Runner's World South Africa - - FRONT PAGE - BY KELLY BASTONE

SUGAR IS EV­ERY­WHERE, and not just in cel­e­bra­tory foods like birth­day cake and Easter eggs. It’s in prac­ti­cally ev­ery food we eat, from sweet­ened yoghurts to the break­fast ce­real we wash down with a flavour-of-the­month Frap­puc­cino. Though we know it’s not good for us in ex­cess, it’s also so hard to re­sist. That’s be­cause eat­ing sugar lights up our brains’ dopamine re­cep­tors (the same ones that trig­ger drug ad­dic­tion), mak­ing us feel fan­tas­tic – and ea­ger for an­other hit. As run­ners, our sugar prob­lem is even stick­ier, as we rely on gels and en­ergy drinks (and some­times just plain sweets) to fuel and re­cover from work­outs. Sadly, run­ning doesn’t make you im­mune to the detri­men­tal health ef­fects of eat­ing too much re­fined sugar. Fig­ures vary, but the ap­prox­i­mately 36kg of sugar each South African con­sumes a year in­creases our risks of obe­sity, di­a­betes, heart dis­ease, de­pres­sion, and sleep dis­or­ders. That’s true whether you ex­er­cise or not. Re­fined sweet­en­ers “go right from your lips into your blood­stream,” says nu­tri­tion­ist Kris­ten Grad­ney, a spokesper­son for the US Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics. That forces your body to process car­ni­val lev­els of sugar re­ally fast. “We get less ef­fi­cient at this over time, which is why we be­come more sus­cep­ti­ble to prob­lems such as di­a­betes as we age,” Grad­ney says.

That means even healthy peo­ple – such as run­ners – should trim their daily in­take of added sugar to less than 25 grams per day, as rec­om­mended by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion. (No need to avoid nat­u­rally sweet, whole foods, which have wa­ter, fi­bre, and/or pro­tein that slow sugar’s path into your sys­tem.) In the­ory, food la­bels list how much sugar is in a prod­uct, but it’s not al­ways easy to tell. Un­til it is, run­ners can quell the sugar flood and help break a not-so-sweet habit with these strate­gies.

Go Nat­u­ral

Swop foods with lots of added sugar (such as sweets or muffins) for ones that are high in nat­u­ral sugar (such as ap­ples and dates), which of­fer a hit of sweet­ness that’s lower in kilo­joules and higher in nu­tri­ents. “Sweet fruits and veg­eta­bles might not seem as ap­peal­ing as a cup­cake, but they’ll sat­isfy your phys­i­o­log­i­cal need for sugar and make those in­tense crav­ings fade away,” Grad­ney says.

Make a Sweet Deal

‘Earn­ing’ a treat can also curb crav­ings, sug­gests Cor­nell Univer­sity re­searcher Brian Wansink, PhD, au­thor of Slim by De­sign. “You im­pose a trade-off; you’re not say­ing no to some­thing, but you do make it harder to get,” he says. Want ice cream af­ter lunch? Earn it. Com­plete a chore you’ve been dread­ing, or take the stairs in­stead of the lift. Such ne­go­ti­a­tions cut down on im­pulse eat­ing by de­lay­ing grat­i­fi­ca­tion. And they re­place crav­ing with self-sat­is­fac­tion – you’re so psyched you fi­nally cleaned out the garage, you no longer need four Ro­los.

Di­lute It

Mix sug­ary stuff with some­thing that’s bet­ter for you. Com­bine cran­berry juice with soda wa­ter, mix hot choco­late with unsweet­ened cof­fee, swirl a quar­ter-cup of ice cream into an equal quan­tity of berries, and cut your Coco Pops break­fast ce­real with Shred­ded Wheat (which con­tains un­der half a gram of sugar per serv­ing). “You lower the over­all sugar con­tent, but don’t end up feel­ing de­prived,” says Grad­ney.

Por­tion It Out

Sin­gle-serv­ing pack­ages of ice cream and bis­cuits can en­force a healthy por­tion size and keep you from de­vour­ing that en­tire pack­age of Oreos. One 2012 study pub­lished in Health Psy­chol­ogy found that peo­ple who snacked on por­tioned potato chips ate 50 per cent less (trans­lat­ing to 1 000 fewer kilo­joules). Just be sure to read the la­bels, be­cause some pack­ag­ing con­tains more than one serv­ing. And keep your cache of treats out of view, says Grad­ney, so you aren’t tempted to reach for sec­onds – or thirds.

Time Your Treats

Run­ners do get two short win­dows of sugar-im­mu­nity: dur­ing and im­me­di­ately af­ter a work­out, when the body metabolises sugar for fuel, and re­plen­ishes mus­cle glyco­gen for re­cov­ery. As for all other times: “The sugar that you eat when you’re seden­tary is more likely to go to stored fat, once glyco­gen stores are full,” says Kelly Pritch­ett, PhD, a sports nu­tri­tion­ist at Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. And yes, you’ll get more nu­tri­tional value from eat­ing pineap­ple or choco­late milk, but if dough­nuts are your guilty plea­sure, it may be bet­ter to have that type of oc­ca­sional in­dul­gence take place while run­ning, or within 30 min­utes of fin­ish­ing.

Savour Flavour

Stud­ies have found that the first bite of any food yields the most plea­sure – and that peo­ple who eat large serv­ings of in­dul­gent foods ac­tu­ally feel less sat­is­fied than those con­sum­ing smaller por­tions. When you crave some­thing sweet, try hav­ing just a taste. “We’ve found that to­tal de­pri­va­tion just isn’t sus­tain­able, be­cause many peo­ple in­evitably fall off the wagon,” says Wansink. By grant­ing your­self the li­cence to en­joy one or two bites of a favourite treat, you get max­i­mum en­joy­ment for min­i­mal dam­age. That’s es­pe­cially true when it’s a high-qual­ity food: one square of ex­quis­ite Bel­gian choco­late can de­liver far more sat­is­fac­tion than an en­tire Snick­ers bar.


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