Avoiding the “Hidden Sugar Effect”

Hidden Sugar Effect of a Bagel equivalent to 8 teaspoons of sugar
One bagel has an hidden sugar effect equivalent to 8 teaspoons of sugar

Did I ever tell you about the time I had lunch with Rob Lowe?  In the summer of 2018, I received an unexpected invitation to meet The Outsiders celebrity at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan.  At first, I thought this luncheon was going to be with a large group of random people and that I’d be seated somewhere in the nosebleeds of the restaurant.  It was quite the opposite experience. I sat directly across from Mr. Lowe at a table of about 10 people including fitness influencers, representatives from various media outlets and the Atkins Nutritionals team.

Mr. Lowe is a very charismatic gentleman who is sincerely excited about sharing how he maintains a healthy lifestyle.  My conversations with Colette Heimowitz, however, had me so engaged as well. Colette is the VP Nutrition Communication & Education at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.  This woman wields an impressive wealth of knowledge about nutrition. She was not there to promote Atkins; she was there to share invaluable information with us.

In my conversations with Colette, I realized that my perspective on nutrition and fitness had many things in common with what she shared. One of the key takeaways was the notion of the “hidden sugar effect” — when carbohydrates convert to sugar when digested. You don’t see the sugar, but your body does.

The “Hidden Sugar Effect”

If you’ve been following my blog and social media for a while you know that I caution my readers to be mindful of their sugar consumption.  For example, in my post 5 “Healthy” Breakfast Foods to Avoid, all the culprits were found guilty of too much sugar. The “hidden sugar effect” is the impact foods have on our system that is equivalent to that of teaspoons of sugar.  This effect is more closely linked to the glycemic load (and not just the glycemic index) of foods.

Glycemic load (GL) describes the quality and quantity of carbohydrates in a food.  A food is considered to have a high glycemic load if its GL score is greater than 19; intermediate with a GL score of 11 to 19; and low with a GL score of 10 or less.  Foods with high glycemic loads cause the “hidden sugar effect”; these foods cause problematic increases in blood glucose levels. For example, one bagel is equivalent to the GL of about 8 teaspoons of sugar. Go pour out 8 teaspoons to see what that looks like.

What’s the big deal about too much sugar?

Over-consuming any food can compromise your weight management goals. However, diets high in sugar and other refined carbohydrates radically increase the body’s production of insulin; and insulin is the best single index of adiposity – medical jargon for fat. Excess sugar consumption may make people more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes and has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease (read more here). Consuming too many carbohydrates that result in the “hidden sugar effect” messes with our blood glucose levels.  This rollercoaster effect on your glucose levels can result in you feeling tired (sugar crash) and hungry. With a well-balanced diet comprised of high-fiber carbs, optimal protein and healthy fats, you can avoid these glucose swings.

Well balanced meal including carbohydrates
An example of a balanced meal including carbohydrates

Not All Carbohydrates are Bad

I would like to make one thing clear.  This post is not a carb witch hunt. Carbohydrates are an important macronutrient. However, since the sources of all carbohydrates are not created equal it is important that we understand what (and how much) we are putting in our bodies. Ultimately, the amount carbohydrates, proteins and fats you need depends on your overall fitness goals including your level of physical activity.

When looking at the carbohydrates you consume, it is helpful to consider “net carbs”.  Net carbs are the carbs left after you subtract fiber and sugar alcohols (if applicable).  For example, a medium potato (5.2 ounces) has a total of 26 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of fiber. So that’s 24 grams of net carbs.  Similarly, 5 ounces of broccoli has 9.4 grams of carbohydrates and 2.4 grams of fiber; that’s 7 grams of net carbs. Is the potato inherently evil because it has 24 grams of net carbs? Nope.  However, those 24 grams of net carbs in addition to the carbohydrates from drinks, cereal, bagels, candy bars, salad dressings, pasta sauce and yogurt may throw your body into those unwanted glucose swings. You can check out this list of foods and their net carbs here to learn more.

green vegetables are excellent fiber-rich foods - Hidden Sugar Effect - My Body My Kitchen
Green vegetables are excellent fiber-rich foods

How Do You Improve Your Sugar Consumption?

Now, I do not expect you to go out and suddenly end your consumption of all sugar. I do not believe that is a sustainable approach for most people.  Here’s what I try to do to manage my sugar consumption:

  • Read Nutritional Labels and Ingredient Lists: I will repeat this as many times as necessary to help you take control of your health. As you grow into the habit of reading nutrition labels, you learn more about the contents of what you are eating.  You can then make more informed decisions about the food products you purchase.
 Low-carb and High-Protein Snacks - Hidden Sugar Effect - My Body My Kitchen
Some of my favorite low-carb and high-protein snacks
  • More Protein or Low-Glycemic Snacks: On most weekdays, I pack a couple snacks that contain some protein and are low on the glycemic-load scale. I tend to stick to nuts (usually almonds and cashews), berries and other low-glycemic fruits & vegetables. I recently started packing an Atkins Protein Wafer Crisp Bar. These come in three flavors with the Lemon Vanilla being my favorite. Each of these yummy wafer crisps has between 10 to 11 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and only 1 gram of sugar. In addition, they taste amazing; I really enjoy eating them.
  • Learn How to Enjoy Vegetables: Vegetables, especially the green leafy ones, get a bad rap for not being enjoyable to eat. I challenge you, and myself, to go beyond just steamed broccoli.  Try roasting, sautéing, stewing and braising your vegetables while packing in other flavors with garlic, ginger, onions and spices. Your taste buds will thank you.
  • Introduce More Protein and Fiber into Your Meals: Fiber and proteins are more satiating than simple carbohydrates.  You’ll stay full longer and reduce the chance of unplanned snacking that can compromise your goals.

Now that you know about the “hidden sugar effect” I want you to take a moment to think about the foods you eat on a daily basis that may be hiding sugar.  Making a drastic change in your carbohydrate consumption may not be sustainable, however, if you need help finding tasty low(er)-carb recipes, here are a few you can try:

This is a post sponsored by ATKINS, all opinions are my own.

About MyBodyMyKitchen

I'm Sean, founder of My Body My Kitchen (MBMK). I am dedicated to empowering my readers to live a healthy life. The food we eat and how it is prepared greatly affects our health. Through MBMK I empower my readers to take control of their health by providing them with the tools need to take control of your kitchens. I started MBMK in January 2015, after an overwhelming demand for my recipes on my personal Instagram account.

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