Why Sugar Is Not The Problem, But You Are?
QUICK INFO (Actually not that quick:))
Sugar has taken a beating over the years but not always rightly so. Human body basically runs on it.
CARBOHYDRATE VS SUGAR – what’s the difference?
- Carbohydrates is a general name for all types of molecules in this group – starches, sugar and dietary fiber
- Sugars are excluded of fibre
- So if you see that a product consists of 30g of carbohydrates and 27g are sugars, this means that 3g are complex carbohydrates – fibre
Carbohydrates are the easiest source of energy for the body to utilise but instead of shaming all of them, we should learn the facts that make them different. Not all carbs all the same because each one breaks down at a different rate after ingesting. This consequently has a huge impact on blood sugar levels and insulin. Based on this, we can split them into basic groups:
- As the word “mono” suggests, these are very simple molecules and easy to break down
- Very abundant in confectionery and processed foods
- Cause a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash and desire for more
- Glucose – bread and potatoes are rich in glucose
- Fructose – fruit sugar, sweeter than glucose and is often artificially added to processed food in the form of syrup (does high – fructose corn syrup ring a bell?)
- Galactose – milk sugar
- They form when two simple sugars (monosaccharides) are joined together
- Easy to break down and enter blood stream
- Sucrose – naturally present in plants, from which table sugar is derived – sugar beets, sugar cane (sucrose is fructose + glucose)
- Lactose – milk sugar (glucose + galactose)
- Maltose – also called malt sugar, found in wheat, barley and most of the grains (it’s two glucose molecules joined together)
- These form when 3 – 10 sugar molecules join together
- Naturally, they occur often but in small amounts and are a part of plant fibre
- We can split them into two groups:
- Fructo – oligosaccharides (FOS) – found in many vegetables and are referred to as soluble dietary fibre which you might have heard of in connection to gut health
- Galacto – oligosaccharides (GOS) – found naturally in soybeans and are not digested in human small intestine – instead it goes further into the large intestine where they promote the health of Bifidobacteria (you might have heard this term in an Activia advert) which, again, improves gut health
- FOS and GOS both aid to a proper bowel function
So, what did we take from this lengthy introduction full of weird unpronounceable words?
I think we learned that waging a war on sugars in general is rather uneducated impulse and that they are not created equal.
SUGAR AND BRAIN
All brain functions, such as thinking, memory and message transmitting relies on sugar as a main fuel. Sugar is a go – to source of fuel for every cell in the body and because brain is so rich in nerve cells (100 billion), it’s the most energy demanding organ and requires as much as half of the body’s energy intake.
So, perhaps, all the low – carb diets aren’t an amazing idea. You have probably noticed yourself, especially after a long day at work, that you might become irritable and very low on energy. At this point, your sugar levels probably dropped below tolerable level and your brain cannot work properly. You might notice that you cannot seem to remember anything or that you find very difficult to concentrate on your work.
I guess you reach for a snack, then. And do you know what? I am no tot going to babble about how you should eat fruit instead of a chocolate bar. It’s not important what you have at the time but what are your dietary habits overall.
Let’s say John has sugary cereal for breakfast, picks up a Starbucks Frappuccino on the way to work, then a chocolate bar is the only thing eats for lunch and takeaway or ready – meal is his dinner, perhaps paired with a few beers or cans of Coca – Cola. Well, maybe we are facing a problem here. You probably see that a person with a nutritional habit like this is probably not going to be healthy in the long run and it’s not because he ate a chocolate bar for lunch. It’s because John’s eating habits are atrocious in general and mostly consist of sugary and processed food.
Now if Kate has a porridge with fresh fruits for breakfast, chicken wrap with vegetables for lunch (followed by a chocolate bar as a treat) and a balanced home – cooked fresh meal for dinner (carbs, proteins, healthy fats, fibre), I daresay her lunch treat in form of a chocolate bar doesn’t really matter because her diet consists of nutritionally dense food full of fibre and vitamins.
She probably feels a lot more productive and happy at work than John. He, most likely, just feels tired all the time apart from a few minutes immediately after consuming sugary treat. At this point, his brain is getting the craved sugar but it’s a quick fix. His blood sugar spikes up and he gets a quick sugar rush, followed by a crash when blood sugar levels drop down into depleted levels which prompts him to reach for more sugary snacks. It’s a vicious cycle and no wonder sugar is equally addictive as cocaine! (British Journal of Sports Medicine)
Sugar activates the same brain regions as cocaine, methamphetamine, morphine and nicotine. I don’t know about you but I’ve never touched any of these and I’m not planning to. I don’t see why we should treat sugar addiction differently. Now, there is the obvious difference in the fact that sugar doesn’t cause us to bimble around completely high off our faces, so I suppose that’s a plus. But the way sugar molecules hook our brain is exactly the same as these above mentioned chemicals. Addiction is a serious condition and it’s very difficult to break. If you try drastically reducing your sugar intake, you will probably be met with certain withdrawal symptoms, like irritability, fatigue, mood swings and just generally feeling miserable.
SUGAR AND TASTE BUDS
But there are some good news 🙂 And I guarantee you this is true because I’ve gone through it myself!
The horrible miserable feelings will go away and, most importantly, you will re-discover the flavours of real food! Processed stuff won’t taste good anymore, vegetables will have more flavour and fruit will taste a lot sweeter.
I cannot eat store – bought confectionery anymore (or in very low amounts) because it tastes way too sweet. I even stopped adding sugar to my tea and coffee! I never thought I’d be able to do that! And it didn’t happen consciously, it just happened over time as I gradually decreased the amount of sugar I consume.
HOW TO GET OUT?
Gradually! That’s the best way to do it! There is no point in torturing yourself by removing every ounce of sugar around you. Trust me, the only thing you will achieve is that your family and friends start to hate you 🙂 This way is not sustainable, you will become miserable, you will be a nightmare to be around and that is probably going to cause you to binge eat on sugary foods. And then, guess what? You’ll feel guilty and disappointed in yourself, you will want to try again and we are back at the vicious cycle 🙁
It’s very common to see people, mainly children, refusing to eat vegetables. Well, no wonder, why would they eat it? Compared to all the processed stuff, fruit and veg just tastes plain to them. That’s why the transition has to be slow and controlled. Start with small changes. Pick one item from the following list and try to stay away from it for a month or replace it with better alternative. If you are successful and don’t miss the item anymore, move onto another one:
- Fizzy drinks (I guess if you really, really have to, pick a diet version, however I’m not sure you’re doing yourself any favour with the artificial sweeteners)
- Sugary cereal (try wholegrain)
- White bread (try wholemeal)
- Flavoured drinks (try to stick with water, tea and coffee)
- Milk chocolate (try dark)
- Ready – meals (contain added sugar)
- Flavoured yoghurt (try natural and add fresh fruit)
- Sweetened/Flavoured porridge (try natural and add nuts, seeds, fruit and honey – honey is sugar too but at least you can control how much you add)
- Ice – cream
Also, MOVE! Walk, do yoga, don’t use the lift, workout at home, go for a run, sign up for a gym. You can’t out – train a bad diet but exercise will help you to burn excess calories. And it will make you feel better.
HOW TO KEEP THE GOOD HABITS?
The good news here is that there’s not much effort involved after you break the addiction.
As I said, all the veggies and fruit will start to taste really nice so you will eventually stop going to the confectionery aisle. I always skip it and it’s not because I make myself do that, I just go past it without even noticing it’s there! The confectionery aisle is just not relevant to me anymore, a little like walking past a baby food aisle when you don’t have children. It’s just not relevant to your lifestyle, right?
Unfortunately, it takes time and probably a few guilt trips. Getting out of the grasp sugar has on you is extremely difficult because most of us have probably not noticed that we’ve become addicted. So you will be working with years and years spent in a bad habit. It’s doable, trust me. You are talking to someone who used to consume “healthy” breakfast biscuits, fried food, chips, takeaways, sweets and energy drinks on a daily basis.
You will probably give in to the habit at some point but try to see the whole picture. If you have been really good for a couple of weeks and then went out for a pizza and a couple of glasses of wine with your colleagues, don’t beat yourself up. I still eat pizza, I drink wine and beer or have an occasional Chinese takeaway 🙂 The main idea here is to treat these as TREATS 🙂 That’s what they are! And going out for a pizza once a month will not undue all the good efforts you have done so far, however doing this 3x a week might be a little too much.
I love all-inclusive holidays! And you can bet I will try every single doughnut and dessert there! I love food and different cultures and I cannot go without trying all the local delicacies (OK, I usually skip ants, grasshoppers and similar weird stuff :)) But other than that, I try anything 🙂 I also don’t hold back on alcohol but I know it will only be for 2 weeks, the rest of the year is very organised and I am very conscious of what I eat. The only thing you have to learn is BALANCE!
VERDICT ON SUGAR
I think I will let sugar live and cut it some slack. We have learned that it’s a very important fuel for human body however our choices and the amount of sugary items available are throwing us into a pit from which it’s very difficult to escape. It’s not the sugar’s fault to be everywhere 🙁 We did this to ourselves and the fact that very few of us read labels doesn’t help.
The recommended daily intake of ANY (added and naturally occurring) sugar should not exceed 5% of total calories (NHS):
- Adults – no more than 30g (around 7 teaspoons)
- Children 7 – 10 – no more than 24g (6 teaspoons)
- Children 4 – 6 – no more than 19g (little under 5 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon = 4g
Just to put this into perspective:
- 150 ml of orange juice – 12g (nearly half of recommended limit)
- This amount happens to be the daily limit of fruit juice a day so be aware that excessive juicing can still mean that you are consuming a lot of sugar and calories (yes, you are taking nutrients and vitamins as well but it’s something to be conscious about and balance the diet during the day accordingly)
- Magnum ice cream – 24g (you are basically done for the day)
- 3 Digestive Biscuits – 7.5g
- 100g Corn Flakes – 10g
We could probably carry on forever so I think you get the idea.
Now, the best advice I can give you is to start reading the labels. There is sugar hidden everywhere and even though the cells in our bodies need it to fuel us, we don’t need that much. You don’t put more petrol in your car than the tank takes, right? So don’t do it to yourself.
AND START MOVING! The more you move, the more sugar you can get away with. Someone who goes to the gym 5x a week, walks a lot and cycles to work can definitelly get away with a bit more than 30g of sugar a day. We eat sugar for energy, if you don’t have any energy expenditure other than getting out of bed and turn on TV or computer, even the 30g might be too much for you. So move!
If you found this article entertaining or helpful, let me know in the comments