Sugar’s Evil Plan Revealed

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“You could take a 2lb bag of sugar and slap a label on it that says ‘100% Fat Free’ and while this is factually true; this is unbelievably misleading.” – Jason Vale.

Since I’ve been studying health and nutrition, one topic that I’ve found really interesting is sugar and the impact that the added sugar/glucose in our diets has on our bodies.

Added sugars are the most dangerous ingredient in the modern Western diet. More than alcohol, more than salt, and more than fat. Added sugars contains loads of calories but zero nutrients. They are the number one cause of obesity, and, in turn, cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and so many more.

I’m very aware that this isn’t news to anyone. We know this. We know added sugars are bad for our health. So why are they used? Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but giant food production corporations don’t care about our health! Added sugars make products cheaper and last longer, but more importantly, they make food products ADDICTIVE. So these massive greedy companies have been sneaking them into their products by the shed-load for decades. Hell, one single can of cola has MORE THAN DOUBLE of our daily sugar allowance nowadays!

To put that into perspective, according to one study, in the year 1822 we ate the equivalent of a 12 ounce can of soda every 5 days. Today, we’re eating the equivalent of a 12 ounce can of soda every 7 hours.

It’s not our fault. We’re not doing it intentionally. We’re not standing there happily chucking 17 teaspoons of sugar in our coffee every morning. These added sugars are being hidden in most of the convenient, packaged food that we buy nowadays, usually under some clever, scientific-sounding alter-ego.

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But why are they so bad? What do they do? What effect does added sugar actually have on our bodies?

Let’s not forget how clever our bodies are. Our bodies, even when we’re asleep, are constantly trying to function, to repair, to grow. If you feed it the right fuel, it can do its job efficiently and keep you in good health. If you feed it with the wrong things, not only will it struggle with basic functions but it will also be doing everything it can to detect and remove the offending fuel.

When humans consume sugar (sucrose), it converts into glucose and fructose, and travels through the bloodstream to be digested in our liver. To set the record straight – we need glucose for energy. It is vital. Every cell in our body runs on energy from glucose. Glucose is important. Do not avoid glucose. Glucose.

Fructose, however, is not a part of human metabolism and very few cells have a use for it. But, in ‘normal’ quantities, and digested along with the fibres it should come with in fruits and vegetables (not as an additive alone), it’s nothing to be afraid of.

Anyway, our livers will do their best to metabolise as much sugar as possible for energy, but unless you’re either burning that energy, or you’re just consuming far too much sugar in the first place, the excess will turn into fatty acids (yes, FAT) and set up camp on your hips/stomach/thighs/face etc. Win.

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Consuming added sugars also make our insulin levels spike to help balance the level of sugar in our bloodstream. This will make your body put burning fat on hold to burn the sugar instead and get rid of it ASAP. (Yay, so more fat stays in our bodies!). But I’ll save diving further into sugar and insulin for another post.

The long and short of it is: use your head. Natural sugars are fine. Normal quantities are fine. Our bodies need sugars for energy. Just keep the source of the sugars clean and the amounts limited. Stay away from the added, refined, artificial and processed sugars. They’re not doing you any good. They’re evil. Plus, they’re shrinking your clothes.

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Eight Ways to Lose Weight

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How many times have you tried to lose weight?

Or, shall I put it, how many times in your life have you NOT been trying to lose weight?

It’s a struggle most people in Britain have faced more often than they’d probably have liked. Unfortunately, it’s a struggle because the odds are against us. We live in a time now where food is fast and convenient, and marketing is very clever. It’s not entirely our fault.

Personally, it’s taken me about 3/4 years to get from my biggest to where I am now. I’m not 100% happy with where I’m at, I’m always striving to achieve more and push my body to be healthier and stronger, but I am happy with the changes that I have made so far.Collage 2016-07-28 13_50_50

I don’t remember being that person on the left. I do remember that I didn’t even want to look at that photo, and I didn’t allow it to be put on social media. I don’t think that I was fat, I was just the heaviest and unhealthiest that I’ve ever been and I wasn’t comfortable with it. Since then I’ve had to change my entire lifestyle. You’re going to hate me for saying it, but it’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen quickly. But, over these 3/4 years, here are the best things that I’ve learnt, the best things that I’ve done for myself, and the things that I would mostly recommend to other people:

  1. Keep unhealthy food that you know you can’t resist out of the house/ your desk/ your car/ your handbag. It might seem obvious, but it works. It’s not even the principle of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, because you can daydream about crisps all you like, even when they’re not within reach. It’s the point of, you don’t need them, you’re better than that, so don’t make it difficult for yourself if you know there’s a high chance you’ll cave when they’re around.
  2. Take a look at the rest of your life, and reduce any unnecessary stress. Stress is one of the biggest causes of weight gain – both biologically and emotionally. Scientifically, stress makes your brain send signals to your hypothalamus, which stimulates your pituitary gland, which releases ACTH through your blood to your adrenal glands, which releases adrenaline and cortisol into your body. This goes back to primitive times of your body trying to give you boost of energy in a ‘fight or flight’ (stressful) situation, and increases your blood sugar levels, which, if you don’t burn off will turn into fat cells. Emotionally, on the other hand, if you’re like me and seek the comfort of food when you’re stressed out… well that’s a slightly easier concept to grasp.
  3. Keep busy. Many people (guilty) find themselves mindlessly eating through no other reason than pure boredom. For some reason, we accompany everything with eating – watching TV, at work, while on a journey, writing your blog (ahem) and we’re probably not even hungry! Keep yourself drinking water instead during these everyday activities if it’s a compulsive thing. We also associate eating with simply ‘needing something to do’, like making plans with someone. The next time you want to have a catch up, go for a walk, or find a fun activity to do that doesn’t involve eating for the sake of it.
  4. Eat filling meals. Those trying to lose weight tend to eat really low-calorie meals. Whilst it’s great that the conscience is there to reduce overall calorie intake, not filling yourself up at meal times just tends to lead to over-indulging on snacks. Meals are supposed to be filling, but that doesn’t mean they have to have loads of calories. Food with a high satiety index, like vegetables, will fill you up with a lot of nutritional value but keep your calorie intake down.Collage 2016-04-26 22_47_41
  5. Portion control. Portions have supersized over the past 20 years, probably without us even realising. When eating out, you’re going to have to be strict. You want a meal that has at least half of the plate being vegetables, even if it’s not on the menu and you need to ask for it especially. But at home, there’s no excuse. Use smaller plates if you need to, as this will trick your brain into thinking that less is more. Most ingredients will have portion sizes on the label so it’s just a case of being aware of what you’re serving and stopping when you’ve eaten that amount.
  6. Drink plenty of water. And when I say plenty, I mean ‘far more than you think is plenty’. Water is going to be one of your best friends if you’re trying to lose weight and there’s a reason that you’ve probably heard this a hundred times before. Water does wonders for your whole body, it’s easy, it’s natural, and it’s free. We live in a country that has clean running water – don’t take it for granted! Water keeps you full, it increases your metabolic rate, it keeps your digestive system moving, it’ll give you more energy, it’ll help to reduce bloating, and many more wonderful benefits.
  7. Keep a food diary, and be honest. It’s been proven that writing down everything you consume helps you to lose weight. This is because a) you’ll probably surprise yourself at how much there is and how much you’re eating and drinking without realising, and b) you’ll be surprised at how much you don’t want to write down anything that you’re ashamed of! I found that using a food diary tracker was an absolute game-changer for keeping myself accountable and sticking to my calories and macros.
  8. Get enough sleep. Sleep is vitally important for so many reasons, but it really does make an impact if you’re trying to lose weight. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re going to be tired, you’re going to need energy, you’re going to try and get that energy fix with sugar and fats and caffeine and anything else that will temporarily boost you. In case you weren’t aware already, sugar, fats and caffeine are not that great at contributing to weight loss, so make it easier for yourself and get an early night!

Mainstream Macros

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Yesterday, my sister sent me a link to an interesting page on Women’s Health online magazine that she thought I’d appreciate, and she was right- it really resonated with me.

You see, I’ve spent my free time soaking up knowledge from physical and virtual articles to understand more about nutrition for ages. Initially it was for my own personal use and benefit, but then I found myself fascinated and kind of obsessed. I discovered an enjoyment for learning again, a subject I was passionate about, and eventually this lead to undertaking several courses on the subject. Now I’m proud to say that so far I am qualified in the understanding of nutrition & health, and advanced sports & exercise nutrition.

One of the most interesting, and perhaps, controversial things that I’ve come to learn and understand is our bodies’ need for carbohydrates.
For years, the media and marketing have slagged off carbohydrates. They’ve convinced us that they’re evil, and we’ve been brainwashed to believe that if you want to have your ‘dream body’ then you must avoid them like the plague and pay the price of being hungry and tired forever.

This has frustrated the hell out of me, from both personal experience and from observing others’. At the end of the day, it’s a sad truth that recent studies have shown about two thirds of people in Britain are on some sort of ‘diet’ to lose weight. When I was one of them, I simply refused to believe that the only answer was to cut out carbs and be both physically and mentally exhausted (and deprived of a crucial macronutrient) just to maintain a healthy weight. I was convinced that that just couldn’t be the answer.

Don’t get me wrong; ‘carbohydrates’ is a broad term. I mean, the sugars in chocolate and wine are technically carbohydrates and if you inundate your diet with these then you probably won’t shift the pounds. But it’s the same as the difference between needing unsaturated fats, like Omega 3, and needing lard in your life.

However, ‘complex’ carbohydrates, that don’t spike your insulin and blood sugar levels, and provide you with sustainable energy and muscle glycogen, are not only good for you, but NECESSARY! Our bodies and brains need them to function. If we cut them out we’re just asking to be knackered, and I don’t know about you, but I ‘aint half a grumpy cow if I try to cut out carbs!

The reason that diet companies promote ‘low-carb’ or ‘no-carb’ for fast weight loss is because, unfortunately, it does get results. Basically… carbs hold water. If you reduce your carb intake you’ll reduce the amount of water held in your body. Water is heavy. Therefore you’ll weigh less. And it’ll happen fairly quickly too. Ta da! So technically they aren’t lying to people… providing no one asked any further questions and the people who did understand the truth kept their mouths shut.

Even better for these companies is the fact that this ‘weight loss trick’ is temporary. When people would inevitability put the water weight back on, they would have to start again, throwing more money at the diet company for whatever plan or product they were selling. Along with good marketing and some desperate celeb to endorse them, it all worked! They were laughing. We were not.

But this is all still just about WEIGHT loss, not fat loss. For some reason, people are obsessed with weight, and specifically, weighing less. It’s even seen as something taboo to talk about because it’s been drummed into us so much that it’s shameful to weigh too much. But your weight is purely your relationship with gravity. It means NOTHING in regards to determining how healthy you are.

Sure, overweight people losing bodyweight is a good thing and a step in the right direction. But somewhere along the way people started to care more about being lighter than being healthier. To be healthy, what we really need to focus on is FAT loss. Especially when you want to – what women like to refer as – ‘tone up’. Scientifically, ‘toning up’ is making  your muscle tone more visible. You do this by reducing the layer of fat that lies over the top of your muscles.

I’m going to throw it out there, and don’t hate me for it, but the bad news is you can’t spot reduce fat, or select just a certain part of your body to be leaner. We all carry fat differently according to genetics. To make all your muscles underneath more visible, you have to reduce your overall body fat percentage. This is done by reducing your daily FAT intake; ideally to 20% or less of your total daily energy (calorie) intake.

Ok, stay with me, I promise I’m getting to my point.

I was SO relieved when I saw this article from Women’s Health. Not only are they being honest about the guidelines to follow for fat loss, but they’re actually promoting a higher carbohydrate intake to compensate for the lower fat intake, not just protein.

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I know I haven’t mentioned protein at all here, but protein has had its fair share of popularity and publicity lately. Yes, protein is good. Yes, even for women. Protein supports muscle growth and subsequently increases basal metabolic rate and provides many other benefits. But, we each have an optimum protein intake level and anything above that will be ineffective. More protein doesn’t equal more muscle. In fact, too much protein will either just overwork (and potentially damage) your kidneys, or just turn into extra body fat- exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to do. But that’s for another post.

These macros that Women’s Health have ‘revealed’ are fantastic. (For those who need to catch up, macros are macronutrients – proteins, fats and carbohydrates – the three elements that our energy intake is made up of. Macro tracking is counting grams and percentages of these as a daily intake as opposed to counting calories as a daily intake). I was so excited that a well-known, popular magazine read by millions of women was promoting counting macros instead of calories, and more importantly, healthy macros with a high carbohydrate element.

Finally, healthy and honest nutritional advice is being promoted in the media instead of unrealistic and disappointing faddy ‘diets’. We’re getting somewhere.

Lying Labels

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If ever there was something so harmless that could set fear into women across the nation, it’s labels.

Labels are scary. Whether it’s a clique label, a relationship label, or a clothes label, they fill us with dread and stress us out. There’s something so defining, so committing about labels that we’re not comfortable with.

But the scariest of all the labels are the ones that are out to set us up. The ones that are trying to fool us. The ones that hope we’re gullible enough to be blinded by the shiny colours and tempting claims. That’s right – I’m talking about food labels.

Two years ago, when my Mum and I began living together again, she asked me to help her lose weight. She had been living in Paris and had made the most of the local luxuries. I don’t blame her – if I had the opportunity to have exquisite food and wine out at a beautiful Parisian restaurant every night, I would do the same! But unfortunately, these indulgences weren’t so kind to her waistline and she wanted some guidance to undoing the damage without following yet another fad diet. Of course, I happily obliged, and since then she has lost it all and more, for which I am very proud!

Recently, she told me that one of the best things I’d taught her was to read and understand food labels.

I remember once she brought home a new milk alternative drink for me that she’d found. ‘Don’t know if this is any good, but I saw it and thought you’d like to try it!’, she said. It looked great – visually appealing packaging with bold letters stating it was ‘free-from-dairy’ and ‘low-fat’. I really appreciated the gesture, it was so nice and considerate of her. But, after checking the ingredients, I had to inform her that this ‘healthy’ drink, was mostly just water and sugar with a couple of additives chucked in.

I felt really bad after the effort she had made for me – after all, it DID look promising, it wasn’t her fault. But as it turns out, she learnt so much from it. Since then, she ignores everything on the front of a packet, whatever health benefit or enticing fact it’s claiming, and makes decisions based on products’ ingredients.

Let’s take a look at an example. Below are 2 well-known branded peanut butters that you can easily buy in most supermarkets. A really simple product, but look at the difference in the ingredients:

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Not only does the first product have a lot more (unnecessary) ingredients, but they’re ingredients that you’d probably rather you didn’t put into your body.

If you do check anything on a food product label before buying it, just be aware of its ingredients. Try to choose items with as few ingredients as possible, or at least if it does have a long list then make sure the ingredients are things you recognise. Keep what you put into your body clean and unprocessed and you’re off to a good start.