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Break the Energy Burnout: What You Don’t Know About Sugar

Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN is the LUNA Nutrition Consultant and official food and nutrition blogger for SELF Magazine. Sarah-Jane also appears regularly on Nashville television doing live, upbeat nutrition-related segments. She is an active runner and has run four marathons, and she’s sharing the scoop on sugar for today’s post on Guest Bloggers’ Week!
Sugar often gets a bad rap for weight gain (or the infamous sugar rush) but the truth is, it is a carbohydrate and carbs are the body’s first source of energy. It’s all about knowing how you consume sugar and how you can use sugar to maximize your energy.

The Two Types of Sugar

Sugars in foods can basically be grouped into two categories: sugars that are naturally occurring in foods and sugars that are added to foods.

  1. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods like dairy products in the form of lactose (milk sugar) and in fruits in the form of fructose (fruit sugar). These foods, such as milk or 100-percent fruit juice, are not a source of “empty calories” because in addition to the natural sugars, they also provide important vitamins and minerals.
  2. Added sugars are not naturally occurring and often come in the form of sucrose (table sugar) or other sweeteners such as honey or syrups. While some foods with added sugars can contain nutritious ingredients, other foods or beverages with added sugars provide very little nutrition (think soda).

The amount of total carbohydrates and added sugars needed to provide necessary daily energy varies from individual to individual based on things like activity level, gender and age. In general, most active women need between 300 to 500 grams of carbohydrates spread throughout each day to fuel their lifestyle. The American Heart Association recommends that the average woman limit added sugars to the equivalent of about 6 teaspoons per day.
Whether sugar is naturally occurring or added to foods, how we consume it is important to ensure that we enjoy consistent energy levels all day. At LUNA, we call this the “power curve.” Eating small, balanced meals regularly (every 3 to 4 hours or so) throughout the day will give us a constant source of energy and keep our metabolism functioning at its best. That’s because our metabolism and energy is like a fire. If you go several hours without putting fuel on a fire, it will die out — same thing goes for fueling our bodies.

The Right Combination of Foods

Choosing the right combination of foods at each of your eating occasions during the day is important, too. Since fat, fiber and protein take longer to digest than carbohydrates, eating foods that contain fat, fiber and/or protein with carbohydrate-rich foods, helps the energy from the carbs to be released more slowly and reduces extreme spikes in blood sugar, keep us feeling full, satisfied and energetic, longer. This effect is known as delaying the glycemic response.
In fact, you may have seen some foods labeled as “low glycemic index (GI).” The glycemic index measures how much a food item increases blood sugar levels during digestion compared to a standard amount of glucose (a sugar that quickly and sharply increases blood sugar). Low GI foods are those that are digested slowly and produce a much smaller spike in blood sugar during digestion compared to high GI foods.

An Example of Balanced Eating

To keep your blood sugar levels steady and stay on your power curve, be sure to eat a balanced combination of nutrient-rich foods every 3 to 4 hours or so. Here’s a day’s worth of examples to get you started:

  • 7 a.m.: Greek yogurt topped with fresh berries and a handful of granola to start the day off right.
  • 10 a.m.: Apple slices and peanut butter right at the first sign of hunger.
  • 1 p.m.: Chicken, veggie and brown rice stir-fry to prepare to power through the afternoon.
  • 4 p.m.: Satisfy a craving AND fuel up with good nutrition with a LUNA Chocolate Cupcake bar.
  • 7 p.m.: Grilled salmon and spinach salad with a multi-grain roll for a feel-good dinner.
  • 10 p.m.: Need a little bedtime snack? A small banana and a couple tablespoons of walnut halves will hit the spot.

You need sugar in your diet — but like anything, you should have it in moderation in order keep your body and metabolism healthy. —Sarah-Jane Bedwell

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