Too much sugar has a lot to answer for, and often it’s the sugars hidden in our food that we are unwittingly consuming.
There’s no escaping the fact that sugar is one of the worst things to eat. In fact, the science is so compelling that the WHO (World Health Organisation) have a new report telling the world’s health authorities they should rigorously restrict the amount of sugar we eat. Our current intake should apparently be halved to just five teaspoons a day.
This is particularly persuasive because the WHO are completely impartial, with no links to any companies or sponsorship from the processed food industry. They are motivated wholly by the desire that the 92 UN countries get the most up-to-date and scientifically-proven health advice.
A growing number of studies link sugar to a massively increased risk of Type II diabetes, hypertension and heart-disease. There is also the new suspected link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. And let’s not forget about the effects on obesity. The number of fat and overweight people in the developed world have quadrupled since 1980 and this has been directly linked to the increased consumption of sugar.
A new campaign group “Action on Sugar” has been set up to raise public awareness of sugar in food, and lobby the Government and food industry to reduce its use of sugar. The group, which involves doctors from the UK, the US and Canada, hopes to do with sugar what has happened to salt. Intake of salt dropped by 15 per cent between 2001 and 2011, leading to a minimum of 6,000 fewer strokes and heart attack deaths per year –and this saved £1.5bn.
Too much sugar can lead to diabetes and heart disease and many of us, without even realising it, have a dependency on sugar. Eating sugary foods can make us feel good and can be as addictive as alcohol, but the level of sugar in processed foods is creeping steadily up, so that even foods you thought were savoury, have added sugar. The immediate benefits of limiting sugar intake are also compelling. People quitting sugar report increased energy, improved moods, balanced hormones, brighter complexions, boosted immunity and improved sleep, and that’s just the start.
Why is it so hard to quit sugar?
Firstly, it is everywhere. The temptation to eat junk food is hard to resist because it’s cheap, quick and sold in most shops. Most processed foods have added sugar, even a healthy-sounding cheese and onion sandwich from the shops. Parents have a hard time trying to find a healthy breakfast cereal which their children like because most of the favourite ones (also heavily advertised) have lots of added sugar. Perhaps new legislation will be the only thing to control retailers’ pursuit of profit whilst sacrificing the nation’s health.
Next, many so-called ‘health foods’ are high in sugar. Fruit juices and smoothies are particular culprits. Both contain naturally occurring fructose which has the same effect on our bodies as any other sugar. A smoothie containing 4-6 pieces of fruit contains the same amount of sugar as in a large coke - although at least you are also getting vitamins with the smoothie. Sports drinks and muesli bars are other ‘healthy’ products which tend to be packed full of sugars or sweeteners.
Finally, sugar is actually addictive. Studies on rats show that all mammals’ sweet receptors are highly stimulated by sugar which creates an addictive reward signal in the brain. Cravings can be so strong they can override self-control mechanisms (we certainly know about that!) Add the current craze for baking cakes and you’ve got a national addiction on your hands.
It’s a bit of a minefield steering clear of sugar in your foods, but there are steps you can take to ensure you cut down a major amount of bad sugar.
Before you go ahead and cut all sugar from your diet, it’s important to realise that you may experience headaches, lethargy and grumpiness for a few days. Try and cut down slowly, so if you take two sugars in your tea, cut it down to one for the first week, and then cut it out altogether. Amazingly your palette will start to recognise foods that taste sweeter as you get back to normal.
Switch to wholemeal
If you swap white rice and pasta for the brown varieties, and switch from white bread to wholemeal along with wholegrain cereals, you’ll slow down the rate at which sugar gets into your system. This will help to keep your blood sugar constant.
Cook it yourself
The best and most efficient way of keeping tabs on your sugar intake is by cooking from scratch. A lot of sugar that we consume is hidden in ready meals, shop brought pasta, bread, baked beans, soups and so on. If you follow a recipe from scratch, perhaps making your own bread as well, then you know exactly what’s in it. And there won’t be sugar in your savoury dishes!
Little and often
This often spoken mantra has a lot going for it. By eating small amounts regularly throughout the day your blood sugar levels will remain steady so you won’t get a sudden craving for a sugar rush in the afternoon.
Get enough sleep
The more tired you are the more your body will be crying out for a sugar boost to sort you out. Aim to get eight hours of sleep to recharge your body, and lay off coffee to keep you awake as caffeine makes your sugar cravings even worse.
Choose the right type of sugar
Naturally occurring sugars are going to be in a lot of the foods we eat, fruit is a prime example, but fruit is good for us. Try and steer clear from fruit juice and instead stick to the whole fruit itself, as fruit juice has added sugar, or can have an increased level of sugar from the way it’s been processed.
If you’re still craving a chocolate bar, then buy snack sized treats, and don’t eat more than one!
Take up exercise
If you don’t already, start exercising as there is a link between how people think about food and how they treat their bodies. So if you exercise and take care of yourself, you are far more likely to consider your food choices and make better decisions – and therefore cutting out more sugar from your diet.
If you have a biscuit barrel or a sweet drawer, now is the time to empty them – and leave them empty. By simply having sugary snacks in the house or office, you are far more likely to eat them even if you’re not hungry. By removing temptation then you won’t succumb to a sugar hit.
Don’t slip back
It’s easy where sugar is concerned to slip back into old ways and to suddenly find that you’re eating way too much again. Once you’ve started your plan of cutting sugar out of your diet, you’ll need to work hard to keep it out. For good.
Sugar has recently been dubbed the new tobacco, with children particularly at risk from getting hooked on high sugar foods. If manufacturers reduced the amount of sugar in their foods, then the obesity problem could be halted.
A Department of Health spokesperson said it wanted to sign up more company to its Responsibility Deals, which have seen 38 food and drink companies volunteer to improve people’s diets.
Check the label
Good luck – and let us know how you get on!
I knew about the 'low-fat' food trap, but it is quite terrifying how much sugar is hidden in everyday staples such as baked beans, tinned tomatoes and so on. There seems to be so much choice on the shelves - unless you want something without sugar? Why can't manufacturers just stop throwing the stuff in?
Oh here we go again. Nanny state telling us how to live our lives. Who are these killjoys? What's the point of living until your 120 when you can't even have a Mars bar?!
I think they need to do the same kind of study into salt - it seems to be hidden in everything. Every couple of years they change their mind about what's the worst thing we can eat/drink - how will we ever know the truth? I eat clean and try to follow a paleo diet to avoid all refined, processed foods.
Thanks for this. For a very long time, I have suspected that the real facts about what sugar does to our health has been hidden. This article goes much further than most.