Sugar – The Basics


We’re all familiar with the general public’s perception of fat – in that it is generally viewed as being *bad* [for you], and this is a notion that’s deeply engrained in Western societies; so much so that most people won’t even question it.

However, let’s consider a different way of viewing carbs, because this is a “hot topic” that has been entrenching staunch believers at a near “biblical” level on both sides of the camp: the “pro-carbers” vs. the “anti-carbers”.

Granted, the canonization of the Keto Diet over the last 5-6 years has had a large role to play in Fat’s proverbial revival, while simultaneously managing to demonize Carbs*…

*(Ironically, the actual scientists behind the research never meant to “demonize” Carbs, but the public do like to take things and run with them! So…)

But just look at what the government has been telling us for the past 40+ years: “eat less, exercise more… Oh, and also, don’t eat fat… and carbs aren’t the problem”; and this was all based on outdated information, and poor science. (And if you consider how much of the *real* science got ‘buried’ [decades ago]…).

Fortunately though, there has been more recognition in recent years as to how *sugar* is the main issue – especially when it comes to diabetes and obesity. But we can see how confirmation bias has reinforced itself over multiple generations.

So, if carbs are okay, but sugar is bad, but carbs are made up of sugar… how can we better understand something that is already terribly obscure at its most basic level?

Well, I want you to go grab your wallet [or purse]. (It should be emptied out [of cash] to start).

Now, if you take two single dollar bills and put them inside… they won’t take up much space, right? However, if you were to go ahead and try putting twenty dimes in there, it would feel a fair bit heavier.

So, the wallet represents your body. The paper money, therefore, would be carbohydrates. And the coins would be *sugar*.

Let’s try a more complex example: say you’ve got three dollar bills and twelve quarters – therefore, the value of the coins is equal to that of the paper money, and you have a total of $6. Half as paper, half in coins.

If we say that those $6 represent six grams of carbohydrates in total, we could say that 3 grams of it is sugar. So, it would clearly be easier on the wallet to have six single notes [instead] because the coins take up a huge amount of space in comparison.

Therefore, when we look at carbs and sugar in relation to the body, just think of how overstuffed your bloodstream and cells become when you have too much sugar, whereas if you had carbohydrates (of which little to none was sugar), the impact would be greatly reduced.

Now imagine you’re at the supermarket and you pick up an item of food or drink that says (for example): ‘20g Carbs, Of Which 12g is Sugar’, that’s a rather large percentage of it that is going to wreak havoc internally (over half, in fact); but if it said ‘20g Carbs, and 1.4g Sugar’, that is going to have far less impact on your blood sugar levels.

Another analogy that can help us better understand what is going on looks at the dreaded hormone: insulin (and its buddy – glucagon).

I use the highway as a metaphor in this instance. If we look at sugar as being a rowdy bunch of bikers, it’s safe to say that just one rowdy biker is manageable for the police (in this analogy played by *insulin* ).

So, one gram of sugar (one biker) isn’t going to cause too much of a problem. But an entire gang of twenty or more… well, that’s going to require more police on the road. And this is where things start to get a bit manic.

Having one police patrol on the highway to monitor things is good for everyone’s safety. But having an entire squadron in pursuit of a whole gang is utter chaos. So, if the highway represents your veins and arteries, and we’ve just taken up all the lanes with police and bikers, a “crash” is somewhat inevitable. (Get it? — “sugar crash”).

The job of the police (insulin) is to get those bikers off the road (out of your bloodstream) and into… well, cells (works perfectly, no?). So, insulin has done its job and cleared the path of all the sugar, but the destruction was like what you’d see in a Die Hard movie, and you’re the one left feeling the aftermath.

Then we have glucagon – we can consider this hormone as the delightful “parole officer”. It’s glucagon’s duty to escort sugar out of cells and back to the bloodstream, but in a way that ensures that the sugar behaves and goes right to where it’s needed with no shenanigans along the way.

The biker – “sugar” – is now “reformed” and duly entering the bloodstream in a controlled manner headed to wherever it is required to perform “community service” (i.e. be put to use by our muscles).

Notice how I’m NOT saying that *carbs* are the problem. We can still consume carbs – at reasonable levels (there’s really no need to have any more than 40% of your calories come from carbs!) – but we just need to be cognisant of how much is comprised of sugar. Preferably, we want just 50g or less per day [of *sugar*].

Hopefully, we’ve now got a better understanding of sugar and its impact on the body.

Problem is, that doesn’t take the excessive boatloads of it out of the products that we find in the supermarkets! But it *should* help you be better informed [now], and get you checking the back of Nutrition labels to see what’s in there.

It ought to be pretty obvious, but things like candy, ice cream, donuts, soda – the stuff we’re all guilty of having a liking for – rank as being extremely high in sugar. Thus, this is the easiest place to start when it comes to reducing the amount of sugar we consume.

Do we need to cut them out completely? I think this depends on how “hooked” you are. See, what we really want to achieve here is a “re-wiring” of sorts; we need to reprogram how your mind views sugar. Fact is, if anything, it should be a *treat* – a reward that you allow yourself to indulge in every now and again – perhaps when you’ve reached a landmark and want to celebrate.

I try to get my Clients to think of the notorious “Cheat Day” more as a “Treat Day”.

Rather than simply trying to “eat clean” all week, only to smash through a ton of sugar (and other stuff that’s usually loaded with saturated fat) come the weekend [because the line: ‘But it’s my “cheat day”’ gets used and abused far too often]… You want to flip the psychology and decide what kind of achievement (or ‘landmark’) is going to allow you to work in a *Treat Day*.

And let’s be clear – this no longer becomes a weekly thing; perhaps once a month (?)… also, it mustn’t be an entire day’s worth of decadence either! Pick a meal, and delve into something a little naughty. It just doesn’t wanna be packing thousands of calories!!

*That* right there is what undoes all the hard work! You try to burn 1-2lbs of Fat in a week, only to consume an equivalent amount of calories in one sitting on a Cheat Day… therefore, you’re only succumbing to the true essence of its namesake: you are *cheating* [yourself], and making zero progress as a result!

What this means though, is that we are trying to “go cold turkey” [more or less] for at least 3-4 weeks! But I’m not gonna leave you hanging. Let’s consider some substitutes that will make for a smoother transition…

Here are 7 Simple Swaps to kick the Sugar Crave and “clean up” your diet!

  1. Instead of that bag of Skittles, try an Apple or a Pear
  2. Sub out that bag of Lay’s or Doritos for a small portion of Olives and Cheese* (Writer’s Top Choice: Olives sprinkled with Cumin Seeds and some diced Gouda!)
  3. Have a handful of Almonds and *1* square/piece of Dark (70+%) Chocolate instead of that Snickers Bar.
  4. A [smaller] handful of Macadamias in place of that bag of Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn.
  5. Opt for an Oikos Triple Zero instead of the regular (sugar-laden) alternatives.
  6. If you like yoghurt, go Greek! Way less sugar than non-Greek varieties! Or better yet, try Icelandic yoghurt (like Skyr) – both types have a greater amount of Protein too!
  7. And instead of soda, try jazzing up your water with some sports/performance-driven mixers like an Amino Acid blend or [sugar-free] Electrolyte powders (like LMNT – which we recommended in our Water article). You can find plenty that are made with Stevia, for example, so you get that [natural] sweetness without the spike in blood sugar!

Just trying a few of these out the gates should get you off on the right foot. So, the question is: Are you up to the challenge? Can you make some of these simple changes, and make them last? If you can do it for just 3 weeks, you’ll find that you should be able to plough right beyond that and make it a lasting change.

I hope this has been informative and eye-opening! I’ll catch you in the next one, but in the meantime, train hard, train smart, and Champion Your Body!

Yours in Training,

Chris Atkinson | Personal Trainer @ Apex Performance Wellness & Rehab

Scroll to Top