Our brains are programmed to love sugar. Sweet things in nature (fruit) are safe to eat in moderation and they are a quick source of energy that helps us to store fat for times of scarcity. These aren’t necessarily the big problem for our health; it’s the processed and added sugars that pose the biggest dangers. Unfortunately, sugar has become such a pervasive part of our food supply that we are chronically overdosing on it.
Before the days of processed sugar, sugar was mainly obtained from fruits and vegetables. Back then people consumed about 7.5 teaspoons of sugar per day. Today the average Australian eats about 27 teaspoons of sugar per day.
The World Health Organization would like to see this number go down to 6¼ teaspoons per day for both men and women
For many years people have been led to believe that saturated fat is the main cause of heart disease. However new studies have revealed that sugar, not fat, is the leading cause of heart disease.
What to look for:
Food manufacturing companies have become wise about the outcry of added sugar to foods and with clever marketing, have started to disguise the sugar in their products so that consumers do not know how much sugar they are actually eating.
They add sugar into foods to enhance the taste, especially in reduced-fat foods, as foods without fat can be bland. This means that foods you may believe to be healthy because they are labelled low fat, are actually worse for you as they are loaded with added sugar – which keeps you hooked and going back for more.
Sugar often won’t be included in the ingredients as sugar. Sugar can be labelled as a long list of other names and it can be hard to understand what you’re eating. Anything ending in “ose” is an obvious giveaway, including glucose, sucrose (better known as table sugar), fructose and maltose.
“Sugar-free” foods generally contain artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame. Studies have suggested that these don’t do much to satisfy sugar cravings and may actually make you overeat. There are also concerns that they may pave the way for health problems.
If you have insulin resistance, diabetes, cancer or an autoimmune disease, then you should stay away from sugar and sweeteners altogether. For everyone else try to use as little as possible and stick to one of the healthier options mentioned below:
- Organic Maple syrup
- Organic Raw honey
- Coconut sugar
- Organic palm sugar
- Fruit derived sugars like ripe banana or whole dates.
- Refined white sugar, Brown sugar
- Evaporated cane juice
- Brown rice syrup
- Agave syrup
- Artificial sweeteners: Splenda, NutraSweet, Equal, Sweet and Low
- Sugar alcohols: Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and malitol.
The ABSOLUTE Worst:
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
There are extreme health risks associated with HFCS that come from its conversion to triglycerides or circulating fats in the blood. Blood triglycerides are stored as fat and are associated with diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
What does sugar do to your health?
- Too much sugar spikes your blood sugar levels and then leads to a big dip. You might get a sugar high in the short term but it’ll be followed by a crash that affects your mood and makes you crave more sugar. This vicious cycle is one of the main reasons why sugar is so heavily linked to obesity as it encourages you to keep eating more sugar.
- Sugar is a major contributing factor to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and stroke.
- Sugar is addictive because it stimulates the brain in a way that is similar to cocaine and heroin, causing the release of the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin.
- Eating too much fructose (which is found in sugar) can make your liver inflamed and start building up fat. More worryingly, it also affects blood lipids and cholesterol levels, which can lead to cardiovascular problems and type 2 diabetes.
TIP: Mix natural sugars with protein to balance your blood sugar levels and to stop the sugar being absorbed into your bloodstream as quickly. For example, combine a piece of fruit with a handful of nuts or some yoghurt. This can help to curb cravings too.
Summing it up
We all need to wean ourselves off sweetness as much as possible. As long as we keep eating sweet foods we will keep on wanting more. Learning to live without them may take some time. It requires cultivating an appreciation for all the other tastes that make food so delicious like the savoury, the sour and the bitter.
Follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly and watch your sugar intake, especially if you do not want to be another statistic in the sugar rush for poor health.
Hyman, M. (2018). Food what the heck should I eat. New York: LB
Medical Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For medical advice always consult your physician. The information provided in this blog is based on the best knowledge of the author at the time of writing and we do not assume liability for the information within this blog, be it direct or indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages.