Like it or lump it — sugar is not good news!

Christmas is around the corner and for most of us that means there will be sugary temptations at every corner! Over the last few years the dangers of too much sugar has been regularly in the headlines. Most people are aware that sugar is not good for us and that we need to cut down on the amount we eat. But why is this so hard to do? We all love a nice bit of cake or a biscuit with our tea! Can it really be all that bad? Surely a little bit won’t hurt us? All things in moderation, right?! Let’s take a look…

What is sugar?

Most of us would recognise sugar as the white powdered beet sugar that we have in our sugar bowl. This ‘table sugar’ is sucrose (a disaccharide), which is actually half glucose and half fructose. Glucose and fructose are monosaccharides (or ‘simple sugars’). You may also have heard of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is cheap to make and is 20 times sweeter than conventional table sugar! It is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. The chemical form of HFCS makes it even more risky than sugar. Both sugar and high fructose corn syrup are found in large amounts in processed foods, such as fizzy drinks, breakfast cereals, sweets, chocolate, baked goods and many other processed foods.

How much is too much?

The current recommended maximum intake of added sugar in the UK for adults is 30g per day or 7 teaspoons a day (1 Teaspoon = 4 grams). The World Health Organisation recommends we aim for no more than 6 teaspoons a day. ‘Added sugar’ is not the natural occurring sugars, in say a piece of fruit or in milk, but the sugar or syrups added during processing and preparation.

However, as you can see from the image above, the average intake in the UK is nearly double the recommended amount! How much added sugar do you think you might be consuming per day? It is so so easy to eat too much. Consider for example the fact that one 330ml can of fizzy drink might contain 7tsp of sugar! A 50g serving of some breakfast cereals contains 4tsp of sugar! Before we know it we can be way over what is considered okay.

Naturally occurring sugars, such as in fruits and vegetables, are balanced out by fibre, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. These sugars are not harmful to the body in the same way as processed or refined sugars.

What are the effects of too much sugar in our body?

In my opinion sugar is one of the most damaging substances we are putting into our bodies. Sugar impacts just about every system in our body (and not in a good way!). There is a lot of research suggesting that excessive sugar intake may be the largest factor underlying obesity and many chronic illnesses. I don’t want to bombard you with too much information and science!! But let me just list some of the dangers of a diet too high in sugar.

· Increased risk of cardiovascular disease

· Increased risk of type two diabetes

· Increased risk of certain cancers (e.g. colon, breast, small intestine)

· Liver stress and increased risk of fatty liver disease.

· Leaky gut

· Mood swings and poor concentration.

· Addictive responses in the brain

Until fairly recently the main public health message has been to reduce saturated fat. However, it is now being recognised that it is in fact sugar and refined carbohydrates that are more detrimental to our health, particularly our cardiovascular health. Many goods are marketed as ‘healthy’ because they are ‘low fat’ but actually are loaded with sugar!

Sugar creates a spike in our insulin levels without any nutritional value or benefit to the body. When we regularly eat foods containing sugar we get a continual sugar dump into our bloodstream. This creates hormonal chaos, which can in turn lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.

How can we reduce our sugar intake?

Cutting down on sugar can be extremely challenging. Sugar is very addictive and the more we eat the more we want! For many people it can be necessary to cut out all added sugar for a while in order to ‘reset’ their body.

Some tips to curbing those sugar cravings…

· Eat more protein (especially for breakfast) such as eggs, meat, fish and lentils. Proteins help to balance our blood sugar.

· Eat more healthy fats, such as oily fish, coconut oil and avocados.

· Eat plenty of fibre, including plenty of vegetables, which will help you feel fuller for longer

· Try also to cut down on refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, pastry, cereals etc.) which also cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin.

· Include some probiotic rich foods in your diet such as kefir, fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut) or probiotic yoghurt.

A warning about artificial sweeteners…

I would also recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners. As bad as sugar is, I believe artificial sweeteners are worse! These are unnatural chemicals that have been shown to have carcinogenic properties, as well as links to other health problems like hyperactivity in children, seizure disorders and chronic headaches. Many sugar-free foods or diet soft drinks contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin.

I love a mince pie with my cup of tea as much as the next person! So let’s all try to help each other cut down on the sweet stuff this Christmas!

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