BEWARE: Hidden Sources of Sugar in "Health" Foods

I generally have a pretty low sugar diet and encourage the same for my clients. The general Western population gets excess amounts of sugar from processed and packaged foods such as ice-cream and cookies - some of the obvious. At My Balance & Wellness, we prefer to ditch these junk foods and substitute our sugar intake with natural sources such as sweet root vegetables (two of my favorites being yams and sweet potatoes) and from whole pieces of fruit.

So, think you are making healthy choices by also ditching the junky sweets and going for things like yogurt, acai bowls, smoothies and juices instead? Think again...

I had desert the other night with my husband while watching a movie. It was a small Coco Bliss Ice Cream Bar which is delicious and mush healthier than other ice-cream varieties on the market (it's dairy free and sweetened with a little agave). I looked at the sugar content and it said 12 grams per bar. I was fine with it because I enjoy one on the rare occasion. However, a couple of days later, I met a friend at a cafe and asked for a green juice. Unfortunately the greenest things in it were cucumber and spearmint, with the other ingredients being lemon, ginger and apple. But I was surprised when I looked at the sugar content and saw 12 grams of sugar per serving - that's the same amount as my ice-cream bar! Now I know these sugars are naturally occurring from mostly the apple, the lemon and some from the veggies, but wow - even organic juice can be a big dose of sugar for your daily intake. Yes it's healthier than a soda or a caramel latter, but you are best to make juice at home with mostly veggies, and say 1/2 a large or 1 small apple to sweeten it a little. Adding lemon takes away any bitterness you may taste from using greens in your juice.

Then, what about those popular acai bowls that people have for breakfast these days? SUGAR SUGAR and MORE SUGAR! They are a blend of different fruits with added juice, topped with more fruit, sometimes dried fruit and granola. YIKES how sweet is that! Now earlier I said fruit is a good source of natural sugar right! Well it is true - but I also mentioned that I recommend whole pieces of fruit, not a big blended bowl of fruit with added fruit juice, more fruit on top and a garnish of sugary granola that will drastically spike your blood sugar levels. I say, stick to low glycemic eggs with veggies for breakfast and enjoy 1 piece of seasonal fruit for desert :-) Get what I am saying??

Smoothies are the same. When you get them from a store they usually have a ton of sugar in them from using too much tropical fruit such as mangoes and bananas (plus they are super expensive or if you do find a cheap one they are likely using conventional / poor quality ingredients). Instead, eat a small banana on it's own with a small handful of raw almonds to slow the release of the sugar into your bloodstream. This is much better on your delicate blood sugar levels than blending too much tropical fruit into a single drink to consume in one serving. It's simply too much for the body to handle all at once... unless you are an ultra athlete. I say save your precious pennies and make your smoothies at home so you know exactly how much of everything you are putting in it.

*A good base is 1 cup filtered water, pure coconut milk or homemade nut milk. From there, add your fruit, maybe 1/2 cup berries or 1/2 banana. Optionally add some veggies such as a handful of leafy greens, and then add your favorite sources of protein and healthy fats... such as 1tbsp. freshly ground flax seeds and / or 1 tbsp. of almond butter. Throw in a few ice cubes and blend until smooth. Wallah! Note: if you use filtered water instead of non-dairy milk, try adding 1/4 - 1/2 ripe avocado to make it nice and creamy. 

Yogurt is the same deal. These days there are too many varieties offering different "natural flavors" such as strawberry, vanilla or honey. They promote "fat free" as if it is the best thing ever (man is that a whole different blog post for later) and add sugar to compensate for lack of taste.  Opt for natural, plain and organic Greek style's of yogurt to avoid the all too common added sugar and flavor enhances. To sweeten it, do so naturally at home with a dusting of cinnamon and a splash of pure vanilla extract. Then top with some fresh organic berries. YUM! Sugar balance at its finest!

Guys, basically I am saying be mindful of your sugar intake. Education and awareness is essential these days as sugar is hidden in so many un-assuming things. Excess sugar can cause all sorts of health issues from weight gain, excess inflammation, microbial overgrowths in your gastrointestinal tract and insulin resistance potentially leading to diabetes. A simply solution is to return to nature and eat food in its whole form, such as a piece of your favorite seasonal fruit or some home baked sweet potato chips. We really don't need any more than that. You can retrain your tastebuds to think these foods are the sweetest things on Earth, and that things like cookies and ice-cream etc. are artificially sweet and too much for the body to handle!