Are Pretzels Worse than a Candy Bar?

January 24, 2014
Categories: Gluten Free, Nutrition

Ahhhh Pretzels.

Back in the day, I used to think pretzels were the perfect snack food: low fat and low sugar – and back then, we all thought that meant “healthy.”  I used to munch on them every afternoon, I “needed” my pretzels.  I can even remember stopping to buy them when I traveled after I landed in a new town.  I had to have my pretzels pretty much every afternoon….I was addicted.

But now, I call pretzels “appetite stimulants.”  It’s no wonder I used to go through several bags of them every week…because foods like pretzels don’t satisfy your hunger, they only make you hungrier.

Now I know better.  Looking back knowing what I know now, I realize that pretzels were one of “my sugars.”

But you might be wondering – “they only have one gram of sugar. They are a low sugar food….how could they be your sugar?”

To understand that, I need to explain the glycemic index.

The Glycemic Index – What is it?

The “glycemic index” is the measure for how a food affects blood-glucose levels. Foods are given a number between 1-100 (or higher in some cases) on the glycemic index based on how the food will affect your blood sugar. The lower a food is on the glycemic index, the more gradually it rises the blood sugar and/or to a lower level. A glycemic index of 70 and above is considered high – the blood-glucose rises quickly and to a higher level. Medium glycemic index is between 56 and 69. A low glycemic index is under 55. The glycemic index was originally designed to help people with diabetes better manage their blood sugars. But now weight loss experts are using it to help people lose weight, and manage cravings. Recent research out of Harvard has demonstrated that eating diets with low glycemic foods can lower the risks for obesity and related diseases like coronary heart disease and diabetes.

  • Gatorade – 78
  • Colas – 65
  • Milk – 32
  • Ice Cream – 57
  • Yogurt, fruit – 36
  • Corn flakes – 93
  • Frosted Flakes – 55
  • Oatmeal (unsweetened) – 55
  • Instant oatmeal – 83
  • Baked potato – 111
  • Donut – 76
  • Pretzels – 83
  • Snickers Bar – 51
  • Table sugar – 64
  • Maltose – 105
  • Honey – 62
  • Fructose – 22
  • Apple – 38
  • Grapes – 46
  • Raisins – 64
  • French Bread – 95

Harvard Health has put together this list of 100 foods and their glycemix index (and glycemic load).

Are Some Carbs Worse Than a Candy Bar?

You might be wondering why are pretzels (baked potatoes and corn flakes) are so high on the glycemic index, when they are a low sugar food?  It is because these foods convert very quickly into sugar when they enter our bloodstream.  They spike blood sugar levels, cause insulin to be released, and as a result, our appetite to spike.

So if we want to keep our blood sugar under control – in addition to foods with added sugars – we need to also keep in mind that foods made with white flour and processed grains like white bread, crackers, pretzels, and the like are of concern. Look for “enriched” flour on the ingredient list – enriched means the grains have been highly processed and are lacking fiber and nutrients.

But what about “healthy whole wheat?”
Turns out that Whole wheat is not so healthy after all, and it is not just the gluten.

Now you are probably thinking, wait just one minute Sara.  Isn’t whole wheat better for us because it has fiber? Yes, good point – fiber is important for leveling out blood sugar.  So common sense would tell us that whole wheat is better for us.

But let’s take a closer look…

First of all, a lot of breads labeled “whole wheat” are really made with highly processed enriched wheat flour (which barely resembles a whole grain anymore), and some even contain high fructose corn syrup.  And as we know, processed grains spike our blood sugar.  But that is not the whole story.

Second, the whole wheat of today is not the same as our grandparents.

And it is Highly Addictive

Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly calls today’s wheat, “frankenwheat,” because it does not resemble the wheat of a couple decades ago.  This new wheat has a protein that is as addictive as drugs, causes us to eat more, and can even lead to other health problems.

Neurologist and author of the book Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter says that gluten, wheat and simple carbs are all harming our brains – contributing to Alzheimers disease and other brain degeneration.

Let’s look a little closer….

Whole wheat* has three characteristics that are wreaking havoc on our metabolism:

  1. Gluten – is a protein in wheat and other grains like barley and rye – that gives it that soft & chewy feeling.  Many people think that gluten free is just a trend, and that it will go away someday.  But more and more people are realizing that gluten not only can have a negative impact on our digestion, but it could be harming our brain health (read: Grain Brain written by Dr. David Perlmutter – he says gluten and wheat are prime reasons for many neurological diseases – from Alzheimers to ADHD and more.)  Gluten creates inflammation in the gut and the body – and inflammation is linked to an increase in almost every health condition – ranging from cancer to heart disease and more.
  2. Amylopectin-A: is a “super-starch” that is in “modern wheat.”  It was not in the wheat of our grandparent’s generation, but because of hybridization, wheat has been changed over time and now has this super starch that causes our bloodsugar to spike higher than a spoonful of sugar.
  3. Polypeptides – When wheat comes into contact with stomach acids, it is broken down into short chain amino acids called polypeptides.  These polypeptides cross the blood-brain barrier and act kind of like opiates on the brain.  This gives us a little “high.”  Anytime something gives us a high, it can be addictive. There have also been studies linking schizophrenia, autism, and other neurological conditions to wheat and gluten.  And considering that these polypeptides cross the blood brain barrier, that is not too surprising.

One More thing to consider….Our Livers

As if that all weren’t enough, there is one other condition that is linked to diets high in sugar, flour, and carbs – and that is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  It is estimated that 90 million Americans have it, and the scary thing is that most don’t even know it! We are even seeing 12 year old kids with it!!  Here is an article/video from Dr. Mark Hyman about it.

SO…are pretzels really worse than a candy bar?

I am not sure that one is worse than the other. The point of this article is to educate that even low sugar foods can spike your bloodsugar, causing an insulin response (which when done repeatedly leads to a dangerous condition called insulin resistance), and contributes to an unhealthy metabolism.  I am not suggesting that you swap out your afternoon pretzel snack for a candy bar (well, unless it is a few squares of 70% or higher dark chocolate).  What I am suggesting, is that you replace it with nutrient dense foods – consider reaching for carrots and hummus instead.  Or apple slices with almonds.  And see if that satisfies you longer.

Is there a better pretzel?

And if you just really don’t want to give up your pretzels entirely.  Consider upgrading them.  I like a product called Mary’s Gone Crackers.  They make a yummy organic non-GMO gluten free pretzel that is not full of starch (like many gluten free foods are) and contains superfoods like chia seeds.  They will not spike your bloodsugar as high as regular pretzels and will satisfy your hunger longer. Pair them with some protein or healthy fats and you have a nice snack.

Want to Learn More?

Read The Perfect Metabolism Plan – which outlines the 10 keys you need to reboot your metabolism  – Chapter #1 is “Break up with Sugar”.  Or consider joining the Break up with Sugar Program!


Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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