Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Real Sugar, Real Goodness

Keeping on the drinks theme, it's real sugar or bust for me, as of 1 week ago. I have officially quit false sugars like Splenda, Nutrasweet, Stevia, etc.

In today's era of calorie consciousness, diet sodas are all the rage. In fact, of the top 10 soda brands in the US, 4 are diet. Diet Coke is #2 in the US, ahead of Pepsi.

I have always been a soda lover, and I think I always will be. It's less the sweetness and more the excitement of the carbonation that makes drinking soda an adventure for me. For the first 20 or so years of my life, I drank regular soda in moderate quantities. Then, needing to make weight for the lightweight crew team in my sophomore year of college (< 155 lbs), I experimented with diet soda. For the next 10 years, I switched to diet soda almost exclusively.


Recently, I have been hearing more theories about the potential harms of false sugars. In general, they are:

1) Cancer

2) Diabetes

3) Increased Hunger

Theory 1 wasn't enough to cause me to quit diet sodas. Why? Because everything, in extremes, causes mice. With the quantity I was drinking, I didn't see this as a realistic risk.

Theory 2 suggests that the body releases insulin when false sugars are ingested, because the body confuses false sugars with real sugars. This lowers blood sugar level. With more insulin release, the body can become insulin resistant (type 2 Diabetes).

Theory 3 is related to theory 2. Greater insulin release lowers blood sugar levels, which makes you more hungry. Thus, you eat more.

Theories 2 and 3 have driven me away from sugar substitutes.

Now, I consume only real sugar. Here are some of my strategies:

1) I drink regular sodas (colas, etc.) but limit the quantity. For example, I'll drink half a can of Coke,  (70 calories).

2) I drink commercial sodas that have less sugar. There are many brands of less-sweet sodas these days, including one brand called "Dry Sodas". There is a Lavendar flavor that has Lavender extract with only 70 calories in 12 oz (same size as a Coke, half the calories).

3) I make my own soda at home. I buy mineral water or club soda and mix that with a citrus fruit juice (orange, lime, or grapefruit). I then add some sugar syrup, which I make by boiling sugar with water. For a 16 oz drink, I probably consume about 80-100 calories.

4) I order unsweetened iced tea at restaurants, and then sweeten to taste.

I'm happy with my changes, although they will take some adjustment after so many years of diet soda consumption. What are your thoughts on sugar substitutes and real sugar?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Drink Water

Hydrate. It's easy and it's important, more than you realize. 75% of America is dehydrated. Not me, not anymore.

I have seen the light, and now I hydrate as much as possible. I may overdo it sometimes, but I'd rather overdo it than underdo it.

For most of my life, I have been headache prone. I noticed this during my middle school years when I rode my bike to and from school. Every day, without fail, I got a headache after riding my bike home in the afternoon. As a result, I took 1-2 tylenol every weekday.

In my high school years when I played tennis for my school team, I got headaches in the evening and was back to Tylenol. After college, when I developed a gym routine, I got headaches after running 3 miles on the treadmill.

I always assumed that I was just more headache prone. This may be true as I do sweat a lot. But the underlying cause of my headaches was dehydration. However, I drank several cups of water a day, and didn't "feel thirsty", so I assumed that I wasn't dehydrated.

My approach to hydration changed this year when I trained for the Big Sur Marathon. I thought about how I could hydrate on long runs of 7+ miles on Saturday, and I decided to purchase a Marathoner Hydration Vest. This vest allows you to suck fluids while running (think CamelBak). I also tried to increase my water intake throughout the week. I assumed that even with these strategies I would need to take headache medicine because I was "genetically predisposed to headaches". But to my surprise, I largely avoided headaches during my training.

This experience showed me the light. Through regular hydration, even while training for a marathon, I could avoid dehydration headaches. My mistake earlier in life was thinking that if I wasn't thirsty at that moment, then I didn't need to drink water. I now realize that water needs to be consumed whether or not you're thirsty. Water is like gas for your car. You fill up your body with it, and your body spends it on essential functions (all your organs need it for survival) and sweating. When you drink water to quench thirst, you're already too late in some respects. That water is going to take 30 minutes to be absorbed, by which time your headache has already set in.

Now, I know how to stay hydrated. I buy a 24 pack of 16oz water bottles and keep some in my car. I drink water in the morning, with lunch, and at dinner. I also take a trip to the water cooler every 2 hours and have an 8oz cup of water. After the gym, I drink one of my water bottles. Drinking right away after a workout is important, not 30 minutes or 1 hour later. At that point, headaches are likely to set in. I also know that caffeine is a diuretic (it dehyrdates you). So, if I have a cup of decaf coffee or iced tea or a beer, I drink extra water to compensate. In fact, even if I order another drink at a restaraunt, I'll also order a glass of water and have it continuously refilled.

All in all, I'm averaging 10+ cups per day. My landlady is also an ex-phlebotomist (blood drawer) and she complimented me on my veins. Clearly visible arm veins are a sign of good hydration (which mine are). She acknowledges she is dehydrated and you can barely see her veins. Yesterday, she had only had one cup of water.

I still occassionally get headaches, but the frequency has gone down drastically. Also, water is helping me curb my appetite so I bring my portion sizes under control. For you, dehydration may show up in other ways - tiredness, lightheadedness, etc. But by focusing on hydrating and making it a habit, you can live a much healthier life.
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