Breakfast for Champions!
Plenty of research demonstrates that a healthy, balanced breakfast has many benefits (i.e. better weight management and increased focus and concentration resulting in higher academic achievement). If you aren’t convinced, see “Reasons to Not Skip Breakfast”.
This is especially true for the student athlete, who typically endures a long, demanding school day, with limited opportunities for fueling before a rigorous afternoon training or workout.
Unfortunately, there are 3 potential pitfalls for student athletes who skip or skimp on breakfast:
1) Athletes have higher cravings for sweets (a sign that your body is too hungry) and seek out candy or other less healthy sources of quick energy before practice.
2) A cycle of under-eating and over-eating results in the majority of the athlete’s calories being consumed in 1 or 2 meals, late in the day, versus the recommended 4-5 meals throughout the most active time of day. This pattern is very hard on the body resulting in increased cravings, compromised immune health, more fatigue, disruption of sleep, and increased storage of visceral fat (unhealthy fat stores around organ tissues).
3) Decreased endurance and stamina during afternoon practices resulting in less than ideal performance. Athletes who are well-fueled with breakfast, lunch and a pre-exercise snack have better mental focus, balance, and overall performance.
So, for those who want the benefits from a wholesome breakfast, but aren’t sure what to eat or struggle with time in the morning, check out these simple tips and recipes to get you on the road to success.
3 basic ingredients for a balanced breakfast:
1) Protein, 2) Complex carbohydrates & Color, and 3) Healthy fat
Protein, such as eggs, yogurt, lean meats, fish, cheese, and nuts, at breakfast is vital for overall growth and repair of muscle tissue, while also helping slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and keeping you satisfied until the next meal event.
Complex carbohydrates include foods such as oatmeal, whole grain breads, quinoa, fruit and vegetables. Try to avoid highly processed foods (things with more than 5 ingredients on the label) as they can lead to increased cravings before the next meal or snack. I also recommend including a fruit or vegetable when choosing oatmeal or other wholesome grains at breakfast because fruit and veggies are natural sources of anti-inflammatory chemicals, called antioxidants. Foods with anti-inflammatory properties are crucial for athletes to consume at each meal as they help manage the stress of exercise. So, as the saying goes, “Get some color on your plate!”
Healthy fats include nuts and seeds (specifically walnuts, almonds, and chia, sunflower or ground flax seed), nut butters, avocado, canola oil, olive oil, etc. Common toppings for breakfast foods often include butter, cream cheese, etc. These are also acceptable in moderation. Include a variety of fats in your weekly breakfast meals as they add flavor, increase satiety, and you will be adding important vitamins, such as vitamin E – also a powerful antioxidant!
To get you started, check out these simple breakfast ideas:
Click HERE for a printable version
20 Quick and Easy Breakfast Ideas:
Smoothies that satisfy! It seems everyone has their favorite smoothie recipe. Smoothies can be very quick, nutritious, and flavorful but to ensure your savory concoction keeps you satisfied without excessive calories, consider these tips: 1) combine 1-2 servings of fruit and/or veggies with a liquid (milk, water, juice, coconut water); 2) add a source of protein (Greek yogurt, protein powder, peanut butter); and 3) maybe a couple extras (ground flax, chia seeds, nuts, or spices). Just in case you don’t have your own favorite recipe, here are a couple quick and easy ideas.
1. Fruit and Yogurt Smoothie. Blend 1 cup plain Greek yogurt with 1 cup frozen fruit (banana and berries work very well) and 1/2 cup liquid (milk, juice, coconut water, etc.). Freeze overnight and thaw throughout the day to enjoy in the afternoon, or blend up in the morning.
2. Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie. Blend 1 small frozen banana, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1 cup milk, and 1 cup crushed ice (option – add 1 scoop chocolate whey protein).
3. CIB Smoothie. For an extra boost of calcium and protein, combine one packet of Carnation Instant Breakfast with 1 cup milk. Add 2 Tbsp. peanut butter and one small ripe banana. Blend with crushed ice.
4. Tart CherryBerry and Kale Smoothie. Feeling sore and tired? Try adding this smoothie that uses Tart Cherry Juice, known for its benefits of fighting inflammation and aiding in sleep. Start by liquefying ½ cup 100% tart cherry juice blended with handful baby kale. Add 1 cup plain Greek yogurt and 1 cup frozen berries. This recipe uses Tart Cherry Juice available at a variety of health food stores, such as Trader Joes. Note: if you use Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate, add 1 cup water to 1 ounce concentrate to reformulate.
Yummy Yogurt. Yogurt is great for breakfast because it’s easy to grab and packed with protein to help you stay satisfied longer. Try some of these tasty variations to ensure your breakfast is easy…and well-balanced.
5. Yogurt Parfait. This is one of the easiest breakfasts that provide a great balance of protein and carbohydrates for athletes on the go. Choose a variety of toppings, such as ¼ cup unsweetened granola, 1 tbsp chopped almonds and 1 cup frozen berries. Try choosing fruits that are in season, such as yummy, sweet berries in the summer, flavorful apples or a dollop of pumpkin puree come fall.
6. Tropical Yogurt Parfait. Top vanilla or plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup crushed canned pineapple (drained) and ½ sliced banana. If using plain, unsweetened yogurt, you may want to drizzle with a couple teaspoons of honey and top with shredded raw coconut.
Eggs…not just for the weekend. For many, the idea of an egg breakfast and “eating on the run” doesn’t seem to go together. Considering that eggs are the highest quality protein…and very cost effective, it’s worth it to experiment with some of these quick and easy ideas to start your day off right.
7. Microwaved Scrambled Eggs With Veggies. Yes, it is possible to make really good eggs in the microwave. And it’s easy! Beat 2 eggs, throw in a microwave-safe container, add 1 handful of your favorite veggies (spinach leaves, mushrooms, onions, cherry tomatoes are a few ideas), and a sprinkle of cheese. Zap the mixture for 30 seconds, stir, and cook another 30 seconds, or until eggs are solid. Prep the night by storing the raw mixture in a fridge until ready to heat and eat in the morning.
8. Breakfast Burrito. Breakfast burritos are full of good nutrition and easy to grab and go. Scramble 2 egg whites, 1/4 cup black beans, 2 tablespoons salsa, and 2 tablespoons shredded cheese, and wrap in 1 small whole-wheat tortilla. Make ahead by preparing a few at a time, wrap in foil, and keep in the freezer until ready to reheat.
9. Super Special Scrambled eggs. This tasty breakfast is packed with good nutrition for the stressed athlete! Simply lightly sauté handful of spinach with 1 ounce smoked salmon. Toss in 1-2 beaten eggs with the spinach mixture and cook through. If desired, melt in ½ Tbsp. cream cheese and season lightly with salt and pepper. Serve on top of lightly toasted whole grain baguette – Yum!!
10. Egg Sandwich. Who doesn’t love a classic egg sandwich? I remember my father-in-law adding a dollop of salsa to his! So use your creativity with this one. Simply prepare 1-2 eggs to your liking. Place between 2 whole-wheat English muffin halves (or toast) with 1 slice of cheddar cheese. Pile on some veggies or salsa, if you wish. Wrap in foil so the cheese melts evenly, and enjoy!
11. Egg Muffins. Another great do-ahead that is easy to heat up before running out the door. Simply beat 10 eggs, 1/4 cup chopped onion, 3 handfuls of spinach, 1 shredded zucchini, 1/2 a bell pepper (chopped), 4 slices cooked bacon or ham, chopped, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Divide egg mixture evenly in a greased muffin tin, and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 F. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Zap it for a few seconds in the microwave before serving. (See another recipe featured below)
Muffin Madness. Muffins seem to get a bad rap for being only these sweet, carb-laden morsels of goodness. Well, as I like to say, you can have your “muffin” and be healthy too. Home baked muffins made with a variety of wholesome, natural whole grains can be a great way to manage portions and get high quality nutrition on the go.
12. Pumpkin protein muffins with oatmeal. These muffins are packed with a healthy balance of whole grain carbohydrates along with protein to make a perfect morning breakfast or snack. Make a batch the night before and zap in the morning for a warm, tasty meal. (See recipe below)
13. Whole-Wheat Banana Muffins. These hearty, wholesome muffins were developed by one of my dietetic interns and make the perfect portable breakfast. The Greek yogurt allows for a slight reduction in fat, while adding a punch of protein. (See recipe below)
14. Zucchini Muffins. Make a batch of your favorite zucchini bread or muffins to easily fit a serving of veggies into a delicious baked goods. Toss in some ground flax for a healthy dose of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
15. Raisin Bran Microwave Muffins. One of my favorite things for breakfast as a kid was these easy muffins from the microwave. Yup, muffins in the microwave! Prepare the batter ahead of time and leave in refrigerator. Scoop batter into ramekin or muffin cup and microwave on high for 1 minute, remove to take a look, and keep cooking for 30 seconds at a time until the muffin looks firm. (See recipe below)
Hearty & Hot Cereals! These recipes use a couple of nature’s most wholesome energy boosters – quinoa and oatmeal. Both are full of natural goodness with quinoa providing a complete protein, essential for tissue growth and repair; and, oatmeal delivers a great source of soluble fiber for improving satiety as well as offering a number of important health benefits.
16. Fruity Breakfast Quinoa. Simply prepare quinoa according to package directions, substituting milk for water. Add your favorite spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice. Top with fresh berries and chopped almonds.
17. Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal. Skip the pumpkin spice latte and enjoy a more wholesome autumn treat for breakfast. Simply prepare quick oats in the microwave according to package directions adding a heaping dollop of pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice and low-fat milk or almond milk. If desired, drizzle with a couple teaspoons of maple syrup or brown sugar and walnuts for a quick and easy breakfast before heading out the door.
18. Overnight Oats. This popular Pinterest pin makes a lot of sense for anyone who really has no time for messing around in the kitchen in the morning. The night before, combine 1/2 cup milk, 1/3 cup rolled oats, 1/2 a mashed banana (or fruit of choice), 1/4 cup chopped nuts (or chia seeds), and a sprinkle of cinnamon in sealed Tupperware container or 1-cup mason jar. By morning, you’ll have delicious overnight oats! These can be heated in the microwave for 1-2 minutes if in the mood for something warm.
Which “wich”? These creative “sandwiches” combine balanced nutrition in a handful.
19. Waffle PBJ-Wich. Try this sweet take on a classic breakfast sandwich the next time eating on the go. Prepare 2 whole-grain toaster waffles. Spread one half with 2 tablespoons nut butter and layer 2-3 sliced strawberries or ½ sliced banana on top in place of the traditional jelly. Top with other half.
20. Apple-Wich. This is a perfect pick for apple season, Cut 1 apple in half and remove the core. Drop 2 tablespoons of your favorite nut butter between the two holes, and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon granola. Wrap up the whole apple in plastic wrap and pair with a portable serving of milk for an easy grab and go breakfast.
Egg Muffin Variation
See a great variation of this recipe at Averie cooks.
Pumpkin Protein Muffins with Oatmeal
Makes: 18 muffins Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 12-15 minutes
1 1⁄2 cups Oats 1 cup Whole wheat flour
1 (15 oz.) can Pumpkin 1⁄2 cup Protein powder (unflavored or vanilla)*
3⁄4 Brown sugar, packed 1 1⁄2 tsp Baking soda
3⁄4 cup Canola oil 3⁄4 tsp Baking powder
2 large Eggs 3⁄4 tsp salt
1 1⁄4 tsp Pumpkin spice (ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon mixed together)
1/3 cup (plus 1 tbsp) Chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375 Degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl beat the brown sugar, oil and eggs together.
3. Add in the oats and pumpkin.
4. In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
5. Gently mix dry ingredients into oat mixture, mixing as little as possible.
6. Fold in 1/3 cup nuts (if desired).
7. Pour batter into paper lined muffin tins, filling each muffin cup approximately 2/3 full.
8. Sprinkle tops of muffins with remaining chopped nuts (if desired).
9. Bake about 12-15 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
* Note: If you don’t have protein powder on hand, or would rather not use it, just replace the 1⁄2 cup protein powder with an additional 1⁄2 cup whole wheat flour.
Whole Wheat Banana Muffins
Makes: 16 muffins Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 22 minutes
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large ripe bananas
1 cup packed brown sugar
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1⁄2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3⁄4 cup walnut halves, toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
Turbinado cane sugar for sprinkling on muffins before baking
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with liners and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and
cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, peel the bananas and mash with a fork. Add brown sugar, oil, egg,
yogurt, vanilla extract. Stir well until combined. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients.
Mix until just combined. Fold in walnuts if desired.
4. Fill muffin liners 3⁄4 full. If desired, sprinkle with cane sugar. Bake until toothpick
inserted in center comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
Store, covered, at room temperature.
Adapted from recipe available at www.twopeasandtheirpod.com
Raisin Bran Muffins (Microwaveable)
4 cups Raisin Bran cereal
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
½ cup canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups buttermilk (or substitute with 1 cup milk and 1 cup plain yogurt)
1 tsp vanilla
1. Combine first 5 dry ingredients together in a large bowl
2. Add the remaining ingredients the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
3. Store in a covered container in refrigerator up to 6 weeks.
4. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes
5. If desired, fill ramekin or muffin cup (placed in microwaveable dish) with batter and microwave for 1 minute, checking every 30 seconds until cooked through.
4 Reasons to Not Skip Breakfast
We've all heard that "breakfast is that most important meal of the day" so one of the most common questions I'm asked is, "Should I eat breakfast if I'm not hungry?"
Studies show breakfast eaters tend to have higher school attendance, less tardiness and fewer stomachaches. They also score higher on tests, concentrate better, solve problems more easily and see improvements in athletic performance.
Studies have also shown that breakfast-skippers are more likely to be overweight. But most studies don't fully explain why. It’s important to understand why this is true because ultimately, for any lifestyle change to stick, you need to understand why we do what we do and believe the behavior change makes sense for you.
So here are some of the possible reasons that skipping breakfast is associated with higher body weight, poor performance, and achy stomachs. Hopefully these will enlighten YOU about your own choices and help you make decisions about eating breakfast that work for you:
1. It may affect your metabolism. When you skip breakfast, your body has to manage the fact that you haven’t eaten for almost 18 hours! For example, if you ate dinner at 6 and didn't eat again until lunch, that’s a long time. Many people explain that they don’t “feel” hungry, and that’s because your body is in a state of semi-starvation and hunger cues are shut down.
2. Being overly hungry often leads to overeating. Going too long without eating can lead to overeating. The reason is that hunger is a physical signal from the body that your blood sugar is low and your body needs fuel. When you ignore it for too long, you may develop more extreme symptoms of hunger, such as being irritable, unable to concentrate or having a headache. As a result, making decisions about what and how much too eat can be difficult. This also can lead to eating too fast and not being able to notice feelings of fullness until it is too late.
3. Overeating at night. For some people who don’t eat breakfast because they aren’t hungry, it can be related to eating too much the night before. This starts a vicious cycle of skipping breakfast (and maybe skimping on lunch) because they feel guilty and regretful. When they start eating later in the day, the body is overly hungry, and the cycle of overeating continues. That is the issue that needs to be addressed.
4. Thinking that eating breakfast “triggers more hunger.” Some people state that once they start eating, they feel hungry all day. In actuality, when we look at the time that their hunger is developing again after breakfast, it usually makes sense since they haven’t eaten for a few hours. “Feeling moderately hungry” about every 3-4 hours is a normal feeling, but for some, it can bring up anxiety or fear that if they start eating, they won’t be able to stop. So they avoid eating until the symptoms are really strong. Over time, only these intense feelings of hunger are recognized as the time to start eating rather than when the hunger is developing. And, since intense hunger often results in overeating, the association is set up. Learning to trust your body and its internal cues while making a plan for a balanced breakfast (that includes protein) can help stabilize normal hunger and fullness cues throughout the day.
Don't Be Afraid . . . Of Food!
An old Chinese proverb suggests "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness", and I read recently where someone suggested "perhaps we need to do both."
How true this is especially when we consider the number of fear-based, catastrophizing messages about food and nutrition that infiltrate social media outlets these days. Catastrophizing is an irrational throught a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. If you’re like me, you probably see and hear examples of this more than a few times a day with things like: “cow’s milk is toxic”; “sugar and carbohydrate-based foods are the underlying cause of all disease”; “GMO’s cause cancer”; “animal products cause heart disease and death”; and the list goes on.
There is a lot of darkness ~ and fear ~ in these statements and what’s even more sad is that these are actual statements written by “health professionals”, some with credible degrees and some not so much. But all of them have a book to sell, a blog to advertise, or themselves to promote for high-paying speaking engagements.
I’m always curious who these folk’s clients are, because the majority of clients I have worked over the years seem to be getting “less healthy” because of these messages. People come to me experiencing more anxiety and stress; increased cycles of restricting and overeating; more shame, guilt and clinical depression. And that’s just the mental side of things. Research continues to demonstrate that adolescents and adults are experiencing decreased bone mass (coinciding with decreased milk consumption); increasing waist lines (despite an increased use of low-CHO diet approaches); and, increased rates of heart disease (while the prevalence of plant-based eaters increases).
So, I guess if this type of approach was helpful, I probably wouldn’t react, but it grieves me so much when a 50-year old woman sits in my office for the first time tearfully expressing her pain from feeling so overwhelmed by all these messages. Or, the 16-year old athlete who can’t make a decision about what to eat because she doesn’t know “if something has too many carbohydrates that will lead to increased cravings, overeating, and a food addiction.”
Seriously, folks! When I started my nutrition practice, I carefully constructed my business plan that included a competitive analysis. Perhaps I’m just not that gregarious, competitive person by nature, but my perspective after looking at the competition was (and continues to be) that we are all in this health and wellness thing together. I am so passionate that people are able to find a way to feel good about their body, their eating, activity, health and their life (and there are many) - and whoever is able to help someone accomplish that is great. Of course, I am hopeful to build a thriving practice – but not at the expense of causing someone more pain or trouble.
I don’t know if some people just had a different physiology, anatomy, metabolism, chemistry, or nutrition textbook than me? Or, if science has just all of sudden discovered EVERYTHING there is to know about the brain, body, food and energy balance in the past decade? Please tell me if I missed something. I truly love reading research (I actually prefer scientific literature over a good fiction book any day) so I am fully aware that science is evolving and that we discover and learn new perspectives every day – it’s what I love about this field. So, unless I have overlooked or missed out on some Nobel-prize winning research, what I’ve seen is that for every five studies that suggest a low carbohydrate diet results in weight loss or health gains, there are at least five or more that can demonstrate the same results with a balanced diet. And, this illustration can be applied to each of these principles – cow’s milk; plant based eating vs animal products; GMO’s; organic food vs conventional food, etc. The reality is that some people may benefit from lowering their carbohydrate intake, replacing cow’s milk, or more carefully considering their selection of foods. But, to say any of these foods is the “cure all”, “toxic”, “dangerous” is smoke and mirrors and downright misleading!
So, to come back to the metaphor of the quote…regarding nutrition science, let’s continue to research and responsibly shed light on new developments that may make a difference in someone's life. But, to sit and scream from your virtual mountaintop that “the sky is falling” (or “to curse the darkness”) is sadly contributing to more health problems for a great majority of our population. And, if you (or your health provider) are someone who is truly passionate and educated on helping people improve their health and wellness, then you would know there is NOT a one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone!
There seems to be so much pressure on folks to change. It usually starts with something like, "You really should..." You may either succumb to the well-meaning advice, or you may get defensive for a variety of reasons.
In fact, have you ever noticed how emotional a conversation about food, eating, exercise and weight can be? It seems that our beliefs about food and eating have become like a religion.
I was taught a long time ago that there are 3 philosophical conversations to avoid: politics, religion and money. I wonder if the field of nutrition needs to be added to this list. Usually it starts with a harmless comment like “I invest my money in XYZ fund” or “I’m following the XYZ diet” and before you know it you’re in a discussion battling completely different viewpoints hoping to finalize "who or What’s right?”
The truth with nutrition advice is that your choices about food, eating, exercise and weight are very personal.
When an individual, family or team approaches me for nutrition services, basically they are hoping to change a behavior. Perhaps they want to lose weight, decrease risk of disease, improve athletic performance or just feel better. But, in general, they believe they need to change something to achieve their desired goal (and have been offered many opinions of what that something is).
Unfortunately, we are all bombarded by a lot of nutrition information these days leading us to believe we need to change what we are doing because there is a “right” food or way to eat. We hear there are “good” vs “bad” foods; a “right” vs “wrong” diet; “healthy” vs “unhealthy” weight; and the list goes on. In general, our culture is full of this “black and white thinking” which may often be a lot of smoke and mirrors for promoting someone’s product, book, research, or blog. Unfortunately though, it gets really confusing when you are motivated to change, but aren't sure what to do.
My experience over the past 20 years in the field of nutrition has provided me with a lot of insight about feeding, eating, nutrients and the body, but ultimately I've learned that the best expert about your body and how you manage change is YOU.
I've read probably hundreds of studies and listened to many credible researchers who continue to work hard to understand what amount, what form and what combination of nutrients we need to achieve optimal health. Here's the deal: there are many things we know and many things we really don’t know or understand!
Ultimately, this research often provides impressive insight to guide nutrition recommendations. However, this data can also be incomplete, not plausible to human systems, and then unfortunately promoted through media headlines creating a lot of confusion.
And to add to the media confusion, just like many of my clients, I never seem to escape folks trying to convince me why their supplement or strategy to “be healthy”; “right”; "well researched."
Frankly, just like there are positives and negatives about different styles of managing money (that work in different ways for different people); the same can be said about one’s philosophy (or experience) with food, weight and overall wellness. There are many different approaches and beliefs about achieving optimal health and nutrition that work – and some that don’t work, depending on the individual.
So, what should you do if you are someone who believes you have plenty of nutrition information, but can't seem to apply it to your life? Or, no matter how careful you are, you still end up overeating? What if you've been given plenty of nutrition advice and can’t seem to follow it?
Making changes that will last a lifetime occurs in stages and often takes time. Be patient. Remember that change can sometimes be intimidating and/or difficult. But, it’s even more frustrating when the strategy you are using to change doesn't achieve the desired result! Perhaps it’s not about you “trying harder” but trying “something different.”
When you've made a decision to improve the quality of your life through nutrition consulting, you may need an approach that is very individualized and addresses not only what you eat, but also how you think and feel about food and your body. Most important, believe that you can change, that it doesn't have to be so uncomfortable, and ultimately you can achieve your goals.
And…trust yourself. You know yourself better than anyone else. Sometimes, it’s just about having the people and resources in your path that help you achieve the desired result.
Sugar, Sugar, Sugar
I have been asked by many people what the difference is in sugar found in processed food versus fruit. I have gotten things such as...
"Isn't sugar just sugar no matter what you eat it in?"
"Why should I eat “healthy” food, i.e. fruit, when it has the same amount of sugar as a processed food?"
"If I need carbohydrates why can't I just get them from a cheap source, like a candy bar?
...well okay maybe the last example is a little extreme, but it doesn't mean I haven't heard it and that some people don't wonder about such things.
Let's start with some basics.
Your body breaks down carbohydrates from the foods we eat to glucose for energy for the body's cells. Glucose is one of the most abundant sugars in foods and is the body’s preferred source of quick energy. It is the primary source of fuel for the brain and an extreme consequence of insufficient blood glucose is coma. If you imagine your body as an automobile, carbohydrates are its gasoline--fueling every one of your cells. Without enough carbohydrates, your body starts “running out of gas.” You feel sleepy, have low energy, lose concentration, and perform tasks less well.
In addition to glucose, there are a few different types of sugar; mostly they end with -ose if you are reading food labels (sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose…). Sugar is also found in syrups used in processed foods as well, most notably high fructose corn syrup. Many food products use fructose because it is considered a sweeter (and less expensive) sugar.
Table sugar is sucrose. Since your body can not absorb sucrose in the form you eat it is in; it must be broken down into fructose and glucose first. This is where we get to fructose. Fructose is the most naturally occurring type of sugar in fruit and is also found in vegetables and honey.
So you look at a piece of fruit and you think, “There is sugar in that apple.” If you look at a food label, the amount of sugar in an apple is about equal to the amount of sugar in a snack pack pudding. We begin to ask ourselves then, if sugar is sugar, what is the benefit of the apple over the snack pack? Especially when kids may have a preference for the snack pack over the apple and some may argue that the pudding is cheaper than the apple and it has a longer shelf life. So now isn't the pudding more appealing? Well, yes it might be to some people.
But let’s look at the apple a little more. The sugar in the apple is accompanied by some other things that are beneficial to the body - first and foremost fiber. Fiber helps slow down digestion, preventing spikes in blood sugar along with helping you feel fuller. This is one of the biggest differences in eating sugar naturally occurring in fruit versus the refined sugar found in the pudding.
It is basically the same sugar after it’s broken down by the body, but after eating highly processed carbohydrates, an individual may have fluctuations in their blood sugar that result in unwanted cravings for more sugar. The reason for this is kind of complicated, but in general, it is important for the body to maintain a certain blood sugar balance. When a high amount of sugar is “dumped” into the blood stream, the body tries to balance this out using a hormone called insulin. This can result in a “dip” in blood sugar that triggers a person’s cravings for more sugar and consequently overeating results.
Aside from the fiber there are many other things in fruit that are beneficial, that you do not get when you choose to consume something else, like the pudding cup. Of course there are many important vitamins and minerals, but there are also chemicals called "antioxidants" and "phytonutrients" that play an important role in the body.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring chemicals found in a variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables that help prevent or delay some types of cell damage in your body. This includes helping our bodies fight off infection and disease. Specific types of antioxidants are Carotenoids, Vitamin E and Vitamin C.
Phytonutrients are also found in fruit and very beneficial to the body. Now you are asking me, what the heck are phytonutrients? Simply put, phyto means plant in greek and then combine that with nutrient and you get “nutrients from plants”. Phytonutrients are things that help keep your body working properly and prevent infection. There are more than 25,000 types of these chemicals which mean that there is a huge variety of them in different fruits, vegetables, and things we consume that come from plants.
So, what's the verdict on sugar? Ultimately, "all or nothing thinking" about any food or nutrient is not helpful. In the end, the snack pack may be a nice alternative as a source of fuel for a snack or as a part of someone's lunch. But, so could a variety of other sources of carbohydrate - an apple, strawberries, banana, yogurt, chocolate milk, carrots, etc.
Eating a balance of nutrients from wholesome, natural food sources may provide the most "bang for your buck" - nutritionally speaking. But, declaring foods as "forbidden", "unhealthy", "dangerous" or even "toxic" is unrealistic and not helpful either.
~ Contributed by Laura Gaffney, Northwestern College, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease