How Vegans Should Control Sugar and Energy

  • 28 May 2021
  • Reading time 3 mins
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 vegan eating

You can be a healthy or an unhealthy vegan, just the same as meat-eaters can be healthy or unhealthy. Even if you have chosen to be vegan - or have a more plant-based lifestyle - without careful thought and effort, it can be easy to slip into bad habits and food choices.

Carbohydrates, our source of energy, come from plants. Plants literally make carbohydrates, which break down into glucose, which is the form of sugar our bodies run on. Although that is our primary fuel, we can also burn fats. Plants absorb the energy from sunlight through their leaves and both use and effectively ‘trap’ this energy when they combine carbon and oxygen absorbed from the air (carbon dioxide, CO2) with hydrogen and oxygen (H2O) – water – taken in by their roots.

This process makes carbohydrate. The by-product of this process is oxygen, which is expelled into the air. We eat and digest the carbohydrate, while breathing in the oxygen, and this helps to burn the carbohydrate and release what is in effect the sun’s energy that was originally trapped in the making of the plant. How clever is that?

This is why everyone is dependent on the energy from plant foods, even if that energy has been stored in the animals that ate the plants. If there were no plants, there would be no humans. It’s as simple as that.

Knowing this, there’s good logic in going straight to the source for our energy. The simplest carbohydrate is glucose, which we call sugar, but there are actually lots of sugars. Fructose, the main sugar in fruit, can be converted into glucose in the liver. Sucrose (as in white sugar) is a molecule of glucose attached to a molecule of fructose. Maltose (as found in malted bread) is two glucose molecules combined that rapidly break down into glucose, which is also called dextrose. All of these are simple sugars, found in plants, that give you energy.

These sugars, however, release that potential energy into your bloodstream at different speeds hence are described as either fast-releasing or slow-releasing. This is mainly dependent on how long it takes to turn them into glucose, which then enter the blood, which transports it to cells. This is important to know, because keeping a level blood sugar is essential for good health.

If we understand which foods are fast-releasing and which are slow-releasing, it gives us a benchmark to use to decide which carbohydrates are the best for us to eat on a regular basis for good health and to maintain a stable weight – and even for losing weight. I explain this in great detail in my book Optimum Nutrtion for Vegans as long as why I believe GL is the best measure.

It's as much a concern for vegan diets as any other. If I eat too many carbs, especially fast-releasing carbs on their own, without protein, I’m going to have blood sugar highs and lows, and the lows will trigger hunger, so I’ll keep craving more carbs. If you keep feeling hungry, and craving carbs, you’re eating too many carbs, or the wrong kind, in the wrong combinations.

Optimum Nutrition for Vegans

If you are finding it challenging being a healthy vegan or are considering becoming vegan/more plant based but lack the confidence to take the leap, then try my new book Optimum Nutrition for Vegans published in December 2020 (Piatkus).

I explain how to get enough protein and brain fats, control your sugar and energy, ensure you maintain sufficient vitamin and mineral levels and other small steps that maintain a good overall health.

I also cover what to eat, and in what combination, to achieve the best of health with clear principles for how to get enough good quality protein by combining foods, slow release carbs and essential fats. Plus 100 delicious easy vegan recipes that will nourish your body and your brain.
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