Balancing the relationship between sugar and carbs holds the key to understanding how our bodies derive energy and maintain vitality. We should all know by now that carbohydrates are an important macronutrient which our bodies require for energy. The brain alone requires the equivalent of 7 slices of bread in carbs for fuel every day! As well as this, the muscles in our body are powered by the simplest form of carbs – glycogen.

For this reason, carbs are an essential component of a balanced diet. Carbohydrates however, come in various forms based on how the backbones: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms are structured. The form of carbohydrates determines the role carbs will play in the body.

Over the next few weeks, we will investigate each of these types: Simple Carbs, Complex carbs and Dietary Fibre.



Simple carbohydrates


These are also known as simple sugars, and are composed of one or two sugar units. They are quickly digested and absorbed by the body, leading to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.

Common sources of simple carbohydrates include:

  • table sugar (sucrose)
  • fruit sugars (fructose) and
  • milk sugars (lactose)

Does this mean we should completely avoid fruit and milk though?

Studies have repeatedly found that sugar itself is not conformationally “bad” for health. Despite this, its consumption should be moderated and considered in the context of an overall balanced diet. How impactful sugar is on a person’s health, is largely depended on the type of sugar, the amount of sugar consumed, and an individual’s overall dietary habits.



Types of sugars


Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in food. This may be as fructose in fruit, or lactose in dairy products. As foods such as fruit and milk also contain vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre, they mitigate potential negative effects of sugar consumption.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have added sugars. These are sugars which are added to foods during processing or preparation.

Common sources include:

  • sugary beverages
  • sweets
  • desserts and
  • many processed foods.

High intake of these foods have been associated with various health issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The reason for this is that these high sugar foods are often calorie-dense, palatable foods and can lead to overeating. As well as this, excessive sugar consumption can cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. This may potentially contribute to energy fluctuations and cravings.

While this may often be the case, having small amounts of added sugar in hand with a balanced diet containing whole fibrous foods, lean protein sources and healthy fats, sugar is unlikely to cause any harmful health issues. Further, timing your fast releasing sugar intake around your exercise regime will allow you to perform, recover and adapt more optimally.

The main issue that is associated with added sugar intake alone is tooth decays; and dental cavities. Sugar consumption, especially in the form of sugary snacks and drinks, can contribute to the development of dental cavities and gum disease.

Carbs & Sugar Tips


To decrease your chances of falling victim to the effects of sugary containing foods here are some tips to follow:

  1. Read Labels: Pay attention to food labels to identify added sugars and fat in processed foods. As mentioned, foods with added sugar are often highly palatable and overconsumed with a high fat content also.
  2. Choose Whole Foods: Opt for whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products in moderation. These foods provide essential nutrients along with naturally occurring sugars.
  3. Limit Sugary Beverages: Sugary drinks, including sodas, fruit juices, and sweetened teas, can contribute a significant number of added sugars. Ideally choose water or unsweetened beverages. Sugar free drinks may also be used sparingly.
  4. Timing – Both naturally occurring and added sugar sources are a good source of fast releasing sugars which can be beneficially used before and after training sessions for optimal performance and adaption. Why not make use out of your sugary foods! Again, ensure not to overeat – this does not mean an entire bag of jellies!!!!
  5. Moderation: Remember, it’s okay to enjoy treats and desserts occasionally, but they should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
  6. Focus on Nutrient Density: Choose foods that provide nutritional value beyond just sugar content. Look for food’s rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other beneficial nutrients.
  7. Cook at Home: Preparing meals at home gives you more control over the ingredients and sugar content in your food.



In Summary


Sugar and carbs go hand in hand. Ultimately, the goal is to strike a balance between enjoying foods with added sugar occasionally while primarily focusing on nutrient-dense whole food carbs. As mentioned, having small amounts of added sugar in hand with a balanced diet containing whole fibrous foods, lean protein sources and healthy fats, sugar is unlikely to cause any harmful health issues (with the exception of dental caries – brush your teeth!!).

Timing your sugar intake around exercise will also benefit performance and adaption and help you reach your goals in the gym faster – but of course having a banana over jellies is going to provide you with added nutrient benefit also!


Want To Learn More?


Since COVID-19 entered our lives, we have aimed to deliver some great weekly information as to how you can remain healthy, productive and in good spirits. This blog post is the latest addition to a growing library of information. Click to read more on our dedicated COVID support blogs.


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