Is sugar harmless?
Health-conscious, vegetarian bodybuilders should consider phasing out sugar.
Is sugar harmless?
No. Eat two huge pieces of rich chocolate cake, and then journal your mind-body experience and ultimately how you feel one to two hours afterward. Without getting into the “everything in moderation is fine” philosophy, we can simply look at what our body already knows.
Because I don’t eat sugar, I know that if I consumed two sugary drinks in one day, I would feel horrible.
My gut (pun intended) would indicate to me that I shouldn’t be putting it into my system – that it’s bad. But how harmful is sugar, and should we consider phasing it out of our diet entirely?
“I chose to phase processed-sugar out of my diet because my body, not research, tells me it feels healthier. It’s clear (to me) that my energy levels, sleep, mood, and mental clarity benefit from abstaining.”
I’m not sure I would even want to completely phase out all sweets, because it does contribute to my quality of life.
I get my sugar fix from fruits, peanut butter sandwiches, and protein shakes.
However, many of us use sugar as a feel-good crutch.
Don’t worry if you can’t seem to make it through a day without a sugar fix, you’re not alone.
Whether your weakness is sweet coffee beverages, chocolate, ice cream, or cookies, sugar has a way of comforting us and calming our nerves. However, this positive sensation is temporary, and quickly begins to take its toll on your physical and mental health.
Many health-conscious people aren’t reaching their weight and fitness goals because they are addicted to sugar and don’t even know it.
According to medical researchers who published a study in the February 3, 2014 edition of “JAMA Internal Medicine,” those who consume more than 21% of daily calories from added sugar had double the risk of death from heart disease than those who consumed less than 10% of calories from added sugars.
Is Sugar Toxic?
Yes. Most of the research that I’ve read suggests that consuming sugar in moderate-to-high amounts over time can contribute to various diseases and cancers. However, sugar may not be as bad as some of the hype suggests; here’s a great article by The New York Times that teases this out quite nicely.
Sugary foods may be pleasurable when times get tough, but sugar has no positive nutritional value beyond simple calories.
Nutritionist and author Dr. Nancy Appleton highlights over 100 of sugar’s metabolic consequences in her book, “Lick the Sugar Habit”.
- Immune system suppression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Significant rise in triglycerides
- Tooth decay
Whether you’re a vegetarian bodybuilder, aspiring athlete, or casual gym-goer, you should also know that sugar also affects your athletic performance. A study published in “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” involved a group of highly-trained cyclists who were given sugary drinks after riding to exhaustion.
Although sugar gave the cyclists immediate bursts of energy, it metabolized in the liver, which can cause fatty liver disorder if that extreme level of physical activity is not maintained. This condition reduces the body’s ability to respond to insulin, the hormone that helps control blood sugar.
Pure Sugar vs. Sugar Substitutes
Many people make the mistake of switching out pure sugar for artificial sugar, which is actually also harmful. Artificial sweeteners like Splenda form more acids than pure sugar does, promote weight gain, and can result in increased sugar cravings over time.
Sugar-free soda and candy is not a healthy alternative for foods derived from pure sugar. “A calorie of sugar is a calorie of sugar, so whether you’re getting it from white sugar or some other type of sweetener, you’re still adding empty calories to your diet,” explained Rachel K. Johnson, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont.
However, as Harvard Medical School editor, Holly Strawbridge, points out, not all artificial sweeteners are created equal. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners:
As well as one natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia.
Research shows that these artificial substances interact with the body in complex ways, preventing the body from associating sweets with caloric intake.
Science Behind Sugar Cravings
Research shows that sugar cravings aren’t all in your head. A study recently published in the “British Medical Journal” investigated the links between sugar consumption, body weight, and how addictive sugar really is.
Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, well-known for his research into the effects of dietary sugar, explained that table sugar is made of glucose and fructose, which are chemically-bound to each other as a “chronic toxin.”
Sugar overpowers the other taste buds on your tongue, creating a pleasurable sensation in even less desirable foods. The World Health Organization recommends that added sugar intake should be limited to 10% of total energy intake, but the American Heart Association suggests a lower limit of 5%.
Sugar in a Vegetarian Diet
If you struggle with controlling your sugar intake or keeping your blood sugar balanced, consider becoming a vegetarian, or even a part-time vegetarian or a flexitarian which simply means eating mostly vegetarian with occasional meat
According to the Mayo Clinic’s M. Regina Castro, M.D., plant-based diets can not only help you control your weight, but also make your body more responsive to insulin and reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications.
By eating a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you can improve your blood sugar control and promote healthy insulin production. But as Dr. Castro warns, vegetarians should limit their intake of simple carbohydrates and starches, like potatoes and white bread, which can actually have a negative impact on blood sugar.
A study conducted at the University of Cincinnati found that 12-week vegan diets resulted in 12 to 27 percent lower fasting blood sugar levels and promoted weight loss in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Through these findings, the researchers concluded that vegetarian diets are more effective than conventional diets for managing diabetes.
According to nutritionist Debra Wein, plant-based diets may improve your blood sugar by increasing your levels of dietary fiber. Fiber slows the rate your body releases sugar into the bloodstream, ensuring even levels of energy throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates promote glycogen production, helping to control energy demands and blood sugar levels.
Healthy vegetarian diets also provide the body with antioxidants, which protect against the harmful effects of excess blood sugar on bodily cells.
Foods That Counteract Sugar Cravings
Far too often, dieters cut sugar out of their diets cold turkey, which is rarely a realistic or successful goal. Here are a few healthy foods that nutritionists recommend to counteract sugar cravings:
- Apples – tastes sweet, high in fiber, makes the stomach feel full
- Sweet corn – tastes sweet, rich in vitamins and minerals, full of antioxidants
- Sweet potato – tastes sweet, supplies the body with vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B6, and iron
- Cinnamon – replaces sugar, prevents blood sugar spikes, normalizes blood sugar levels
- Tomatoes – high in serotonin to reduce cravings, regulates cholesterol, controls blood sugar
If you’re an athlete or bodybuilder, you should focus on consuming the best types of sugar to enhance your performance. There are a few main types of sugars that you should familiarize yourself with: monosaccharides, disaccharides, lactose, maltose, and polysaccharides.
If you’re looking for a quick boost of energy before a workout, try carbohydrates high in glucose (like potatoes, grains, and fruits), since this type of sugar can immediately be stored in your muscles as glycogen.
How to Start Phasing Sugar Out of Your Diet?
Keep a food journal to identify triggers of when you crave sugar the most.
Learn more about the artificial sweeteners that you’ve been choosing as a “healthy” sugar alternative.
Read nutritional labels, and choose fresh produce with natural sugars over processed foods with added sugar.
Document your food cravings and what satisfies them as you begin sugar detox.
Cook and eat meals at home whenever possible to take control of your sugar intake.
Avoid behavioral and emotional triggers that tempt you to abandon sugar-free habits.
Sugar Detox Meal Plans
Breakfast 1: Sweet Detox Smoothie
- Unsweetened almond, rice, or coconut milk
- Slices of avocado
- Almond butter
- Fresh organic berries
Lunch 1: Sautéed Garlic and Vegetable Kelp Noodles
- Coconut oil
- Summer squash
- Garlic cloves
- Chopped basil
- Fennel bulb
- Pine nuts
- Kelp noodles
Dinner 1: Veggie and Quinoa Salad
- Generous portions of kale or spinach
- Mix of carrots, broccoli, cucumber, mushrooms, artichoke, and beets
- Sprinkling of seeds and nuts
- Tahini ginger dressing
Breakfast 2: Green Power Shake
- Flax oil
- Maca powder
- Almond milk
- Plant-based protein powder
Lunch 2: Sweet and Savory Salad
- Ripe avocados
- Ripe peaches
- Lime juice
- Macadamia nuts
- Fresh cilantro
- Ground coriander seed
Dinner 2: Acorn Squash with Rice Bake
- Medium acorn squash
- Wild rice
- Coconut oil
- Chili powder
- Raw or dry roasted pumpkin seeds
- Chopped parsley
- Chopped rosemary
- Pomegranate seeds
Here’s an Anti-Inflammatory Juice Recipe that’s great to add to the mix for sugar detox.
Anti-Inflammatory Juice Recipe
- 2 green apples
- 2 cucumbers
- 4 stalks of celery
- 2 handfuls of spinach
- 1 lemon
- 1 knob of ginger
*add fresh turmeric (and black pepper for absorption) to help alleviate muscle soreness
For more ideas on sugar detox meal plans, watch this video – 5 DAYS NO SUGAR CHALLENGE | HOW I QUIT SUGAR + HEALTHY RECIPE IDEAS!
Since sugars are added to so many foods that are commonplace in our diets, phasing out sugar is often easier said than done.
By choosing a plant-based diet that incorporates naturally-occurring sugars instead of artificially added ones, you can get one step closer to controlling your cravings, building lean muscle, and living a more holistic bodybuilding lifestyle.
Chris Willitts (creator of V3), is the founder and owner of Vegetarian Bodybuilding.
V3 Vegetarian Bodybuilding System is a mixture of science and author’s advice, providing users with optimal diet and exercise. This system is designed for vegans and vegetarians only.
A lot of research has been put in this program. Furthermore, a lot of professional bodybuilders and athletes tried and tested the program, praising its progressiveness and efficiency.
The program is about taking control of your own body and health according to your potential and needs. And worry not; you’ll get plenty of proteins with this system. It will boost you with energy, and you’ll feel just a strong as any carnivore would (perhaps even stronger, depending on how much you invest in your exercise). It avoids vitamins deficiency and provides you with a lot of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Instead of saying things like “I think a plant-based diet is good for athletes and bodybuilders,” the V3 Vegetarian Bodybuilding System claims “I know a plant-based diet is good for athletes and bodybuilders, and I have results to prove it.”
To find out more, visit the website at V3 Bodybuilding – Sugar Detox Meal Plans