight during the holidays, it’s impossible and will only add extra stress.  But we can be proactive by doing some damage control before the damage actually happens, this entails planning and awareness.  According to the experts, the key to avoid any holiday weight gain is portion control.  It’s ok to indulge in the foods you enjoy as long as you are aware of how much you are eating and are staying within your daily calorie allowance.  This way you can enjoy the festive treats without the associated guilt.

Be your own Scrooge when it comes to calories.  Try these practical tips on outsmarting your cravings and avoid over indulging this holiday season:

  1. Workout Before the Event Try to sneak in a workout before the event.  Burning off some extra calories will help create ‘room’ for the calories you may end up consuming at the buffet table.  But more importantly, after a workout session, you may not want to sabotage your efforts by overeating.  A  heightened awareness in your physical well-being comes from endorphins (‘feel good’ hormones) that are released during exercise.  These hormones leave you feeling energized, optimistic, and confident.  You are in a far better position to make sensible food choices when you feel good about yourself.
  2. Eat Before Arriving Never arrive on an empty stomach, it’s simply a recipe for disaster.  Instead, have a healthy snack beforehand, or if that’s not possible, a glass of water will also do the trick.  The idea is to curb your appetite.
  3. Do a Walk-By Before grabbing a plate take a moment to simply walk by the buffet table and check out the offerings.  This is a form of planning, it allows you to scan the situation and narrow down your choices before deciding.  Instead of trying a little of everything (which can add up to a whole lot of calories!), you will, more likely, only choose the foods that interest you the most.
  4. Step Away From the Food People naturally seem to congregate around food because food is festive.  But the party shouldn’t just be about the food.  Make it a point not to focus on the food and explore your surroundings.  You’ll find that when food is not the focal point, you’ll naturally find other distractions.  Enjoy the company of friends.  Conversation and laughter are a great distraction from mindless eating.
  5. Bring Your Own Healthy Snack Offer to bring something.  Not only is it gracious, but it’s a way for  you to have a healthy backup plan just in case you don’t see anything else worth trying.
  6. Wear Something Body Hugging This one is for the gals.  Wear a body hugging outfit and you’ll automatically be more conscious of how much you are eating.  This works every time!
  7. Use a Smaller Plate Instead of the regular dinner size plate, opt for the smaller appetizer size plate.  Do not pile up your food, keep your selections to a single layer.

Burn More Calories While Doing Nothing

This is what we all want, right?  Let’s be honest, the idea of receiving maximum benefits for minimum efforts sounds pretty sweet.  Almost too sweet.  Well, it is possible – but (ah yes, there’s always a ‘but’!), we need to kick-start the whole process first.

Our metabolism is like an engine that runs all day long, it never really stops, it constantly burns energy (calories).  When we are active, our body is expending more energy, thereby burning more calories than when we are inactive.  However, even when we’re sitting around on the couch, we’re burning calories.  This is called our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), the energy we burn at rest.  Therefore, whether we lose weight or gain weight depends greatly on how efficiently our metabolism is functioning.  A slow running metabolism is inefficient at burning calories and can lead to weight gain, whereas, a fast running metabolism efficiently burns calories at a higher rate throughout the day, even when you are doing nothing!  The key is not only to burn enough calories during activity, but to keep the metabolism revved up during rest, that is, to increase our BMR.  This is what leads to successful long-term weight loss.

BMR Facts

BMR is based on a number of factors like our gender, age, weight, height, the amount of fat or muscle we carry around, plus a host of other genetic factors that vary from person to person.  BMR calculators can provide a general idea of your BMR.  Here are some key numbers to keep in mind:

  • Number of calories burned at rest = 12 cal per lb per day
  • Number of calories burned by muscle = 30 – 50 cal per lb per day
  • Number of calories burned by fat = 3 cal per lb per day

The numbers obviously speak for themselves.  Muscle tissue is metabolically active and burns 10-15 times more calories than fat.  This is an important fact to keep in mind when considering how to go about revving our metabolism.

Our lifestyle, our habits, our nutritional choices directly affect our metabolic rate.  There are a number of things we can do to ensure that our metabolism is functioning optimally all day long.

#1 Muscle is Metabolism

We already know that regular exercise is important for weight loss.  However, all exercises are not created equal and will not deliver the same results.  Remember, muscle burns way more calories than fat, therefore, the focus of exercise should be to build more muscle.  A regular strength and resistance training program will not only help build lean muscle but will burn more calories.  Muscle increases your BMR which means the calorie burn from weight training continues long after your workout is done.

#2 Muscle is Made in the Kitchen

What we eat, when we eat, how often we eat have a great effect on our metabolism.  In order to support the hard work we put in at the gym, we need to feed our body clean, natural foods.  Nutrition accounts for approximately 80% (if not more) of the fat loss battle.  We should try to eliminate as many refined and processed foods as we can from our regular diet.  This type of change does not have to take place overnight.  In fact, I don’t recommend that anyone make drastic changes as it would be an unrealistic approach.  Small, incremental changes made regularly are more likely to stick and become habits rather than drastic changes.  The focus of a healthy diet should be on nutrient-dense foods rather than calorie-dense foods.

How much and how often we eat is very important in keeping the metabolism stoked.  Eating less is a common misconception regarding weight loss, in fact, to lose weight we need to eat more often.  On average, we should try to eat 6 small meals throughout the day to keep our blood sugar levels stable and our metabolism humming.

#3 Chill Out

Stress plays havoc on our metabolism and our health in general.  The mind-body connection has been given much attention as of late.  For our optimal well-being it is essential for us to practice stress management on a regular basis.  Stress throws our body out of balance and in order to restore homeostasis our body responds by releasing stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine (aka adrenaline).  Both cortisol and adrenaline are released by the adrenal glands at the same time, but we feel the effects of this a few hours later.

Cortisol is a powerful appetite stimulant which researchers suggests may interfere with our brain’s normal hunger signals.  Cortisol causes us to crave foods that our body can quickly convert to energy to deal with the threatening situation – stress.  We, therefore, end up craving simple sugars and carbs in the form of refined foods and sweets.  Cortisol not only promotes weight gain, but it affects where you put on the extra pounds.  Elevated cortisol levels generally cause weight gain in the abdominal area.  Increased abdominal fat is dangerous as it increases our risk of developing  cardiovascular disease.  Managing stress is crucial to our well-being especially in our fast-paced lifestyles.  Combating the effects of cortisol is simple, and it doesn’t necessarily involve yoga or tai chi, just 30 minutes of moderate level physical activity of any kind daily can significantly reduce stress.

Avoid Long Weekend Weight Creep

After weeks or months of marking X’s on the calendar, the long weekend is finally here. If you’ve been diligently sticking to your fitness and nutrition plan, then there is no reason why you can’t let loose a little. The key here is to let loose ‘a little’ and not go overboard. You don’t want to sabotage all the progress made so far. Spending time with family and friends almost always involves food and lots of it. It’s easy to eat mindlessly when you’re in good company and there’s a smorgasbord of goodies all laid out. The calorie count can rack up real fast! Let’s not forget all the liquid calories we consume in sugary alcoholic beverages.

Here are some tips on how you can keep the long weekend festivities from destroying your efforts in the gym:

#1   Squeeze in a quick workout to allow for the extra calories and to keep the metabolism revved.

#2   Be mindful of portion sizes

#3   Choose healthier foods rather than calorie-dense foods. It’s ok to have a cheat day but even that should be within limits.

#4   Drink responsibly and wisely. Alcohol packs a double whammy, not only is alcohol high in calories but it also impairs your body’s ability to burn fat as efficiently. So, choose low-calorie alcoholic drinks and try to avoid sugary mixers.  Cheers!

#5  Have fun!

Happy long weekend everyone!

Stay Leaner and Fitter Throughout the Years

We’re all getting older, it’s a fact of life we don’t necessarily like to think about.  But we must think about it, that is, if we want to age gracefully and healthily and maintain our ideal healthy weight.

As the years go by, our body composition continually changes.  After the age of 35 we start losing 5% of lean muscle every 10 years.  After the age of 40, we lose 1% of lean muscle every year!  As the body loses lean muscle mass, it starts to increase fat stores.  This is why people start looking flabby and soft as they get older.

To top it all off, women have hormones to deal with.  Women’s hormones are constantly changing with every stage of life starting with puberty, pregnancy, and all the way to menopause.  During the menopausal years, low levels of estrogen account for the increased weight gain around the belly.  Losing weight can be extremely challenging at this time.  In general, many women notice an increased amount of belly fat as they age, even if they aren’t gaining any weight.  The natural aging process, hormones, and of course, our genetics, all play a contributing role in this shift from lean mass to fat mass.  Although these factors are all naturally occurring and we have no control over them – there is still a way to fight back! 

Exercise is one of the greatest defenses against age.  One of the reasons the body stores more fat as it ages is because the metabolism starts to slow down.  When we are young, the body has more lean muscle, and muscle requires more energy to maintain.  Muscle is our metabolism.  The more lean muscle we have, the more efficiently our metabolism runs, simple as that.  Aging replaces muscle with fat and therefore, has a halting effect on our metabolism.  The only way to fire up the metabolism is to maintain muscle mass with regular exercise and strength training.

The American Council on Exercise has published an article called, “Is it true that metabolism decreases with age?“.  Dr. Digate Muth provides an expert explanation of the effects of our metabolism on age-related weight gain.

In the end, it all boils down to one simple fact – in order to fight the effects of aging and related weight gain, we must make regular exercise and physical activity part of our lifestyle.  This is what I consider to be the “fountain of youth” and we all have access to it.

Weekly fitTip: Make ‘Room’ for Treats

Now that Halloween’s come and gone, what’s left behind is the hoard of candy and the daily temptation that comes with it.  An ideal solution would be to get rid of it by giving it away, sharing it, or just throwing it out.  In reality, that’s just not going to happen!  Whose going to take your candy when everyone’s got tons of their own.  Throwing it away seems a little extreme and irrational, I mean, why take it in the first place to throw out in the end?

The reasonable solution is what I like to call, “making room”.  Allowing yourself a treat is fine, even if it is daily, but you need to compensate for that treat.  In order to ‘fit’ that treat into your diet, you’ll need to make room in terms of calories.  Give up some extra calories during the day, like a soda, latte, cookies, or chips, to make an allowance for the treat calories.  I emphasize giving up ”extra calories” because these are calories that you could otherwise do without, as opposed to nutrient rich calories which are a necessary part of your daily dietary requirement.  By practicing ‘making room’,  you can enjoy your treat guilt-free without consuming extra calories or packing on extra pounds.

Be sure to watch the portion size of your treat and avoid over indulging.

The Only Thing Scary About Halloween are the Calories!

Halloween is only a few days away. Do you have a game plan? Have you thought about how you’re going to handle having an abundance of candy around? You can’t go into this unprepared or it will only lead to complete sabotage!  Planning is a powerful tool and can help keep you on track.  The American Council on Exercise has some great suggestions in their article “How can I avoid Halloween weight gain without missing out on the fun“.

When we do indulge our sweet tooth, it helps to know how many calories we’re actually consuming.   Women’s Health Magazine has put together a list of 100-calorie candies in their newsletter, “The Healthiest Halloween Candy“.

With all this great advise, there’s no reason to stress about calories, everything is under control!  You can now focus on having fun, Happy Halloween!