I can’t think of a better time to share a post on sugar than on the Easter Weekend.
We’re all used to hearing how bad sugar is by now, so this is not a article about that. And it’s not about cutting it out altogether. I’m a fan of a balanced diet and allowing ourselves a few treats.
Instead, I will look at how sugar is hidden in many products, even products deemed as healthy and how we can become more aware of what we consume.
Sugar comes in so many forms beyond the white granules we often associate with it.
There’s a lot of misinformation about sugar and food. We often claim some forms of sugar to be better than others, and some have names you wouldn’t even recognise on an ingredient label, this applies to ‘health products’ as well.
This makes the whole subject of sugar pretty confusing.
Here are some things we hear:
- ‘Sugar is okay in moderation.’
- ‘Your body isn’t designed to digest sugars.’
- ‘Sugar-free products are always healthy.’
- ‘Artificial sweeteners are worse.’
- ‘You need sugar for energy.’
- ‘Sugar is addictive.’
These common claims to do with sugar often oppose one another.
One thing we can all agree on is we are consuming more sugar in our diets than EVER before.
Everything in moderation. Even sugar.
Most health and wellness experts on social media see sugar as evil. If you have been following me and reading my blogs for some time, you know I am all about balance. It’s all about eating in moderation. I have a cup of tea with two biscuits every day, and I eat my vegetables, drink my water and exercise daily.
“Moderation is the key of lasting enjoyment.”Hosea Ballou
Sugar itself isn’t necessarily always the problem. It’s emotional and stress eating that often causes a person to consume too much sugar. An unhealthy relationship with food can force you into a vicious cycle.
By too much sugar, I mean a person who makes 80% of their diet: cakes, biscuits, ready-made meals, processed foods, alcohol, and sugary drinks with little greens or water.
Sugar hide and seek
Many problems with consuming too much sugar is it’s hidden in so many products. Here are just a few of the most common:
- BBQ sauces
- Tomato sauces
- Baked beans
- Salad dressings
- Protein bars
- Peanut butter
- Canned fruits
- Frozen dinners & ready meals
And this list doesn’t even include the obvious culprits of soft drinks, pastries, cakes, biscuits, chocolate and ice cream.
It’s easy to see how many ways sugar sneaks into our diets.
One of the main reasons you may not recognize all the sugar you have in your diet is because rarely will it say ‘sugar’ on the ingredient list of the food you buy. Instead, you may see:
- Corn Syrup
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Corn Sweetener
- Sorghum syrup
- Agave nectar
- Evaporated Cane Juice
- Rice malt
A few tips in identifying sugars is looking for words ending with ‘ose’ or ‘ides’.
Examine the entire ingredients list on a product and often you will find more than one type of sugar in a product.
So let’s have a brief look at what too much sugar will do to your body.
The relationship between sugar and insulin resistance has become a crucial topic of discussion.
Insulin is one of the most important hormones in our bodies. It directs glucose into cells to be used for energy. However, when our cells no longer respond to insulin, our body receives the message that it needs to produce more. In response, the pancreas makes more insulin. But over time, the pancreas cannot keep up with the demand and blood sugar can no longer be maintained. We know this as insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is thought to be a big contributor to many diseases, including but not limited to: type II diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.
Even after these diseases develop, elevated blood sugar remains an ongoing problem. This excess is often the reason people with these illnesses experience other complications.
Your liver and sugar
The liver metabolizes fructose, one of the main components of sugar. However, it can only handle small amounts at a time.
This wouldn’t be a problem if we all minimized our sugar intake and increased daily physical activity. Typically, the fructose would be turned into glycogen and be stored in the liver for safe keeping until our bodies were ready to burn this energy reserve.
However, if there is already an ample amount of glycogen in the liver, eating more sugar overloads it. The extra is forced to be turned into fat. This process is the beginning of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, among other complications.
To take it further, some studies have suggested that sugar can be just as damaging as alcohol is to the liver, even if you’re at a healthy weight!
Luckily, the liver can repair itself, but with overloading it with excess amounts of sugar means it never really gets a break.
Sugars to stay away from
Not all sugars are created equal. Some are more harmful than others. Here below are a list of ones to avoid and ones which are safer to include.
If possible, avoid these products:
This chemical sweetener is best known for its appearance in diet sodas. Some people can tolerate it well in the short term, while others report migraines and digestive distress. Regardless of the initial reaction, aspartame has been proved dangerous in isolated situations. For example, the University of Liverpool conducted a study where aspartame was mixed with a common food colouring. The result was clear toxicity to brain cells! Researchers found that when aspartame breaks down, it creates formaldehyde, a well-known carcinogen.
Commonly known as the brand name Splenda, is processed using chlorine! Researchers also find that the waste of those consuming this ‘sugar’ can’t be broken down in wastewater treatment centers. Imagine what that means for INSIDE our bodies!
High Fructose Corn Syrup
This one may be a bit more challenging, as it’s in everything.
Safer sugar alternatives
Never fear, there are some safer sugar alternative for you to explore. These include:
This is an extract made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It has shown to help balance fasting blood sugar levels, cholesterol, insulin resistance, and blood pressure! However, it is important to pay attention to the source of stevia. Some brands include additives, so be sure always to check the label.
Derived from the coconut tree, it’s a natural sweetener, unrefined, and still contains all of its vitamins and minerals. It does not contribute to the strong fluctuations in blood sugar like other refined added sugars.
Honey has less fructose and provides other health benefits, including promoting heart health and fighting inflammation.
As always, too much of a good thing can be bad. So please keep in mind that even these alternatives do still break down to glucose and fructose in your body.
My tip for managing sugar consumption is always read labels and cook everything from fresh, especially salad dressings and sauces, that way you are in control of how much sugar you are consuming.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have tried to keep it as simple as possible.
It’s not practical to cut sugar out entirely, it’s more achievable when you cut down. Finding healthier alternatives, practicing moderation, and being aware of the dangers of consuming large amounts of sugar is the best way to take action on the case against sugar.
Like I say, everything in moderation. Always enjoy your favourite foods without feeling guilty! I am off to make a cuppa and enjoy it with a couple of biscuits.