How to choose healthy snacks?

by Victor Zaykovsky  (head of Belichka scientific research)

Let’s face it. No matter how hard we try to follow a healthy diet we keep buying unhealthy snacks full of added sugar. They are everywhere: at any convenience store, any pharmacy, or gas station not to mention all those vending machines. It's hard to resist buying some chocolate bar or a bag of chips for a quick snack washing it down with soda. If you're reading this post, you probably know that excessive sugar consumption is dangerous. If not, here are two scientific studies for those who’d like to go deeper into details (Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults and Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research).

All of those snacks have the advantage of being quickly and easily available, we have to give credit to their manufacturers and marketing departments. A healthy diet however requires a slightly more thorough approach and better planning. But first, let's figure out why we have such a craving for sweets.

Why do we love sugar so much?

It’s because of our evolution as Homo sapiens. Our body is extremely efficient in converting sugar into fat reserves. Our distant ancestors' preference for sweetness over any other flavor helped them to survive. In wild nature bitterness usually indicates poison and sweetness indicate nourishment. Finding food was a non-trivial task while death by starvation was common. Under such conditions the one who recognizes bitterness and sweetness well and is highly motivated to avoid the former and find the latter lives longer and has a better chance of passing on his genes to the next generations. In our body sugar increases levels of dopamine (so-called happiness hormone). To be more precise dopamine does not give us happiness as such but motivates us to get something to satisfy a need. In the case of sweets, this something is energy that was extremely valuable to Paleolithic inhabitants. Back then most of the foods that the ancestors of modern humans ate were no sweeter than carrots. Honey was one of the few exceptions. Later on, Homo sapiens developed farming and started to eat starchy foods. Things changed radically right after we learned how to extract pure sugar from these foods and add it everywhere. Now the problem is the opposite: it's really hard to find food without sugar. You may think of candies, cakes, and cookies as obviously sugary foods, but if you check out the Nutrition Facts label on your favorite ketchup or bbq sauce and you’ll be shocked by the amount of sugar they contain.

About 15 million years ago, before the Paleolithic period and during one of the periods of global cooling, there were mutations in the genes of our ape-like ancestors that allowed the body to make reserves for a rainy day more efficiently by turning sugar into fat. Now those rainy days don’t come. Sweets are in excess so fat reserves are growing, which can lead to poor metabolic health. Another danger is that sugar (glucose to be more specific) is an extremely active molecule that can react with proteins and change their structure. The concentration of glucose in the blood is regulated by insulin, a hormone you’ve probably heard about. It is secreted by the pancreas after every meal and it helps cells to use glucose to produce energy. But if our insulin system fails or if glucose peaks are too frequent (what happens when you eat carbohydrates and sugar) the excess glucose in the blood will gradually destroy the walls of blood vessels. In the end that leads to the development of atherosclerosis and numerous cardiovascular diseases. Also, glucose promotes inflammatory processes in the body, and these in turn lead to fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

The easiest way to lower your daily sugar intake is to ditch all those cakes, cookies, and unhealthy snacks. The World Health Organization calls for reducing sugar to 5% of total calorie intake – that’s about 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of sugar a day. For example, a standard can of coke contains 35 g of sugar, and a portion of breakfast cereal (which is wrongly considered a healthy meal) can have up to 40 grams of sugar.

What will happen to you after you give up sugar?

Even though it’s quite hard to change habits especially as we get older the benefits are worth it. So if you decide to stop eating unhealthy snacks, you may expect at least five major changes.

1) Your cardiovascular health will improve

It’s calculated: people who get 17-21% of their calories from added sugar (for a diet of 2000 calories, that's 12-15 teaspoons a day) are 38% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those with 8% caloric sugar. That happens because sugar increases the level of triglyceride in the blood and that makes blood vessels’ walls thicker and less elastic. The decreased lumen of blood vessels leads to increased blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The conclusion is quite simple: less sugar equals better cardiovascular health.

2) Your weight and metabolism will normalize

The pancreas responds to sugar intake by producing insulin, which signals the cells that they must absorb glucose molecules from the blood. If glucose is constantly coming in large quantities, the cells develop insulin resistance: they stop responding to insulin, so the unabsorbed glucose accumulates in the blood after a meal. This is the first step to developing type II diabetes. But there is another molecule in sugar – fructose which has its metabolic pathway. It does not stimulate insulin production but promotes insulin resistance. Fructose is processed by the liver into glucose, lactose, and glycogen. When all the glycogen reserves are filled fructose begins to turn into fat and can cause the liver to become obese, which also disrupts glucose metabolism. Also, fructose increases the body's levels of the ghrelin, which is responsible for hunger, and suppresses the production of leptin, which is responsible for satiety. Studies show that a person who regularly consumes sugar usually eats more calories a day compared to one who limits sugar to recommended amounts. Fructose is to blame for this. At the same time, glucose triggers an energy-storing mechanism when it enters the body. This means that both components of sugar contribute to weight gain – another threat to metabolic health.

3) The aging of your skin will slow down

Sugar absorbed in the intestine naturally binds to protein molecules - this process is known as glycation. Normally, the end products of glycation are almost eliminated from the body. But with regular consumption of added sugar, they accumulate and damage proteins in our tissues – first of all in the skin. The skin becomes harder and wrinkles come earlier.

4) The risk of cancer will be reduced

Scientists analyzed the data of 435,674 people aged 50-70 years: their diet, level, and frequency of consumption of added sugar. Over seven years of follow-up, 42,454 people were diagnosed with cancer. Statistical analysis showed a correlation between regular added sugar consumption and the development of all cancers. Sugar itself is not a carcinogen. The danger comes from the end products of glycation. They cause inflammatory reactions and the release of free radicals, which are major risk factors for cancer.

5) Mood and cognitive abilities will improve

Although sugar can block the stress response in the short term, in the long run, regular sugar consumption increases the risk of developing mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. In addition, sugar has been shown to impair memory and damage the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is involved in long-term and short-term memory. Elevated blood sugar levels can lead to cognitive impairment even if they remain within normal limits and the person has not been diagnosed with type II diabetes. So less sugar leads to stable mood and better cognitive abilities.

What can we do to avoid all of those sugar-related problems?

Even though changing your eating habits can be difficult there is a simple way. Just choose healthier snacks and take them with you wherever you go so you don’t have the urge to buy another candy bar at the gas station. Fortunately, traditional snacks have plenty of healthy alternatives like Belichka Keto Bars. You can buy one of six unique flavours Almond, Coffee, Raspberry, Matcha, Chocolate + Toasted Coconut, Key Lime + Coconut or order the Variety Pack to see which flavor you like best. Each Belichka Bar is 100% Keto, 100% Natural, and contains less than 1g of sugar with no weird stevia flavor or any other additives.

For those who are deadly serious about developing healthier food behavior, subscription options are starting from $36.95 a month.

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