Sugar

I’m not an addict, baby- That’s a lie!

I am sure that I am dating myself with that reference to the K’s Choice song, I’m not an addict, but the 90’s rocked, man!

This week, one of my best friends asked me for advice on some digestive issues that she has been experiencing. I’d like to share her experience with you, with her permission of course, because I think that there are many misconceptions out there about sugar, fiber, nutrition label-reading, and dietary recommendations. Honestly, I only know this stuff because I studied nutrition in college, and have been working in the field for the last 15 years. I can’t imagine how the average, busy adult learns to decipher all of the nutrition information out there, and my guess is that many don’t ever learn it.

I won’t repeat her symptoms (trust me, it’s better that I spare you), but let’s just say that her body wasn’t digesting her food like it should. She mentioned that she’d been eating a lot of yogurt and granola- healthy right?

30 grams of sugar!

30 grams of sugar!

She thought that with all of the granola lately, maybe she was getting too much fiber and that was upsetting her stomach. I had her take pictures of the nutrition labels of the yogurt and granola that she’d been eating. The yogurt is organic, whole milk and the granola is a great brand that doesn’t use high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or preservatives. The labels also highlight “No toxic pesticides” and “100% natural.”

What do you think? Do you read the front of food packages? What words do you see that trigger you to buy or not buy one product over another?

My friend told me that she eats 2 cups of yogurt and 1 cup of granola every day. With that in mind, I looked in to the fiber content of each item and multiplied it using the serving size. So for the yogurt, it was easy because even though she’s eating 2 servings a day, it contains NO dietary fiber. Now, the granola is different. She eats 1 cup a day which is actually 4 servings (because one serving = ¼ cup according to the nutrition label). At 2 grams of dietary fiber in each serving, she is eating 8 grams of dietary fiber from the granola. So: 0 grams + 8 grams= 8 grams of fiber a day.

Lots of protein, at least!

Lots of protein, at least!

All at once, that might be a lot for someone who doesn’t normally consume much dietary fiber, however, she told me that she eats this over two sittings. The recommendation for dietary fiber is about 25 grams daily for women and 38 grams daily for men (ages 18-50). I wouldn’t think that those 8 grams would be causing her digestive distress.

For cases like this, I would suggest determining lactose tolerance before going overboard with any major dietary changes. In this particular case, my friend is not lactose intolerant.
My initial thought is that she’s eating way too much sugar. Sugar feeds bacteria- good and bad! First, I wanted to see just how much sugar she’s consuming. In two servings of yogurt, she is eating 60 grams of sugar! Dairy products have natural sugars in them, but when you choose flavored yogurt options, additional sugar is often added. In this case, her yogurt is French Vanilla flavored- and you can see in the ingredients list that’s barely visible on the right of the label: “sugar.” The granola is better at 5 grams of sugars per serving, but in 4 servings, you’re looking at 20 grams of sugar. So, 60 grams + 20 grams = 80 grams of sugar.

It’s hard to know what that means out of context, so I asked how much sugar my friend puts in her coffee. She told me that she adds 1 teaspoon of sugar to 1 small cup of coffee in the morning. To put it all in perspective, 1 teaspoon of sugar = about 4 grams of sugar. In other words, 80 grams of sugar is about 20 teaspoons of sugar! Plus the 1 teaspoon in her coffee and the soda (or pop as she calls it) that she’s been drinking recently means that this would be an ideal factor for her to adjust and test her reaction.

2% plain

2% plain

I eat plain 2% Greek yogurt which has much less sugar and more protein than regular yogurt and especially flavored yogurt. Now, I know that Greek yogurt is a bit more sour than regular yogurt, and definitely an acquired taste. I add blueberries and almonds to sweeten the yogurt naturally and add a little crunch- yum! I seriously crave this when I’m travelling and can’t take my yogurt with me.

Anyway, instead of inducing flavor shock and totally turning my friend off of her attempt to eat healthier forever, I suggested that she buy her current French vanilla yogurt AND the plain version and start replacing a little bit of her French vanilla yogurt with the plain yogurt. Starting slowly and allowing for an adjustment to the less sweet flavors is the best way to make sustainable change. As a word of warning: Beware of lower fat yogurt options (and most lower fat versions of foods, actually), as companies tend to add sugar to make up for the flavors that are missing when the fat is removed!

On a side note, I think that fat gets villanized unfairly because it contains more calories than protein or carbohydrates. There will be another post on this later, but know that fat adds substance that can keep people fuller, longer and with less of it… You shouldn’t go crazy with fat, but it may not be the devil that it is made out to be.

Back to sugar:

{Nerdy Science Alert}

You may have heard that sugar is addictive. There are studies in animals and humans (men, really) that suggest that there may be, for some, an addiction pathway at play in sugar consumption. Some studies have shown that sugar may be more addictive than cocaine or heroin. There are some who argue that the biological processes for drug and sugar “reward” are similar, but not identical, so there may be more happening than we fully understand. Either way, eating sugar is a pleasurable experience; one that is often craved and repeated frequently, sometimes to our detriment.

{Okay- you can come back now!}

I mentioned in a previous post that too much sugar can be harmful to our bodies, and, unfortunately you can find sugar in more and more places, often in unexpected products like salsa, peanut butter, deli meat, sauces, dressings, and more. The new documentary, Fed Up (can’t wait to see it!) mentions that about 80% of the processed food products in our grocery store have added sugar.
Regular and excessive consumption of sugar and simple carbohydrates is relatively new to our bodies, evolutionarily speaking. There was hunting, gathering, even farming fruits and vegetables, and raising animals, but grams upon grams of processed sugar and concentrated syrups daily haven’t really been part of our eating repertoire. Our bodies were meant to take advantage of sugars in the form of carbohydrates to provide us with a quick source of energy. Now, these are the foundation of our meals. It comes as no surprise, then, that prevalence of obesity and diabetes are on the rise, and they are higher than ever.My heart belongs to sugar

I am not suggesting a massive overhaul of your eating. That is hard to maintain and sustain. You’ve got to like what you eat. If we weren’t meant to enjoy our food, why would we have taste buds?! It’s time to start looking at the foods that you are buying and eating. Start by reading the labels. Think about how much you eat and compare it to the serving size listed. Sometimes, people are shocked that something that they’ve been wolfing down in one sitting is actually two or three servings (or in one case, 2.5 servings…that really happened to me- how is anything in a package 2 and a HALF servings?? So stupid!) Once you feel comfortable with your labels and your servings, start looking at the amount of sugar in your food. It can be eye-opening! Think about how many teaspoons of sugar are in the products that you’re eating. If you were to make your own salsa, would you add 2 teaspoons of sugar?? Probably not. So, why would you be okay with eating it that way?

The next step is to look at ingredients, but we’ll get to that later- you’re getting excited already, aren’t you?

Did you look at any labels? Did any of the labels surprise you with their sugar content? Which ones?

Sugar heart photo by Tina Phillips from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Left, left, left, right, left

I got a pedometer the other day! Just what I’ve always wanted.

I have been looking into getting a Fitbit One, a fancy little device that measures the number of steps that you take and your sleep quality. I know- I’m a total science nerd. I may be a little too excited about studying how changes in my health behaviors- like dietary intake, meditation, exercise, and who knows what else, impact my sleep. Nerd…

But I didn’t get a Fitbit. I got a plastic P.O.S. from my insurance company, completely unsolicited and free. Should I be concerned? Are they trying to tell me something? Or are they stalking my web browser history like Banana Republic does?

Whatever…it’s probably just an annual thing, because, as I remember, I got one in the mail last year and promptly threw it out. I’m sure my thought at the time was something along the line of: “Seriously? I’m active and healthy. Why do I need to count my steps?” Fast forward to yesterday, and now I’m thinking: “Hmmm? I’m fine. 10,000 steps is recommended, right? I do at least that. I’m active and healthy. I got this…I think…right? Damn.”

So I clipped that sweet little step counter on to my dress, and headed off to work. I promptly realized that I commute an hour each way and sit at a desk in an office for over 8 hours. Every. Single. Day.

But I’m active! I run (for fun!) and walk Murphy-beans. If I’m being honest with myself, though, there is no way that I am incorporating enough steps in my day to counteract all of that sitting time.

[WARNING:SCIENCE- feel free to skip ahead]

Studies show that the more time we spend sitting, the worse off our health is. One 2012 study showed that study participants who completed 5 hours of uninterrupted sitting time and consumed a special, sugary, high-calorie drink had higher levels of blood glucose (sugar) and insulin as compared to folks who had breaks in their sitting time and drank that same beverage. Glucose, at high levels in bloodstream, is toxic to the human body. That’s where insulin comes in: Insulin is the hormone that the body produces to transport excess glucose from the bloodstream into the cells for use as energy. After a drink like that, it is normal for blood sugar to spike, and insulin, accordingly, but the greater than 20% increase seen in the participants who sat uninterrupted is a big deal. In other words, the long-term sitters’ bodies had worse responses to the high-glucose drink. That’s bad news.

Other studies show that increased sitting time is also linked to increases in body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol- basically making our bodies fatter and less efficient. Increased sitting time is associated with higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and premature death (!), in general, as well, which makes sense because being overweight, having high blood pressure, and having high cholesterol are all risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

[SCIENCE OVER]

I reluctantly checked my pedometer at 1:00 pm, which happened to be 2 hours after my 90 minute meeting in the morning and 2 hours before my 90 minute meeting in the afternoon. Seriously, my only exercise during my work day is to walk to my meetings that are just down the hall. Truly pathetic! Anyway, 6 hours after clipping on my first (second?) pedometer, I had only logged 175 steps! WHAT? Is that even possible? Am I floating? And, holy crap, if that’s true, I’m WAY behind schedule if I want to get in 10K steps by my bedtime at 11:30 pm. (I’m just kidding- my bedtime is 10:30 pm. I’m old- don’t judge me).

I need more of these walks.

I need more of these walks.

Anyway, it was obviously time to go for a walk. It was a clear, warm day, so I walked downstairs and stepped outside. The building that I work in may be only slightly more attractive than a medium-security prison, but the scenery around it is actually quite stunning. After I hoofed it all the way around the building, I checked again: 600 steps! It was nice to see the progress, but still not going to cut it. One more loop it is!

About halfway around the building, I started questioning the accuracy of my new shiny, plastic toy that mocks me.

Being the researcher that I am, I just didn’t trust my pedometer’s reading. So I walked, counting each of my steps until I got to 40 steps and took another look at my pedometer- Aha-cheater! It only registered 10 steps. I tried it again: same result! So my free pedometer may not be accurate, but at least it’s consistent. (side note: I couldn’t wear the pedometer on my hip because of the dress I was wearing, so being attached further away from the leg pivot point may have disrupted the count. Right? Is that how they work?? I’m not sure, but don’t you worry, I’ll do some more testing and report back).

By 10:00 pm, I had logged all of 1545 steps, according to my pedometer. Multiply that times 4 and you get 6180. Yikes!

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about goals, and how they leave you in a perpetual state of failure until you reach them- if you reach them. I would like to dedicate a separate blog post to that soon, but for now, I will say that I plan to develop a process (not a goal) to make sure that I am getting in 10,000 steps a day (averaged over a week) so 70,000 steps in 7 days. What does that look like? How many steps do I take on my 3 mile run? What about on my walks with Murphy? I know that it’s about 1600 real steps around my building. If I take the stairs every day, how many steps will that contribute? Once I get a better feel for what 10,000 steps a day really is over the course of a week, I can pick and choose how to get there. If I run twice a week, take the stairs, and walk around my building 3 times, will that, plus my daily walks with Murphy, be enough? I want to simplify this process as much as possible, so that it feels easy and requires little to no thought on my part. The harder something is to implement it, the less likely I am to actually do it- especially with little to no quick gratification. I am human, after all. Challenge: Accepted!

Do you have a pedometer or a body monitor of some sort? What do you think? Does it help keep you on track? What else do you use to track or monitor your health behaviors- any websites, apps, or tools?

Photo by graur razvan ionut at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Mindfulness

So, you can call me a hippy or whatever you like, but I am really drawn to this concept of mindfulness. I have always had an affinity for the “alternative,” but this is becoming more and more mainstream.

According to Wikipedia, mindfulness is “calm awareness of one’s body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself.” I like that; such a simple explanation for an act that is incredibly difficult to achieve. If you have ever tried meditation, then you know what “monkey mind” is and how hard it can be to take control of your thoughts, to not swing wildly from mental tangent branch to mental tangent branch. With mindfulness, I find that thinking comes more easily- smooth, controlled thoughts in coherent, calm order. The same goes for speaking, sleeping and keeping my reactions and interactions in check. But for me, these benefits are fleeting if not practiced regularly.

So, one small component of my intentions behind beginning this blog is accountability: I am hoping that, in posting, I may actually follow through with whatever it is that I am blathering about at the moment. Therefore, I am trying to spend more time reining in my thoughts and focusing on the present. I believe that the benefits are more than simply gaining a better understanding of yourself. If you can imagine the chain reaction (and be thankful that I don’t know how to post a flow chart on my blog yet, as I would attempt to demonstrate!) that stems from calm awareness of self, it flows into everyone and everything around you. The health benefits of transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation continue to be studied. So far, the results are very intriguing! Brain scans of those who consistently meditate show increases in gray matter in the areas responsible for decision-making, memory storage, language processing and communication, visual perception and more. So cool!

Anyway, another reason for my interest in blogging is being able to pass along interesting information to friends, family, and strangers, alike. Below is an article that a former coworker sent to me. We are both interested in the role of optimism and positivity in health decisions and health outcomes, so she sent this my way: Thanks Hillary! I hope that it is useful…enjoy!

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200810/the-art-now-six-steps-living-in-the-moment

Please feel free to comment and add your opinions or tidbits of information to the blogosphere!

I would like to thank the makers of Honest Tea…

Have you even seen the movie, Catch and Release, with Jennifer Garner and Kevin Smith among others? I highly recommend it, but that is beside the point…

In this movie, Kevin Smith’s character is the guy who comes up with the zen-ish sayings for the Celestial Seasonings tea packages. (*great- where the hell is she going with this?*) WELL- I have been pondering potential names for my soon-to-be celebrated blog for a few weeks now, only to be disappointed at every turn. Though I have had some luck in developing interesting titles, apparently interesting does not mean unique, and my options were returned as “unavailable”. I do have to give some credit to Dr. Irving, though, for offering up the title “Bananagrams”, based off a wonderfully interactive game that I call Scrabble on crack (more to come on Bananagrams in a future post…). Now, I love Scrabble and the nerd in me is quite addicted to Scrabble on crack, but I just didn’t think that “Bananagrams” defined this venue for the personal and potentially (hopefully) universal discussion of life as I know it.

That being said…I came across this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the cap of my Jasmine Green Tea Honest Tea bottle (don’t laugh!):

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

I adore this statement, as it is one of perseverance, hope, and inspiration. Now, I doubt that my thoughts and reflections will measure up to the source of my inspiration for the name of this blog, but it is a beautiful thought and one that I hope to use as motivation to keep posting and conversing with friends, family, and strangers alike. So, thank you Honest Tea folks for making me aware of such a wonderful statement from a great speaker, leader and advocate.

Welcome to My Apple Tree!