The problem with sugar
The dangers posed by a diet high in added sugars is undeniable, and one of the main problems is that most people don’t actually realise how much they are consuming on a daily basis.
It’s not that sugar is inherently bad; in fact, in small doses, or when found in natural sources such as fruit it helps to provide your brain and muscles with a form of energy.
However, just like everything else, it’s over consumption of the processed variety that tends to be made of empty calories and no added nutritional value that you need to be careful of, yet that’s the form which is primarily being consumed.
So let’s take a look at the issue in more detail, along with how to spot added sugar and how much you should actually be eating.
Sugar in everyday foods
Sugar seems to be continually finding ways to sneak into our diets, often in sources you wouldn’t even suspect and in far higher amounts than you would imagine.
If you look at food labels you will be shocked to find that there’s added sugar in everything from bread to milk and fruit juices, flavoured yoghurts, cereals, granola bars, tinned fruit, pasta sauces, ketchup, salad dressings and even dried fruit! Leaving people completely unaware that the choices they have been led to believe are healthy, may in reality contain just as much added sugar as the ‘unhealthy’ alternatives.
A prime example of this is clever marketing campaigns have managed to convince consumers that smoothies are a great way to increase their daily intake of fruits and vegetables, portraying them as an easy way to get one of your five a day. While this may be true if you are making them yourself, the ones on offer in shops are a completely different story, with many containing just as much sugar as soda, and in some cases even more!
For example, a 250ml serving of Coke contains 26.5g of sugar, whereas a Naked mango smoothie contains 30g in the same amount!
Why is high intake such a problem?
Our society seems to have become dependent on sugar and this is largely due to the influence it has on people’s brains. Much like taking a drug, sugar causes the body to release the feel-good hormone dopamine and it has been found that it takes just 30 minutes to go from that sought-after sugar rush, to a full on sugar crash.
This action simply spurs on addiction, as one of the side effects of regularly consuming products high in sugar is that your taste buds become trained to crave them even more, making it a vicious cycle of mixed feelings and emotions, that you are never able to sustain.
It has been claimed that if sugar came into use 50 years ago like it has today, it would have been classified as a class ‘A’ drug, with scientific research even suggesting that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine!
What makes matters worse is that food manufacturers have capitalised on people’s addiction, by increasing the amounts added to their products. By getting buyers hooked and consuming larger quantities, they are able to keep them coming back for more.
This in turn allows for continual growth in sales, along with skyrocketing profits at the expense of plummeting health. More worrying still is the extent in which this has spread, with one study in the USA finding that more than 600,000 food products in super markets (which is around 80 percent) have added sugar!
The health risks associated with sugar are undeniable and without hesitation I would label it as the worst ingredient in the modern diet.
So what’s the problem?
Essentially what overconsumption is doing is robbing our bodies of proper nutrition, as excessive intake has been linked to everything from diabetes to hypertension, increased blood cholesterol, difficulties controlling blood sugar levels, increased fat storage, Alzheimer’s, obesity and some forms of cancer.
Many of these issues are even interrelated, with heart disease and stroke accounting for 65 percent of deaths among type 2 diabetics.
And that’s only the physical side of it!
Sugar has been directly correlated to depression, higher rates of anxiety, insomnia, low energy levels, tiredness, hunger and difficulties coping with stress. It also increases inflammation, which directly affects the immune system’s ability to function, making it more difficult to ward off illnesses and infection. That’s not even including the weight gain and negative relationships with food people tend to develop either.
Sugar has been linked to overeating due to how it scrambles the signals sent to our brains, where high levels of insulin making us unable to tell when or if we are full. In turn this causes the consumption of far more calories than actually required, and it can negatively influence the food choices we make as well.
A study out of Los Angeles University in California found that sugar creates what they termed as ‘brain fog’, suggesting that it compromises mental functions, such as your memory and learning. This makes it harder to focus on the present, affects your cognitive abilities and attention span, in addition to causing difficulties remembering the past.
Sugar and cancer
If the risks associated with excessive sugar intake weren’t bad enough, research has shown that sugar feeds cancer cells, as glucose acts as a fuel allowing them to thrive and spread. This is because cancer cells tend to have plenty of insulin receptors, therefore giving them a greater response rate than normal cells to insulin’s ability to promote growth.
While it’s not necessary to completely remove sugar from your diet, in order to prevent, treat or in some cases even cure some forms of cancer, you should be aiming to drastically reduce your intake, aiming to keep it more in line with the daily recommended amounts, and ideally keeping it even lower if possible.
This will allow your body to more effectively control blood glucose levels, with the benefit being that it strengthens immune functions and starves cancer cells.
This is why you should instead be focusing on a wholefoods diet comprising of low GI carbohydrates wherever possible (such as oats, potatoes, wholegrains and vegetables), so that sugar has a much more gradual infusion into the bloodstream, consequently placing far less stress on your body and reducing the negative impact that it has.
How much sugar should you be eating?
It’s crazy to think that the average person has gone from eating ten pounds of sugar a year in 1800, to a staggering 152 pounds a year today! Because of that, the World Health Organisation has reduced their recommended daily intake amounts, stating that we should be getting no more than five to ten percent of our total calories from sugar, and ideally aiming for the lower end of that scale.
Yet at present intake levels in the UK are estimated to be around 16 to 17 percent, and in America there are periods in time where consumption is thought to be close to double that amount.
How much should you be aiming for?
According to the guidelines, per day it works out to around 25g for women, which is approximately five to six teaspoons and 35g for men, which is about eight to nine teaspoons. There’s a good chance though that in the near future these recommendations will be halved!
Keeping track of added sugar intake can get confusing, but the easiest way to work out how much is in a product is to look at the nutritional information table on the back of the box and divide the grams of sugar by four.
That will give you the total number of teaspoons within the product and from there you can make a judgement call on your purchase. Again, make sure you are looking at the full amount you are likely to be consuming and not being misled by serving sizes.
When reading food labels, probably the most important thing you need to look for is often the hardest to spot, and that’s added sugar. Sugar goes by countless different names, many of which your average consumer is unlikely to recognise.
Some of the most common forms of sugar to look out for are; high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, corn sweetener, honey, agave nectar, dextran, maltodextrin, malt syrup, maltose or evaporated cane juice.
Basically, watch out for anything that ends in ‘ose’, or sounds remotely along the same lines. More often than not it’s likely to be sugar in one form or another and even if it’s not, it will still probably be a chemical you want to be avoiding anyway.
Reducing your intake
From a health perspective there’s no way around it, if you are truly serious about improving your wellbeing then reducing sugar intake is up there with ensuring you eat enough fruit and vegetables.
I know it’s difficult, especially since sugar is present in many of the foods we tend to eat on a daily basis, which is why I do understand that reducing your intake may be easier said than done, especially during the initial stages of adapting to a healthier way of eating.
To help you get started I’ve put together a free 7 day ‘no added sugar’ challenge, to help you control of your sugar cravings, as you start losing permanent weight, feel thinner, younger and more energetic!
What do you think?
How much sugar are you eating everyday?
And how can you reduce your intake?
Post your thoughts and comments below.