Making minor, yet meaningful changes to your lifestyle can help you become a significantly healthier and happier person. Our health expert shares five tips on sleep, nutrition and fitness to help you achieve these goals.
"Why does she look and feel so good? I think I want what she's having!" If you find yourself thinking like this it might be time to adopt some new habits.
Your body needs some sugar to function, but Canadians, who consume the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of the sweet stuff every day, are probably overdoing it. We break down what too much sugar does to your body, and how you can cut back.
Good news for those with sweet tooths: Glucose is our main source of fuel, so, yes, we actually do need sugar in our diets. But don't get too excited— they're not all alike.
"All carbohydrate-containing foods, whether candy, pop, fruit, vegetables or grain products, break down into glucose in our bloodstream," says Patricia Chuey, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian. "But our bodies respond differently when we get sugar from nutrient-dense, fibre-rich foods, eaten as part of a balanced meal that contains protein, compared to 'empty' calories from zero-nutrient, fibre-less foods."
Those carb-heavy, low-nutrient foods cause our blood-sugar, or glucose, levels to spike, triggering the release of insulin in response. One of insulin's jobs is to move glucose from the blood to our liver, muscle and fat cells for storage, and when there's more in our bloodstream than what our bodies need for energy, it can end up as stored fat—"even though fat, per se, wasn't consumed," says Chuey. That's partially why excess sugar consumption is linked to fatty liver disease, as well as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Fibre-rich, nutrient-dense foods, on the other hand, break down more slowly, so they don't cause as much of a blood-sugar spike, or the resulting weight gain.
That doesn't mean you have to skip your favourite sweet indulgences entirely. What we know today is that moderation is key—a little sugar won't hurt you.
But, for the most part, Canadians are not consuming a little sugar. According to Statistics Canada, on average, 22 to 26 percent of our total daily caloric intake consists of sugar. Put another way, that's an average of 110 grams, or 26 teaspoons, per day. And it's not just how much; experts are also concerned about where it comes from.
"Whole foods that are sweet, like fruit, can be good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre, which can contribute to overall health," says Gita Singh, a research assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Boston's Tufts University.
It's added sugar, regardless of the source, that's the problem. You'll find it in processed foods, such as many breads, soups, salad dressings and pasta sauces. And then there's pop, sports drinks and fruit drinks, which experts collectively refer to as sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). These drinks are among the top causes of obesity and its attendant ailments, which include heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and other chronic diseases. In fact, Singh coauthored a report published in the medical journal Circulation that estimates SSB consumption is partially responsible for the diabetes-, cancer- and cardiovascular disease–related deaths of 1,600 Canadians each year.
The fact that SSBs are a leading source of excess sugar in our diets is galling but encouraging. That's because the solution is straightforward: Stop, or at least cut back on, drinking them.
Chuey says you can further reduce the added sugar in your diet by avoiding convenience foods that list sugar (or maltose, corn syrup, cane sugar or honey) among the first three ingredients; swap your caramel macchiato for a latte; and top plain yogurt with fresh fruit. The less sugar you consume, the less you'll end up craving.
But when you do indulge, go all in. "Apply the pleasure maximization principle," says Chuey. "Make it really worth it! Not in terms of quantity, but the kind of quality that will really satisfy." So skip the soda fountain. But those homemade cookies? Enjoy!
YOUR BODY ON SUGAR
There are lots of table sugar subs on the market, but how do they stack up, health-wise?
Stevia: Zero calories per teaspoon
Stevia is a zero-calorie, fructosefree option.
Date sugar: 11 calories per teaspoon
Date sugar contains all the fibre and nutrients found in the dried fruit.
Coconut sugar: 15 calories per teaspoon
Made from the sap of coconut-tree flowers, coconut sugar has the same calorie count as table sugar, but it's lower on the glycemic index.
Agave nectar: 15 calories per teaspoon
Agave nectar is about 1 1/2 times sweeter than refined sugar, so you can use less. But it's high in fructose (hello, blood-sugar spikes!).
Getty Images Image by: Getty Images
Image courtesy of WalkTop/Fitneff Image by: Image courtesy of WalkTop/Fitneff
Use these tools to get moving at your desk and save yourself from sitting disease.Getting exercise at work isn't exactly easy. Many of us have day jobs that require long hours of sitting in front of a computer or standing at a counter, and that's not good for our hearts and muscles. In a 2015 analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian researchers found that sitting for prolonged periods of time was associated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and about a 15 to 20 percent increased risk of dying from any cause. And unfortunately, though exercising after hours is healthy, it doesn't counteract the effects of a long sedentary day.
Have you ever gotten so focused on something at work that you forgot to get up for three hours straight? Sometimes we all need a reminder to get up and stretch our muscles. This app lets you pre-program reminders to take short breaks for exercise. The one-minute workouts rotate through 45 different exercises, all of which can be done without even leaving your desk. Just select whether you want a workout for sitting or standing—there's even an option for in-meeting moves!—and follow along through the tension-relieving exercises. 1 Minute Desk Workout, available for iPhone and iPad, free.
Treadmill desks are destined to be office staples in the future, as we learn more about the dangers of long-term sitting. Why not ask your employer to invest in one now? Whether you work at home or in a professional space, switching from a chair to a treadmill is one of the best ways to prevent sitting disease. Plus, working while moving isn't the productivity killer you would expect; after all, the point of a treadmill desk is to avoid getting into a sedentary slump while you work, not to work up a sweat. You'll find it's easy to keep a steady pace while you prep for a presentation, and the movement may even boost your creativity. WalkTop Treadmill Desk (adjustable to fit most treadmills), $479, walktop.ca.
If you need to sit all day, the least you can do is perfect your posture and build your core while you do it. A stability cushion is slightly wobbly, so it requires you to engage your inner abdominal muscles for balance and use your back muscles to sit up straight. Whether you perch on the cushion for an hour or eight each day, your core will benefit from a little extra engagement. Stott Pilates Large Stability Cushion, $85.50, well.ca.
Wearable tech is making waves in the fitness world, and for good reason: When you have a physical reminder to move literally attached to your arm, it helps you carry your fitness goals into every area of your life—including the office. Wearing a fitness tracker can give you the initiative to take the stairs, go for a noon-hour walk or even just take more trips to the photocopier to get your daily steps in. Bands like the Fitbit let you chart your activity for the day, so you can see when you're sedentary and make a plan for improvement. Fitbit Flex, $100, fitbit.com.