For people with prediabetes, what you eat can become a real challenge. You may have been told that you need to “give up carbs” or “cut out all sugar” which can feel scary and daunting, to say the least. I mean, who wants to think of a future without ever eating ice cream again?
Not me! The bowl is mine! All mine!
Carbs Are Not Your Enemy
When we get down to it, carbs are not your enemy. With a sane, sensible approach to healthy eating, almost no food or food group should ever be thought of as your enemy or as off-limits or “bad” food.
Carbohydrates are important to our health. The body uses carbs for fuel and in particular, fuel for our brains in the form of glucose.
Carbs come in 2 forms. Simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbs, also called simple sugars, are broken down quickly by the body. They create a rush of sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream which in healthy individuals, triggers the pancreas to release insulin that lowers the blood sugar level.
There’s a whole lot more to what goes on in the body when you ingest carbohydrates, but for now, just envision them turning to sugar and either burned for energy or stored as fat for future energy.
Simple carbs are things like granulated sugar, honey, and candy. But also fruits and milk!
Just remember, not all simple carbs are created equal. Just because candy and fruit are in this group doesn’t mean that you should choose candy as your preferred source of quick energy.
Candy doesn’t have the fiber or vitamins that come packed in natural fruits. Plus, it’s often loaded with unhealthy fat.
And be careful about juicing your fruits! Juicing removes the beneficial fiber component that makes fruit a healthy choice for simple sugar. That giant glass of orange juice may have more sugar in it than that entire bag of Skittles. So choose wisely.
The second type of carb is the complex carbohydrate. You will often hear these referred to as “starches.” Complex carbs include things like grains, beans and legumes, fibrous veggies, and potatoes and yams. Because of the higher fiber content in complex carbs, they are slower to digest and slower to release their sugars into the body which helps keep blood sugar levels more stable.
Because of this stabilizing effect on your blood sugar, you’re more likely to feel fuller longer, without the rush and crash of the quicker acting simple carbs.
So if carbs are not the enemy then why is almost everyone raving about low-carb or no-carb diets and lifestyles? Well, like most things, the devil’s in the details on this one…
Added Sugar Is The Devil In The Details
It’s the added sugar that’s the devil you don’t know. And it’s in almost everything. Hidden, lurking, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting eater.
Take for example fruit juice. We’ve already talked about how it’s a simple carb – a simple sugar – so you wouldn’t think anyone in their right mind would need to add more sugar to it, right?
Fruit juice often has added sugar. Crazy, huh? But so does bacon. And chicken broth. And plant or nut-based milk. Ketchup is notorious for added sugar. As are many salad dressings.
If you’re buying food that’s labeled “low-fat” chances are really good that it has added sugar.
Because let’s face it, if you’re taking out the fat, which our bodies have pretty much evolved to find tasty, then you’re gonna have to make up for removing the “tasty” with something else.
And what better thing to add than sugar? Because our bodies – and particularly our minds – love sugar.
In an article published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, research showed “significant overlap between the consumption of added sugars and drug-like effects…” What this means is that sugar produces a response or reaction in the brain that is eerily similar to cocaine!
And you wonder why it feels like you can’t resist that donut at work!
Become An Added Sugar Super Spy
So what can you do to reduce the amount of added sugar from your diet? First, you’re going to need to start becoming a master label reader. Or at least an average food label reader. Okay, you’re just going to need to read your food labels and maybe do a teensy, weensy bit of research.
Or grab a screenshot of the list below and save it to your phone for quick reference (Hint! Hint!)
Before you can eliminate the added sugar you have to know it’s there. We already talked about the “low-fat” marker. If you have to, assume that low-fat = added sugar. But for some, low-fat options are preferable, especially if you have a history of heart or artery disease.
Definitely consult with your doctor about the benefits of low-fat foods if you have both prediabetes and any risk of those other types of diseases. A registered dietitian can also help you sort through the details of your situation.
The other hallmark of added sugar, aside from the term “sugar” on the food label, is ingredients that end in -“ose.” Such as dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose to name a few of the most common ones.
Ingredients with the terms sweetener, syrup, concentrate, and malt are also indicators of added sugar in your food.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that the more processed the food is, the more likely it is to have added sugar. Breakfast cereals, granola bars, shelf-stable fruit cups, canned tomatoes and tomato sauces, frozen meals, and frozen yogurts can be big added sugar hideouts.
To help you better understand the important information found on U.S. food labels, check out this quick video from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which illustrates exactly where you can now find added sugars and serving sizes:
Sugar-Free And Other Terms Designed To Confuse and Confound
Now that you’re paying attention to food labels and you’re starting to get a sharp eye for spotting added sugar, you may also be looking at food packaging and seeing seemingly reassuring phrases such as “reduced sugar” and “low sugar.” This stuff sounds like a great option, right?
Meh. Maybe, maybe not. In the United States, these terms can be defined as follows:
The food contains less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving (make sure you know what the serving size is because if you’re actually consuming 4 servings at a time, that can make a difference)
Reduced Sugar/Less Sugar
There’s at least 25 percent less sugar per serving compared to a standard serving size of the traditional form (which may be incredibly high in sugar to begin with!)
No Added Sugars/Without Added Sugars
The food contains no sugars or sugar-containing ingredients added during processing. This does NOT mean the food has no sugar.
You shouldn’t see this on a food label at all. It has no legal definition in the U.S.
A Special Caution About Fructose
Fructose is a form of sugar that is metabolized or processed almost entirely by the liver and multiple studies have uncovered the harmful effects of high fructose on the human body. Including, but not limited to, increased insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, a condition called fatty liver, and surprise, surprise, type 2 diabetes!
So while we’re looking to avoid any added sugar overall, you will definitely want to steer clear of any foods that are high in fructose.
On older food labels, fructose was often referred to as high fructose or high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS. These are all basically the same thing as fructose. They’re, just called by different names to throw an added sugar spy like yourself off their trail.
65 Sneaky Names For Added Sugar
barley malt syrup
cane juice crystals
coconut palm sugar
corn syrup solids
dehydrated cane juice
evaporated cane juice
fruit juice concentrate
high-fructose corn syrup