Friday, February 19, 2010

Is it really better to stop eating processed, sugary foods?

All the news/media outlets seem to be bashing processed, sugary foods for causing people to become obese or diabetic. I eat tons of processed, sugary goods on a daily basis, and I'd like to give this up, so I won't have to worry about diabetes in old age. However, I'm a fairly skinny teenager (lower end of weight index for my height, enough to cause my pediatrician to scold me to eat more), and the one time I tried giving up sugar for Lent, I had horrible dizzy spells and lost weight (not good in my case). What are some good ways to phase sucrose and high fructose corn syrup out of my diet without losing what seems to be a vital energy source?

Is this something I should even try?

(I do eat 3 regular meals a day, plus snacks. In fact, my friends point out that I tend to eat quite a bit, especially when it comes to pastries. I am not bulimic. Nor do I exercise too much--just running back and forth across campus and the occasional trip to the gym, although I do fidget constantly.)

Answer on Is it really better to stop eating processed, sugary foods?

Yes, it really is better to stop eating processed, sugary foods. But the culprit here is not sugars, but rather *simple sugars.* You and I have similar body types and similar eating habits, it sounds like. The thing to do is to eat plenty of complex sugars that can break down over time - so glucose (e.g. bread) instead of fructose. Eat plenty of snacks, and make sure you get plenty of complex calorific foods (things like breads, pastas, and rice). You get your energy from calories, whether complex or simple, but it's much better to get the complex ones rather than the simple calories from sugar that break down so quickly that your body has to produce tons of insulin to take care of it all at once.

The other thing to remember is that sugar is not itself all bad. There is no shame in eating homemade pastries from time to time. It is *more* important to avoid overly processed foods than to avoid sugars... so if you are finding that you are still getting dizzy, go ahead and eat some sweets, but stay away from the prepackaged ones with ingredients you can't pronounce. Go to a proper bakery instead, if you can.

Obviously, the main thing is to do your best to eat sensibly. You don't have to be crazy about it, but in general, it really is a good idea to cut out very processed sugary foods. Start by cutting things that are exceptionally processed, and then proceed to cutting high fructose corn syrup altogether, and make sure you are eating enough through the day to not be dizzy.

One other thing: in people who are skinny and who have low blood pressure (which is me, and might be you), you can get dizzy spells if you are not drinking enough liquid. This is especially true when you are eating more complex calories and fewer simple ones, because it takes water to break down the complex sugars. So if this describes you, you might also try the simple expedient of drinking more when you feel a bit lightheaded.