All About Sugar - Ask a Nutritionist

February 9, 2023

Turns out sugar is in a lot of food. Do you know how much sugar is in your diet? How does sugar effect your glucose levels? Are you eating foods that turns into sugar in your body? Tune in to this weeks episode of Ask a Nutritionist to learn all about sugar. 

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Welcome to the “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to have you join us today as we discuss the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and share practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Now let's get started.

BRITNI: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's new midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. On today's show brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness, we will be answering three nutrition questions we've received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners, and today all three questions are about sugar.

Carbohydrates break down into sugar in the body


So the first question is, “When calculating teaspoons of sugar, are we to divide the grams of carbs or sugar by four?” I think it's a great question because a lot of people do get a little bit confused about how to do this calculation. So look at the total grams of carbohydrate on the nutrition facts. And then you divide that by four, and that will give you the number of teaspoons of sugar it turns into in your body.

So also make sure to look at the serving size, because the serving size oftentimes is a little bit smaller than what we would actually consume. So you might need to adjust that total number of carbohydrates based on what you would actually eat in one serving. And here's one example of a cereal, and this is a cereal that is low in added sugar, but one cup contains 30 grams of carbohydrate. So if you divide that by four, you're going to get seven and a half teaspoons, and again, when we look at that serving size, you're probably not just eating one cup of cereal, right? You're probably eating two, maybe even more. So by doing this calculation, it's really eye-opening and I think that it can help you to just say, wow. No thank you. I don't want to purchase that food, or I don't want to eat that food, just knowing how much sugar that it does turn into in your body.

Explanation of the glycemic index


So the next question is, “Do the teaspoons of sugar, total carb divided by four, in a baked potato have the same effect on glucose levels as the same number of teaspoons of sugar in a bowl of ice cream?” And this question is a little bit complicated because there's, there's different factors that come into play. So let me first explain glycemic index. The glycemic index is basically a measure of how quickly a food causes our blood sugar to spike or increase. And this measurement is based on eating the food alone on an empty stomach with no other food.

And high glycemic index foods. I think often you hear of that term when describing different food items. Those high glycemic index foods will digest and absorb quickly, causing a very quick rise in your blood sugar. Both baked potatoes and sugar are considered high glycemic index foods, but here's where it gets a little more complicated. Protein, fiber and fat: those are all going to slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates, which will reduce the blood sugar spike from those foods. Fat especially is our blood sugar anchor because it does not have any impact on our blood sugar. It very much reduces those big spikes and those big dips that we can get in your blood sugar, and that's why we always talk about getting that healthy fat in every single time you eat, or one of the reasons why we talk about that being so important.

And when we think about consuming a baked potato or ice cream, you know, you're probably not eating a plain baked potato with nothing on it or nothing on the side. It would be a little boring, right? And likely you're consuming some meat or some fish, some veggies, hopefully some butter on top of that potato or maybe some sour cream. So the fiber that you're getting from the vegetables, protein that you're getting from the meat or fish, and then the fat from that butter or sour cream are all going to reduce the blood sugar spike from the baked potato.

And then the ice cream, you know there is generally fat in ice cream. It varies pretty widely from brand to brand. Different flavors could impact the amount of fat, and so again, that fat will impact how quickly that ice cream causes your blood sugar to rise. But at the end of the day, a baked potato is a real food. It comes from earth. And sugar and ice cream are processed foods, and they're definitely not considered a real food. That's not news to anybody.

I mentioned baked potato is high, high glycemic index food. It still has nutrients to offer us. A baked potato is going to give us some fiber, some magnesium, vitamin C, iron, and a baked potato will actually provide you more potassium than a banana. A lot of people are really surprised to to learn that, and I think that there are definitely some individuals that can incorporate small portions of baked potatoes into their diet on a regular basis. Again in combination with some veggies, some protein from meat to fish or eggs, and then that healthy fat to slow down that blood sugar impact.

And there are some individuals that are more insulin resistant, who probably should avoid baked potatoes on a regular basis just because they will have more of an impact on blood sugar for those individuals. So again, not, not a straightforward question, but, you know, big potatoes are still a real food, still have nutrients to offer us, versus sugar and ice cream really should be avoided for the most part on a regular basis.

Is oatmeal a healthy food?


Onto our third question: “Is oatmeal a processed, unhealthy food? Is it like cereal and bread where it turns into sugar in the body? All carbohydrates turn into sugar. Going back to that first question that I answered earlier, carbohydrates from fruit, bread, oatmeal, potatoes, vegetables, all carbohydrates turn into sugar in the body, and oats are considered a real food, but the type of oatmeal does definitely impact how much your blood sugar is going to spike after eating it.

When we look at flavored instant oatmeal, you know, generally they're high in carbs and sugar and you're not getting that fat or or protein with it unless you're adding it in addition. So for example, one packet of apple cinnamon instant oatmeal, contains 33 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of sugar. Going back to that glycemic index that I mentioned earlier when we were discussing the second question, even that plain instant oatmeal is considered a high glycemic index food, whereas plain rolled oats or even better, steel cut oats are going to not be high glycemic index foods because they're less processed. They have a little bit more fiber, and that fiber, again, will slow down that blood sugar impact that we get.

The other piece of this is what are you putting on your oatmeal? You know a lot of people to make it taste good, brown sugar, maybe some raisins, some fruit. So then you're just adding more sugar, more carbohydrates on top of an already high carbohydrate food. If that's the case, we definitely want to avoid eating oatmeal like that. Ideally, you would limit the oatmeal to a half cup cooked and then include some protein.

Maybe you have some eggs on the side, or sausage. You know, I have clients that have stirred in protein powder in their oatmeal, and that protein will keep you more satiated, slow down that blood sugar effect, and then add in the healthy fat. That could be ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, shredded coconut, heavy cream, shredded coconut. Those all would be examples of healthy fats that you could incorporate in your oatmeal to again, slow down that rise in blood sugar that you would get from the oatmeal.

A lot of people, when we talk about ideally, this is what look eating oatmeal would look like, a lot of people realized they would rather just consume something else for breakfast. From working with people over the years, I have definitely found that those individuals who are more insulin resistant definitely do better eating another breakfast that isn't oatmeal. And I have seen too, individuals eating oatmeal on a regular basis, even like I described here with the protein and the fat, does slow weight loss down.

So it really depends on the person. A lot of people eat oatmeal to get more fiber into their diet when there are so many other ways to get fiber in like vegetables especially, nuts and seeds. I mentioned the chia seeds, the ground flax. All of those would be much better ways to get fiber into the diet, and they have higher amounts of fiber in them as well.

Thank you for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition’s “Ask a Nutritionist”. If you have a question you would like us to answer, we invite you to join our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community by searching Dishing Up Nutrition on Facebook. This is a private group moderated by Nutritional Weight and Wellness nutritionists and nutrition educators, and provides Dishing Up Nutrition listeners with a safe, supportive community to ask questions, share ideas, and just get inspired. Once you're a member of our community, we invite you to join the conversation, share your questions and ideas with us. And we look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for listening.

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