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The NSPA Blog

Knowing your Ingredients as the Basis for a Healthy Life

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Posted on June 17th, 2020 by Bettina Carlson, under Nutrition, Take Charge

“You are what you eat”. I’m sure you have heard this expression. Over the years, we have learned that eating a balanced diet increases our chances to live a life marked by health, physical, and mental health. Especially this year, with so many uncertainties and challenges in our daily lives, eating well has become a priority for many.  

If you are interested in maximizing your health and follow a nutritious and balanced diet, it can be difficult to decide between the wide variety of diets available these days. Not to mention the overwhelming variety of products in grocery and specialty stores, promoted to be the superfoods to give you strong immunity, brain health, strong bones, and so on. It’s way too much for most of us to keep up with as it is constantly changing.

Different people have different tastes and preferences; and they have different dietary needs, young people have different needs than older people; active people have different needs than less active people. And so on; you see, there is no one size fits all. 

Whatever the differences, and whatever the preferences,  and whatever the variety of diets available, generally, there are some foods that are considered better than others. 

Fruits, vegetables, fish, lean proteins are generally considered as favorable to your health. Foods high in sugar, carbohydrates/starches, and highly processed foods are generally considered unfavorable to your health. 

A nutritious diet generally supports a healthy weight and a healthy immune system and hence, helps to prevent illness, like diabetes, heart disease, etc.; and it can help to improve illnesses. 

With so much variety, it is good to know some basics about the ingredients in our foods, no matter the particular diet we may follow. In today’s blog post, I’ll describe two of the most common ingredients that can be found in our foods: Sugar and wheat.

SUGAR

Sugar is probably the Number 1 ingredient we all have to be careful of.  There is sugar that is found naturally in many nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables. And there is refined sugar; that is the one, we have to pay particular attention to.  

Naturally occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables, when consumed in their raw whole form, is usually accompanied by fiber, protein, and other nutrients inherent in those foods. 

Important to know here is, that the fiber in raw whole foods helps slow down the absorption of sugar into our bloodstream, hence reducing the likelihood of blood sugar spikes. Reduced sugar spikes help regulate blood sugar levels, which can help avoid illnesses like diabetes and obesity amongst many other diseases. 

While fresh-pressed juice drinks are quite popular and provide nutrients, the lack of fiber can cause an increase in blood sugar. This is something to be aware of.

Refined sugars are all industrially produced sugars: our table sugars (white and brown sugars), the highly controversial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and more. 

These refined sugars are void of nutrients, which is why they are referred to as “empty calories”.

But not only are refined sugars “empty calories”, but refined sugar is also highly inflammatory!  And nearly every chronic disease is rooted in inflammation. Sugar is linked to health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, dementia, depression, cancer, autoimmune conditions, and more.

Refined sugars like our common white table sugar and HFCS can be found added to many processed and packaged foods, to add flavor, as preservatives, and to add bulk. They are in foods you may never think to have sugar in them: pizza crust, condiments, chips, and so much more. 

To be able to identify those added refined sugars look in the ingredient list for names like:

• The word “sugar” in the name, like raw sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, etc.

• Syrup, like corn syrup, rice syrup, etc.

• Words that end in “-ose”, like fructose, dextrose, sucrose, etc.

“Hidden” in many common processed and packaged foods, added sugar literally adds up in our body. Be aware and chose carefully.

For the benefit of our health, it is advisable to avoid refined sugar whenever possible. 

Unless medically necessary, we don’t need to give up on all sugar. Fortunately, nature provides us with sweeteners that our bodies can more successfully digest, the less processed the better: local raw honey, maple syrup, dates, amongst others.  Just know, while your body can more easily process those natural sweeteners as opposed to the industrially refined sugar, it still does affect your blood sugar. For more information talk with a nutritionist or an endocrinologist. 

Please read more detailed information in this article: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/refined-sugar#processing

Wheat

Wheat products can be inflammatory and affect the gut and immune system function. 

One reason wheat is highly controversial is because of “gluten”, a protein that can trigger an adverse immune response in predisposed individuals. About 1% of Americans suffer from Celiac disease, and many more from gluten intolerances. (https://www.cureceliacdisease.org/wp-content/uploads/341_CDCFactSheets8_FactsFigures.pdf).

Another reason wheat is causing people intolerances is the way it is processed today. While historically, wheat has been consumed largely unprocessed using the entire grain, we are now refining our wheat. 

A grain is composed of three parts:

• Germ – the most nutrient-rich part

• Endosperm – the bulk of the grain, which contains small amounts of nutrients

• Bran – the “skin”, which is rich in fiber

Refining wheat means the grains go through a milling process that removes the bran and the germ, essentially removing most nutrients and fiber.

 Yet “fiber promotes fullness, improves blood sugar control, and feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut”. Hence, refined wheat products have a higher glycemic index (GI) than unprocessed ones; and high GI foods raise blood sugar more rapidly than low GI foods. Not only can this encourage the risk of diabetes, but it can also encourage the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria that can lead to many other diseases. 

Nutrients in the germ, like Vitamin E, Vitamin B, selenium, potassium, and magnesium are important for our immune system to work optimally.

Refined wheat can be found in bread, pasta, crackers, cereals, baked goods, and more.

Another consideration impacting the quality of our wheat today is the fact, that our wheat is heavily sprayed with pesticides and is genetically modified. Scientists are still researching how this impacts our health. In the meantime, if we are concerned about the detrimental impact, we have the option to buy organic wheat products.

Fortunately, most people can tolerate unprocessed whole grain wheat products, which is great because wheat is a rich source of fiber and various antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all vital to our health! 

Please read more in this article: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/wheat#nutrition.

Finally

Know your ingredients, listen to your body and brain,  adjust in your eating habits accordingly, and support your health. Especially in the current situation, where a strong immune system and good health are great allies in keeping us safe. ” You are what you eat.” There is truth to it.

Be well!

Sources and Resources 

What Is Refined Sugar?  Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/refined-sugar#processing

Celiacs Disease Facts and Figures. The University of Chicago Medicine Celiacs Disease Center. https://www.cureceliacdisease.org/wp-content/uploads/341_CDCFactSheets8_FactsFigures.pdf).

Wheat 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Effects. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/wheat#nutrition.

Wheat proteins may cause inflammation beyond the gut. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313514

Sugar. Made How. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-1/Sugar.html

8 Big Lies About Sugar We Should Unlearn. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/sugar-facts-scientific#6

Teri’s Corner

Help seniors avoid COVID-19 health scams. Daily Herald. https://www.dailyherald.com/entlife/20200614/help-seniors-avoid-covid-19-health-scams

Going Overboard on Booze.  Reader’s Digest. https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/things-youre-doing-that-nurses-wouldnt/

Senior Orphans. The Lake Oconee Boomers Team. https://www.lakeoconeeboomers.com/senior-orphans/

How Fido and Fluffy Improve Your Health. The Lake Oconee Boomers Team. https://www.lakeoconeeboomers.com/how-fido-and-fluffy-improve-your-health/

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