Articles / Nutrition

Sweet Enough: The Truth About Sugar

In the health world, sugar is fast becoming known as the ‘legal drug,’ and with good reason too. When you look at how processed sugar works on the brain and the effects of this  substance on the body, the truth becomes more bitter than sweet. Let me explain why you need to break up with sugar; here, now and forever.

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Sugar is not just another ingredient to skim past in our foods. Sugar is dangerous because it has the power to directly effect our hormones and brain biochemistry. When sugar is consumed, our body responds by producing insulin. This is the main hormone which deposits fat into cells. Processed sugars are made up of different monosaccharides. For example, sucrose (common table sugar) is composed of glucose and fructose. Glucose mainly deposits fat under the skin, whilst fructose stores it around the organs (danger alert!). Secondly, when you consume fructose, gremlin (our hunger hormone) doesn’t change, meaning that the body will not register fullness. When our blood sugar levels are spiked by a high sugar meal or drink, our insulin will go up, providing quick energy, often known as a ‘sugar high.’ However, just as fast as it goes up, so too will your blood sugar levels crash, leaving you feeling tired and craving more sugar again. See the situation emerging here? Eat sugar, feel good momentarily before a low, crave more sugar, eat more, fat deposits into cells, the body doesn’t register fullness, eat more sugar, repeat…. And down the slippery slope you fall.

But hold on, ‘fructose, isn’t that the healthy sugar in fruit?’ you may be asking. The answer is yes, but when you consume fruit you are consuming the sugar in its natural, unaltered form, with the fibre. This is needed to tame the insulin response to sugar in the body. So what we need to watch out for is when sugar becomes processed and refined, losing the fibre and vitamins that make fruit healthy for us.  Refined sugar comes in many disguises and sadly is hidden in thousands of common everyday foods that consumers buy, even those perceived as ‘healthy.’ Lets take a look at what you need to watch out for when reading your ingredient labels

  • Agave Nectar
  • Barley Malt Syrup
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
  • Dehydrated Cane Juice
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltodextrin
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Rice Syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorghum or sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Turbinado Sugar

Manufacturers can be extremely cheeky in trying to hide the added sugar in their products. I always recommend eating as few packaged foods as possible, but when you do take your time to read the labels carefully and drop the product ASAP if it contains too much processed sugar. You can also scan the grams of sugar per 100 grams in the nutrition panel to see what percentage of the food is made up of sugar. And you might be surprised when you realise just how many foods do contain added refined sugar. It’s not just the obvious sweet stuff like doughnuts and lollies. Most supermarket bought sauces, salad dressings, breads, breakfast cereal, muesli bars, potato crisps, spreads and more are all hiding the culprit. Even if you think your diet is relatively low in processed sugars, have a proper look and think again. Cereal for breakfast with a glass of fruit juice, a sandwich with chicken and light mayonnaise for lunch, a muesli bar for a snack, vegetables and meat with sauces (gravy, tomato, etc) for dinner, with a low fat yoghurt and some dark chocolate for dessert might seem like a healthy day to you, but all those foods contain sugar, and the teaspoons add up quickly.

It makes me mad when I see products such as low fat, low calories yoghurts, being marketed as health foods. Data shows that over the past decades fat consumption has remained relatively the same, whilst sugar consumption has skyrocketed. Parallel to this, so has obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer – all of which can mostly be prevented with nutrition. It’s certainly not fat that is to be feared, it’s the sugar. But if that yoghurt only contains 100 calories, it’s okay, right? Wrong! We can’t just look at sugar (or any food for that matter) at its apparent caloric value. I’m a firm believer that ‘a calorie is not a calorie.’ We need to measure food by its nutritional value per calorie. Sugar is empty calories. It provides our bodies with nothing good, so for each calorie we consume, we give our body nothing back. Furthermore, our bodies are complex biological systems which metabolise different calories in different ways. For example, it uses more energy in our bodies to break down protein that it does simple carbohydrates (sugars), known as the thermogenic effect of foods, meaning the overall net calories from 100 calories of protein versus 100 calories of sugar is very different. Also, the protein will provide our body with amino acids needed for a multitude of process vital to health, whereas sugar gives us nothing but a spike in blood sugar. This is definitely not what you want.

The scariest thing is that sugar really does act upon us like a drug, in much the same way that alcohol and nicotine do. The obesity epidemic has a biochemical component, which is what is driving it so fast in our contemporary day and age. Basically, it is an addictive substance: the more you eat, the more you want. Recent studies have shown that when sugar is consumed, it activates the same reward centres in the brain that other known drugs act upon. Similar to a cigarette smoker, a sugar addict will build a tolerance so that an increasingly larger amount of sugar is needed to get the same effects and tolerance is the first step towards addiction.

For decades, sugar has been the secret weapon of the food industry: making you crave their foods and go back for more and more. Sugar has also enjoyed the luxury of hiding behind fat which people were taught to fear. However the truth is finally being unveiled on what a devil sugar really is. For the first time, new Australian guidelines have been recently released which recommend to limit added sugar. In the nutrition world, the importance of ditching sugar is exploding everywhere! If you ask me, if you made one change for your health, it would be to give processed sugar the flick. For good.

To learn more, be inspired, and become part of the anti-sugar movement, you might like to head over and check out Sarah Wilson’s blog (the author of ‘I Quit Sugar’) and the official I Quit Sugar website. Lorna Jane’s Move Nourish Believe website is also hosting a Move Over Sugar Challenge, and have some good recipes to make healthy, sugar-free versions of foods commonly loaded with added sugars, such as tomato sauce.

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So the bitter truth is that, at the end of the day, sugar is just empty calories, creating a toxic load on our precious bodies. When our blood glucose levels are continually pushed to high peaks, it puts a huge strain on our organs and bodily systems. We accelerate aging, function at a below optimal level, retard our immune systems, rot our teeth, make our bodies become acidic, and at the worst case scenario, over consumption of sugar leads to excessive weight gain and life threatening diseases.

It’s time to say goodbye to sugar. You really are sweet enough already.

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