Friday, 17 October 2014

The Deal With Sugar

Sugar is a bit of a hot topic in the nutrition world these days.  Added sugar has actually been labelled the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.  That's a pretty strong statement - especially considering all the other things in the modern diet that are also potentially bad!

Mmmm ... jelly beans!

Earlier this year I read a book by Sarah Wilson called I Quit Sugar.  Sarah felt that she was addicted to sugar, and needed it every day.  After feeling continually tired, bloated and sick, she decided to research sugar, and made a program on how to erase it from her diet.

Sarah found that the main problem seemed to be fructose, which is found in fruits, but is also a component in many other sugars, such as sucrose.  Some of the things that Sarah noted about sugar includes:
  • Frustose will never trigger our appetite hormones to tell us we are full.  We will just keep eating!
  • Fructose converts immediately to fat (do not stop at Go, do not collect $200).
  • Sugar has been shown to mess with our hormonal systems, which leads to cravings, deficiencies and therefore binge cycles.
  • Sugar feeds cancer cells, and has been connected to a number of different cancer types, including breast, ovaries, prostate, pancreas, rectum, lung, gallbladder and stomach
  • The American Heart Foundation recommends women eat no more than 100 calories, or 6 teaspoons, of sugar a day.  Men - 150 calories or 9 teaspoons of sugar a day.
  • Sarah recommends that a good rule of thumb is to eat food products with no more than 3g-6g of sugar per 100g (per the nutritional profile)

Just a mention - there is an I Quit Sugar website, blog and Facebook page which all have great information including yummy sugar-free recipes!

(Check this out to see other Weird Effects Sugar's Having on Your Body)

Many of the side effects Sarah mentioned resonated with me, like being tired and having peaks and troughs in energy levels, irritability, bloating and bad skin.  So as part of FebFast this year, I gave up sugar for 28 days.

I have to say that at first it was hard.  Not because of the sugar itself - I actually don't think I consumed a great deal of primary sugar sources (ie. I didn't have sugar in my coffee or cereal, I didn't eat many sugary lollies), but because of how much sugar is used in products that you just don't realise!  I found myself constantly reading nutritional labels.


High added sugar products

  • Dried fruits.  I knew there was sugar, but I hadn't really considered how much extra sugar is added to most dried fruits when compared to fresh fruit.
  • Breakfast cereals. Although I've always been careful about my cereals, I found that the only types I could eat were Vitabrits and rolled oats.
  • Low fat products, especially dairy.  I found out that where fat is taken out of milk products, it is often replaced with sugar to enhance the taste.  Yoghurt is particularly bad in this way - there aren't many yoghurts that are low sugar.
  • Supposedly 'savoury' biscuits.  Sugar is often added to balance the palate against salt and fat in foods you would think are not sweet at all.
  • Sugar free products are no better for you!  As sugar substitutes create a reaction in your body that mimics what happens when you eat sugar, you don't avoid the side effects of sugar - just some of the calories.  And you can just end up craving sugar even more.  Goodbye Pepsi Max.
(See 15 Other Surprising Sources of Added Sugar for more info)

The main struggle is just avoiding sugar in day to day life.  Basically any convenience food or drink has A LOT sugar.  It's one of the main reasons I've moved towards more of a real food approach to day to day eating and food choices.  I'm not as concerned about natural sugars, but I still try to keep them in check, whilst avoided added sugars as much as I can.  Some of the substitutes I try to make in my diet to replace sugar:

My top 7 tips to substitute added sugar in your diet

  1. Drink mineral water with a bit of lemon instead of other soft drinks
  2. Use honey and maple syrup in baking
  3. Use spices! I love cinnamon and mixed spice on my oats.  Chai spices are also delish!
  4. Vanilla essence and coconut are both great to add a little flavour
  5. Use cacao instead of chocolate - powder and nibs are my favourite
  6. Use fresh and dried fruit (but sparingly)
  7. Use nut butters for extra flavour and healthy fats (like peanut and coconut butter

This little experiement was the start of my journey to try to understand what I'm eating, and I'm continually learning and trying new things all the time.  Knowledge is power my friends!

By the way, I'm in no way perfect (hello indulgence weekend!), and live by a 90/10 rule generally.  I try to make healthy choices most of the time and be smart about what I put in my mouth, but I also like to enjoy the odd sweet treat.  When I do, I enjoy it even more because it's not the norm!

Are you aware / concerned about your sugar intake?  What's your favourite sugar-free recipe?  I'd love to try it!

I am not a doctor and I have never had any medical or nutritional training.  These are just my own thoughts and comments based on my own, limited research and knowledge in the area.  If you want more information, speak to your doctor or nutritional adviser.

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