Sugar. It has become more talked about than ever before, and for good reason. It’s highly addictive, and is massively contributing to the obesity epidemic we’re facing in Western society.
You might have a lot of questions about sugar. I know I did.
Is sugar that bad for you?
Is fruit unhealthy for you?
Is sugar from fruit juices bad for you?
Sugar has become so prevalent in today’s society, if you removed all of the products containing it from the supermarket shelves, only 20% of items would remain. That’s quite a chunk of our food that’s packed full of the white stuff!
There’s no doubt about it. We all love the stuff.
As we have grown as a country, and as a world for that matter, food has crept into our foods at an exponential speed. Coupled with the cheap cost, lasting shelf life and addictive properties, it’s become part of our diet.
When we were foraging for food in caveman days, we needed to be on high alert for sweet foods, as these were essential for survival. They helped us store fat in case of famine, and we needed the calories to stay alive. As the world has evolved, we still have the same instinct and urge to do this, but our surroundings have changed massively.
We have an old brain in a new world. The more sugar that’s available, the more we want it. We’re simply hard wired that way.
Adults currently get through on average 60g of added sugars each day, but more worryingly, teenagers are racking up 75g each day, with fizzy pop being the main source.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate. When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into sugar molecules.
There are two different kinds of sugars – Intrinsic and Extrinsic, and the following sugars are found within them.
Intrinsic sugars are simple sugars and they are found naturally within the cells of food plants such as fruit and some vegetables. Because these sugars are an intrinsic part of the plant cell, they are classified as intrinsic. These are the sugars you should choose as part of your diet.
Extrinsic sugars aren’t an intrinsic part of the plant cells, and so are extracelluar. There are two kinds of extrinsic sugars. The first one occurs in diary products such as milk (lactose) and is known as extrinsic milk sugar. The second type occurs in honey, fruit juice and processed food and drinks, such as sweets and cake These are known as non-milk extrinsic sugars. These are also commonly known as ‘free sugars’.
You don’t need to worry about all of the details, but the main takeaway is that Free Sugars are the ones to really avoid or cut down on. They cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate and are linked with poor appetite control and tooth decay. The best way to avoid these sugars is by cutting down on soft drinks, confectionary, breakfast cereals and ready meals. Cutting down on fruit juice is a good way to avoid taking in too much of this type of sugar too.
When looking at food labels, if it ends in an ‘ose’ you can bet it’s a sugar!
We’re currently eating on average 15 teaspoons of sugar a day (around 70g) , and current recommendations are to eat no more than 6 teaspoons a day (around 25g).
Considering an average breakfast of cereal, toast and orange juice totalling 6 teaspoons, it becomes clear as to the enormity of the problem.
What happens to our bodies when we eat sugar?
After sugar enters the body, it splits into two parts – fructose and glucose. They both head to the liver, and once in the liver the glucose is converted into energy for the brain, cells and organs. When fructose is ingested in large amounts, the liver doesn’t know how to deal with it as efficiently, as it was rarely found in nature, so hasn’t developed a way of dealing with the amounts we consume. As a result, excess amounts of fructose gets stored as fat in the liver. The fat is sent out into the blood stream as triglycerides, which can lead to blocked arteries, diabetes and heart disease.
When glucose is ingested via carbohydrates such as bread and pasta, a hormone is released called insulin, which helps to open our cell doors so they can absorb the glucose, use it as energy and remove it from the blood stream. The more glucose that’s in our blood, the more insulin is released. While the insulin is dealing with the glucose, it turns off our fat burning processes and tells the fat cells to keep hold of the fat. We can’t burn off fat while the insulin is around dealing with all of the sugar, and so our weight increases!
This is explained really well by this video, which is worth a watch
What about fruit sugar?
People get confused over fruit, and whether it’s really healthy for us. My main stance on anything to do with food, is if it was picked or killed, then you can’t really go wrong. I know there’re many variables to this, but in comparison to anything that comes in a packet, it’s not a bad start.
Fruit contains sugar, there’s no doubt about it. Fructose, to be specific. However, it also contains vitamins, minerals and fibre. It’s a single ingredient whole food, meaning it’s as natural as Mother Nature intended. Yes, it can spike your blood sugar, but generally it will be less of a spike compared to something artificially made.
Nature has made us food packages, if you will, which are made for our body with the right amount of nutrients that we need. I say, as long as we don’t abuse it and eat 8 apples in a row (which believe me, after 2 that would be hard task), then fruit is fine. If your goal is weight loss, then I would simply limit the amount of fruit you eat, but still include it as part of a balanced diet.
What about fruit juice?
See, this is where it all changes.
Remember when I said that a piece of fruit was an encapsulation of all of the nutrients, vitamins and fibre our bodies need? By juicing fruit, we’re interrupting that process. We’re extracting all of the fibre and other nutrients from the fruit, and what we’re drinking is pure fructose, which without the fibre and bulk, is going to convert straight to energy.
Fruit juices can contain some vitamins, such as vitamin C, but they come at a cost of high sugar levels.
I would advise to limit your intake of fruit juices, and eat the real thing instead.
What foods have hidden sugars?
Hidden sugars are everywhere. There’s no escaping them! Manufacturers have added sugar into 80% of the products available at the supermarket. You could argue that it’s down to the individual to watch their sugar intake and make the right choices, but not everyone is as clued up on the methods supermarkets use to lure people in.
The majority of people will look at a packet, and see a healthy claim, and assume it’s good for them. The worst part of all, is that a lot of products don’t make it obvious if it contains a lot of sugar. This is especially true for ‘healthy’ alternatives such as cereal bars. Some so called healthy cereal bars have even more sugar in them than a chocolate bar.
This is a major factor in what’s causing a rise in obesity and diabetes. No wonder people are getting bigger every year, we inadvertently put our trust into the supermarket and believe the marketing.
Some foods to be aware of that might contain hidden sugars and you should check are:
- Pasta sauce
- Pizza sauce
- Fruit juices
- Ready meals
- Packet sauces
Companies know that we are becoming more wise to sugar, so they have been more clever with their ingredients. No longer can you just look for ‘sugar’. It’s hiding behind all sorts of names, such as:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Organic evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Always read the label of the foods you consume.
Sugar is prevalent in today’s society. It’s everywhere you turn; there’s no getting away from it. Sugar is a carbohydrate, and there are variations that act differently in the body. Limiting your intake to 6 teaspoons a day is the new World Health Organisation‘s recommendation, to prevent diet and sugar related diseases. Limit your free sugars (found in juices, simple carbohydrates and confectionary) and choose fruits over fruit juices to ensure you keep the nutrients and fibre. Companies are hiding sugar in 80% of the products found in supermarkets. Always read the labels so you know what you’re getting.
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