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Sugar is Sugar is Sugar

Posted on October 11th, 2010 by Jeff Thiboutot M.S.

It is clear that sugar, the kind found in all types of processed foods, has no nutritional value except for supplying calories. Processed sugars, the two main types being sucrose (think table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), are ubiquitous in the Western “food” supply. What is also clear is that as the intake of sugars has increased, leading to extra calorie intake and/or a displacement of other foods that are nutrient dense, the occurrence of many health problems has significantly increased. Therefore, for health reasons, it is very important to keep the intake of processed sugars to a minimum.  The realization that processed sugars should be avoided has lead to some interesting techniques or justifications to use other concentrated sweeteners instead of the processed sugars because they are natural or less processed, therefore having the halo effect of “healthy” being attached to them. The question is; Are these “natural” or less processed concentrated sweeteners really any better for us? Can we really “have our cake and eat it too”?

Before explaining if there are differences between natural and processed sugars, there needs to be a basic understanding of the chemistry of sugars. I just lost you, didn’t I? Bear with me, this will help you understand the topic much better and will allow you to make an educated decision about these different products.

Carbohydrates are made up of three different types of sugars, technically termed monosaccharides. The three individual (mono) sugars are glucose, fructose, and galactose (only found in milk). All the carbohydrates (foods) we ingest, except for dairy, are made up of glucose or fructose or some combination of the two. If there are just a couple of these sugars linked together we call these types simple sugars. If many, often hundreds, of these sugars a linked together we call them complex. The following chart should help you understand this concept.

Food Simple or Complex Type of sugars (approximate amounts)
Sucrose (table sugar) Simple Glucose (50%)  Fructose (50%)
HFCS Simple Glucose (45-50) Fructose (50-55%)
Grains/Beans/Most Vegetables Complex Glucose (100%)
Fruits Simple Glucose (65-50%) Fructose (35-50%)
Root vegetables Complex Glucose (90-80%) Fructose (10-20%)

What is important to realize is that the body, during digestion, needs to break all the carbohydrates down to single sugars before they can be utilized by the body. Also, glucose is the type of sugar (carbohydrate) that the body prefers to use, think blood glucose levels. The other sugar, fructose, can be used by the body, but it has the potential to have very negative effects on the body if it rises above a small intake, regardless where it comes from, i.e., real fruit, fruit juices, agave syrup, honey, HFCS, sucrose, etc.

Concentrated sugars come in many disguises. The following is a list of the names of concentrated sugars that can be found in many products or sold individually, some with packaging highlighting its “naturalness”.

  • Agave Nectar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
  • Dehydrated Cane Juice
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltodextrin*
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Rice Syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorghum or sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado Sugar (natural brown sugar)

When it comes to all of these types of sugars they are ALL basically the same. What this means is the chemical make-up of them is basically the same, they are simple sugars (*maltodextrin is actually still a relatively complex carbohydrate, but acts like a simple sugar) that have relatively equal amounts of glucose and fructose. The body does not see them as table sugar or maple syrup. It sees them as the sugars that they are composed of. However, there are two aspects about this topic that require special clarification.

First, the natural sugars, such as honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, raw sugar and molasses, are often considered healthier because they will contain a higher level of vitamins and minerals than the more processed sugars, i.e., table sugar. It is true that these products will have higher amounts of vitamins and minerals. This is not very hard seeing that HFCS and white sugar are devoid of any vitamins and minerals, so it is not tough to have higher amounts. But, doe the amounts of vitamin and minerals justify a “healthier” status for these products?

It seems that agave syrup is so processed virtually all of the nutrients that were present in the whole agave plant are gone. The next table lists the nutrients found in honey, maple syrup, and unprocessed cane juice powder.

Nutrient Honey

(1 tbs)

Maple Syrup

(1 tbs)

Unprocessed cane juice powder (1 tbs) White sugar

(1 tbs)

Choline .5mg 0 0 0
Calcium 1.3mg 13.4mg 25mg 0
Magnesium .4mg 2.8mg 1.9mg 0
Potassium 11mg 40.8mg 122mg 0
Maganese 0 .7mg .07mg 0
Selenium .2mcg .1mcg 0 0
Iron .1mg .2mg .45mg 0
Sodium .8mcg 1.8mcg 0 0
All vitamins 0 0 0, except .12mg B2 & .15mg B3 0
Protein 0 0 0 0
Fat 0 0 0 0
Sugar 17 12 12 12.6

The nutrients found in these sweeteners are so small that that they have no real affect on nutrient intake, unless you are willing to eat cups of this stuff, which would have many negative effects, even if you were getting a few nutrients in an amount that would actually have some significance. Related to this aspect is the potential for refined sugar to contain harmful ingredients which are added during the process of refining, including phosphoric acid, sulfur dioxide and formic acid. This is a common statement but I was unable to find if these chemicals actually remain after the processing of the sugar.

Second, the sweeteners that have higher levels of fructose, such as pure fructose (100% fructose), agave syrup (~90% fructose), honey (~50% fructose) are considered healthier because they have a low Glycemic Index (GI). The GI is a rating of how quickly a carbohydrate will be digested and absorbed into the blood and effect blood sugar levels. The GI of pure fructose is 20, which on a scale of 0-100 is very low. In fact it is the lowest GI of any carbohydrate/sugar. However, here is the bad news; fructose has the potential to have many negative effects on the body. Therefore, even though a low GI is usually a good thing, in this case the overall effect on the body is negative.

So do not be fooled by the “natural” or “unprocessed” sweeteners. There are no real nutritional differences between them. However, there is often a big difference between the cost of these products (see chart).

Sweetener Cost per lb
Honey ~$10
Maple Syrup ~$10
Molasses ~$4
Raw (brown) sugar (sucanat) ~$4
White (table) sugar ~$1.50

There is a definite disadvantage for your wallet. However, I think there is an argument for supporting the little guy. Honey, maple syrup and some types of raw sugar and molasses are typically made by smaller companies and by buying their product you are supporting the small business owner and potentially a local business. I think that is great. But, when it comes to your health, there is no real health advantage in using the “natural” or “unprocessed” sweeteners. But, if you are going to use a more natural sugar, it seems that an unprocessed, dried cane juice is likely your best overall choice. However, the take home message; when it comes to concentrated sweeteners, less is better, no matter what the source is.

Coffee and Designs for Health Paleo Meal – a healthy kickstart

Posted on October 11th, 2010 by Matt Schoeneberger

Very simple:

Iced coffee – made the day prior and kept in the fridge

Designs for Health Paleo Meal – 1/2 scoop

Mix, drink over ice.

Great tasting, super-healthy and a great way to kick-start your day.

Why Chad Waterbury is Wrong and I’m right (as always). – Part 2

Posted on October 6th, 2010 by Matt Schoeneberger

In Part 1, I discussed a study that Chad Waterbury references on his Fat Loss Research page on his website,

I’ll tackle one more of his references right now.

Alcaraz PE, Sanchez-Lorente J, Blazevich AJ. Physical Performance and Cardiovascular Response to an Acute Bout of Heavy Resistance Circuit Training Versus Traditional Strength Training. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(3):667-671

It’s not so much the study I take issue with, but the interpretation by Waterbury.

“Training in a circuit, where you perform a series of exercises instead of each exercise separately, gained popularity in step aerobic classes where everyone is weak as a kitten. However, research shows that if you perform a circuit of heavier than normal strength exercises with short rest periods you’ll get stronger and boost your cardiovascular capacity. You can’t go wrong with a circuit of pull-ups, dips and squats, resting less than 30 seconds between each exercise. No leg warmers required.”

In the study, the circuit group performed 5 sets of bench presses with a 6RM (6 repetition maximum) with sets of leg extensions and ankle extensions between each set, also 6RM. This is a far different protocol than Waterbury’s recommended Dips, Pull-ups, and Squats.

Let’s say that bench press and dips are equal exercises (arguable) for comparison purposes. This makes Waterbury’s pull-ups and squats take the place of the leg extensions and ankle extensions of the study. This is a huge difference.

Leg extensions work primarily the quadriceps (quads) and while they’re one of the bigger muscle groups on the body, will have nowhere near the demand of squats, which work the quads, hamstrings, lower leg muscles, glutes, not to mention a host of mid and upper body muscles if weighted. Now compare the demand of ankle extensions (calf raises) with pull-ups and you’ve got the same scenario – an exercise using a small muscle group being compared to an exercise which uses multiple groups of big muscles.

Why does this make a difference? During the study, the average heart rates of the circuit and non-circuit groups were about 129 and 113 beats per minute, respectively. If exercises like squats and pull-ups are used in place of leg extensions and ankle extension, you can bet your squat-built booty the average heart rate of the circuit group would have been higher than 129 bpm. Would this have an effect on the strength of the bench press exercise? We would need more research to say so conclusively, but I would bet money on it.

Actually, no I wouldn’t. I don’t bet on anything but myself and even if I did, science surprises us way too often.

And just to make sure I’m not the only crazy one thinking this way, here’s a clip from the conclusion of the study:

Our results strongly suggest that longer term studies be conducted in order to more completely assess the impact of higher resistance circuit programs compared to more traditional circuits on both muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness.

I’ll conclude this post by reminding you that I do like Chad’s workouts, I’m just not a big fan of his use of the studies in these cases.

Can I eat the KFC Double Down while I'm trying to lose weight?

Posted on October 4th, 2010 by Matt Schoeneberger

I’ve seen commercials for the KFC Double Down sandwich and I’ve been meaning to try one. I’ve heard people exclaiming how terrible it must be for you…. “Oh, my! That’s just a heart attack waiting to happen…” as they suck down their McDonald’s french fries.


Here’s a link to the nutrition information provided on KFC’s  website. The Double Down is near the bottom of the first page.

The grilled filet Double Down breaks down like this:

60 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 25 grams of fat, 480 calories.

50% of your calories come from protein – a little high by SPEED standards, but ok for one meal. A negligible amount of calories come from carbohydrate sources – ok with SPEED! A little more than 45% of your calories comes fat – ok, but maybe a little low for a SPEED plan.

“Wait Matt, did you just say 45% of calories from fat is LOW???!!”

Yup, I sure did. This is a common misconception about the diet we recommend. In fact, most people who review our book say something like “The authors recommend a high-protein diet…” and completely miss that we recommend a low carbohydrate, medium protein, high fat diet. It drives us nuts!

Back to the sandwich…

Kudos to KFC for also supplying us with ingredients statements for each item on their menu! You won’t find this kind of transparency with most fast food chains. And why not? I know they’re not making health food, I’d have to be an idiot not to. I’m mostly just checking for amusement purposes.

The KFC Double Down consists of a grilled filet, Colonel’s Sauce, bacon, pepper jack cheese, monterey jack cheese. The grilled filet is marinated in things I wouldn’t put in my body very frequently (corn maltodextrin, modified corn starch, partially hydrogenated soybean/cottonseed oils to name a few), the Colonel’s Sauce starts with soybean oil (not a good sign) and the bacon and cheeses aren’t exactly organic.

So, would I eat one of these every day for lunch? No, not if you paid me. But KFC has provided a low-carb meal that should keep you feeling full for hours if you’re in a pinch, or if you’re just looking for something different.

I just might try one today.