Whatever your diet regimen is, one thing that science agrees upon is that sugar is addictive. That’s why decreasing your sugar intake or quitting it altogether can be very difficult. Many of us who wish to lose weight, and want to avoid metabolic conditions such as prediabetes and/or diabetes, are advised to drop added (artificial) sugar from our food intake. But what if you want to eat a little bit of sugar or sweets made with some sugar? Can you lose weight and also retain metabolic health if you eat sugar while on an Intermittent Fasting (IM) diet?
The Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health defines intermittent fasting as a diet regimen that cycles between brief periods of fasting, with either no food or significant calorie reduction, and periods of unrestricted eating. It states that a systematic review of 40 studies found that intermittent fasting was effective for weight loss, with a typical loss of 7-11 pounds over 10 weeks.
Fasting typically entails a steady abstinence from food and beverages, ranging from 12 hours to one month. It may require complete abstinence, or allow a reduced amount of food and beverages. But no IM regimens are okay with a beverage or dish that has added sugars.
Intermittent fasting is able to trick the body’s physiological changes that come with calorie restriction (the body thinks less food is available and lowers metabolism), which may cause the body to adapt to the calorie restriction that prevents further weight loss.
Research shows that the IM diet may be able to help you lose weight and improve your metabolic health.
Can You Add Sugar To Your IM Diet?
No, say experts.
And why do you require added sugar (unless your doctor has recommended it, of course) anyway? A healthy person’s liver has enough stored fats and sugar that it can synthesise when he/she is fasting so that regular body functions continue.
Using up these stored calories is vital for your health. So stay calm and let the liver and pancreas decide how to use the sugar that your blood and cells already have.
As for your cravings, you will learn to stave them off with resolve and practice. Fasting and abstinence from added sugar (like sweetmeats, sugary chocolates, pastries, ice creams, desserts etc.) are necessary to help your insulin levels to drop. If you indulge yourself in sugar candies, the insulin level signals to your body that you need to store the excess sugar or fat. That means you will not be able to shed the excess fat.
Dr Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief medical correspondent, says research shows the biochemistry graphs of the brain for sugar and cocaine are similar — highly addictive. “How does one try to kick a cocaine habit? Cold turkey,” she says. “So you can try that with sugar — cold turkey. You owe yourself the opportunity to be as healthy and as happy as you can be,” Ashton said. “And if that means cutting sugar a little bit, go for it.”
If you crave sweet food, have a pick from the wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Just eat them raw, do not process them or pulp them down. Fruit fibre is good and necessary for good health.
“Our cells need glucose to function, so it’s not totally evil,” Dr Jennifer Ashton says of sugar. “But I can tell you, even with things like bread, yoghurt, which can be healthy, they can be loaded with added sugars, so that’s the number that I encourage people to look at on the label.”
Sugar Can Spike Your Insulin Levels
Any added sugar will send your insulin levels shooting up – whether you have normal blood sugar usually or have prediabetes/diabetes. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, and it’s released in response to rising blood sugar levels after you eat food — its job is to “unlock” cells in your muscles, liver and fat, and push glucose from your blood into those cells, thereby giving you energy now or storing it for later.
Eating sugar when fasting or otherwise carries a danger of spiking insulin levels that are too high, thereby increasing your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to research published in BMC Medicine in the year 2020.
Kaitlin Poillon, a registered dietitian at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has said in an EatingWell.com article that the benefit of intermittent fasting is that it also acts on insulin. “Periods of fasting will decrease the amount of insulin circulating in the bloodstream because it will not need to be released as often… This does not only help burn fat but also lowers the risk of developing certain diseases such as prediabetes and diabetes.”
Eat less. Eat right. Move Around More
Dr Lawrence Appel, M.D of Johns Hopkins Medicine, says you must consider cutting down on salt and sugar and sticking to a heart-healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But remember, fasting is not for everyone.
Dr Appel warns that apart from several other conditions, fasting is not recommended if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, you’re under age 18 or over age 75, you take certain medications, you have a history of disordered eating, diabetes, kidney or liver disease and others. Speak to your doctor before trying out IM fasting. And, while you are eating less (and not more), eating right (and not junk) is important.
Should you use artificial sweeteners?
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a new guideline in May 2023 on non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), which recommends against the use of NSS to control body weight or reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
As per the latest WHO communique, most zero calorie non-sugar sweeteners (artificial and natural sweeteners like aspartame and stevia) do not seem to help with weight loss over the long term in children or adults, and their use may bring side-effects like increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and death in adults.
Sugar that’s added to processed foods and drinks, as well as the sugar found in syrups, honey, and fruit juice, is sometimes referred to as “free” sugar.
“Replacing free sugars with NSS does not help with weight control in the long term. People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugar intake, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages,” says Francesco Branca, the WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety. “NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.”
Also, a recent Harvard study has found a stunning link between sugar intake and heart disease. This new study links diets high in free sugar to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers at Harvard culled data from diet questionnaires answered by more than 110,000 people aged 37 to 73 and tracked the participants’ health for a median of about nine years. They found that every 5% increase in the share of total calories that came from free sugar was linked to a 6% higher risk of heart disease and a 10% higher risk of stroke.
So, the best advice — whether you are trying to lose weight or gain health back after suffering from metabolic disorders like fatty liver, obesity, or prediabetes/diabetes — is to dump the added sugar in chocolates and treats, or in tea, coffee, other beverages in favour of eating wholesome meals and in the correct portion sizes, servings, and timing as advised by your doctor.
The author is an independent journalist.
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(This article is only for dissemination of findings of various studies, and not to be treated as medical advice. Please consult your doctor or a healthcare expert before making any changes to your diet, medicine, exercise, lifestyle, or health protocol.)
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