On Sugar, Carbs and Moderation

Often times, when I need to post something to the blog, I scour my social media accounts to see what people are talking about out on Los Internetos. Today I happened across this interesting article by marathon training guru, Hal Higdon that my friend W “liked” on Facebook.

The article was about carbs – and the fact that runners need them.

This startlingly obvious fact (obvious if you remember high school biology, where we all learned that muscles make glycogen from carbohydrates, and glycogen = energy) sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of all the hype that exists nowadays around high protein / low carb diets.

It sometimes seems like you can’t shake a stick without someone telling you they eat Paleo, are are on a no sugar challenge, or are trying to convince you that their pizza crust made from cauliflower tastes good.

To which I say No. No, it doesn’t. And if you want pizza, have pizza, but have it with a salad and eat one slice like a reasonable person.

Notice I said one SLICE, not one pizza. This is the kind of detail that can get people into trouble.

I do think there is definitely some benefit to consuming less sugar, especially as compared to the diet of the average person in North America. Our food is full of ingredients our bodies didn’t evolve to handle in the quantities we are consuming.

But as with most things, moderation is key. Your body may not really need to be eating the amount of carbs that is typical here in the United States, but it does need some, especially if you are an athlete.

“Athlete” being defined as someone who places a large energy demand on their body (works out) on a regular basis. I always feel funny thinking of myself as an athlete – but I do work out 1 – 2 hours a day, as hard as I can stand. It is a big energy demand, even if all that work doesn’t pay off in speed, necessarily.

I’m an athlete – a slow athlete! But I’m working on it.

Anyway, the big question really is how much is the right amount of carbs to be eating, and what kind of carbs are we talking about. Hal’s article tackles this subject really well, so I won’t repeat it – you should read it.

But aside from knowing your caloric needs, and percentage of total intake and carb needs based on weight and activity, another really good guideline is to listen to your body. How are your moods? How often do you find yourself craving sweets? Eating too much sugar can lead to craving more, as your body experiences swings in blood sugar.

Are you having trouble finding the energy to get through your workout, or even just your day to day activities? Maybe you need to eat more good quality carbs.

My own philosophy on carbs generally, and sugar in particular, is that there really isn’t any food that is inherently good or bad. Most of the issues people run into with food have more to do with portions and how much we are eating, versus specifically what.

Even sugar (the refined white kind that people love to hate on) is not inherently bad, it’s more that the amount of it we are eating these days is way out of whack with what our calorie needs are, and out of whack with the intended purpose of sugar is. More than a teaspoon or two a day, is probably too much.

Sugar is a treat, a sometime food as Cookie Monster would say.

So my take is, I try not to get too worked up about the whole sugar thing, but also keep an eye on it. I have rules. My rules are:

1) I read labels to make sure that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are not in foods where they should not be. Or if they are, at least I am aware of it.
2) I try to ensure that when I do eat carbs, I balance them out with a protein of some sort (a cookie and milk, for instance). Fat tends to take care of itself.
3) I try to keep the refined sugar to a minimum without being obsessive about it. I’m not drinking my coffee without a little sprinkle of it. Neither am I going to pour in a giant pile of it.
4) I try to avoid sugar before noon – except for the coffee.
5) Treats are okay, but they can’t be an everyday, all the time thing.

An example of the philosophy is that we do eat cookies at our house, but when we do I try to make them myself vs. buying store bought since it is all too easy to let cookies become an all the time thing when it’s so easy to bring a dozen home from the store. Plus, if something is a treat, let it be a real treat – nothing is better than a homemade chocolate chip cookie. Maybe two. But not the whole batch.

Which is why I make them, we eat a few, and the rest I try to pawn off on other people.

What is your approach to carbs and sugar? Do you have rules. Do you do the Paleo thing?

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