How can something that looks so pretty (think swirly pink cupcakes) be so bad for you. You may have heard the news - sugar, not fat, is the root of all our obesity and health problems. Just when we had got to grips with making sure we keep saturated fats out of our diets when they throw us this new information. Hopefully right here, right now, I am going to help you to understand exactly what sugar is, what it does to your body and why you don't need it.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a naturally occurring nutrient that makes food taste sweet. Sugar is a carbohydrate, and many think that carbs are bad. This is not true, carbohydrates are our main source of energy, and occur naturally in most foods. Carbohydrates are also a source of fibre, essential for keeping our digestive system healthy.
Carbohydrates come in two forms: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are generally what we recognise as sugar - fruit, some vegetables, honey, table sugar, brown sugar, molasses. These types of carbohydrates are very easy to digest and can hit the bloodstream quickly for an energy boost.
Complex carbohydrates should be the at the foundation of a healthy diet - whole grains, legumes, pasta, potatoes. These types of carbohydrates come in either the form of starch or fibre.
Both types of carbohydrates can be classified as refined or unrefined.
Unrefined carbohydrates contain more of their natural ingredients and can be beneficial to your health.
Refined carbohydrate is a highly processed, emotionally addictive substance that causes spikes in your blood sugar levels, giving you an instant energy boost followed by a big energy slump. Once eaten, your body finds it difficult to process sugar so it is converted into fat and stored. Eat too much and you will have high reserves of unwanted fat around the waistline in no time. Too much sugar depletes vitamin and mineral stores in the body, which impacts the immune system. There is no place for refined carbs in our diets and they can be removed completely for good health.
Below are examples of both refined and unrefined carbohydrates.
Refined Carbs: white “table sugar, cakes, fruit juices, sweets, white pasta, ice cream, white bread, biscuits, white rice, ‘low fat’ foods, cereal bars
Unrefined Carbs: wholegrain bread, bran cereal, oatmeal, brown rice, legumes (beans and pulses), cereals, fruit and vegetables
When sugar is not called sugar
Sugar comes in many different forms, usually ending in the letters 'ose' - glucose, sucrose, maltose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, sucanet, turbinado sugar, beet sugar. It is no better to have products that contain artificial sweeteners as they are just toxic chemicals (another pending post!) - sorbitol, mannitol, erythinol, aspartame, saccharin, Nutrisweet, Splenda, cyclamate, sucralose, Acesulfame-K. Have a look at some food packets and you may be surprised to see how many 'versions' of sugar and sweeteners there are in the ingredient list. As a general rule, anything that lists any form of sugar in its first three ingredients, is high in sugar.
Why sugar is so addictive
Sugar is both physically and emotionally addictive, it's a double whammy of addiction so there's no hope.
Physically sugar has a similar effect on the brain to pain-killing drugs such as morphine and other opiates. As with the drugs, sugar produces an instant feeling of pleasure, calm and satisfaction, making it highly addictive. Sugar provides an instant energy boost. It hits the bloodstream rapidly causing spikes in energy levels. The high energy levels are quickly followed by low energy levels, leaving you feeling tired and exhausted.
Emotionally many of us grew up given sugary food as a reward. If you were good, if you were sad or when it was your birthday you were given sweets, cakes and biscuits to reward you or cheer you up. For most people sugary foods are associated with happy times and making yourself feel better.
How much sugar should I eat?
It is important to choose the healthiest, natural, carbohydrates in your diet - whole grains, fruit and vegetables - this will provide you with the vitamins, minerals and fibre that you require daily. Unrefined carbohydrates can be removed from your diet completely as they provide nothing except calories. 50% of every meal should be carbohydrates.
If you are unable to give up sugar completely there are some natural sweeteners that offer other benefits such as vitamins and antioxidants, that are a lot better for you than processed sugar - raw honey, pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, barley malt, stevia, xylitol and agave. As with portions of fruit, the key here is moderation and they should only make up a very small part of your diet.
The World Health Organisation has just dropped its recommended amount of sugar per day to 5% of total calorie intake, which amounts to about 6 teaspoons or 25 grams. This is the absolute maximum you should be having and includes 'hidden' sugar in foods. Any sugar you do have should be eaten with some fat or protein to help slow down its release into your bloodstream.
What sugar does to your body
It makes you fat - if you are eating lots of sugar everyday, it doesn't matter what you are doing in the gym.
It lowers your energy levels - processed sugar increases your blood sugar levels, gibing a quick burst of energy followed by a crash, leaving you feeling tired and hungry.
It wears out your organs - your kidneys and pancreas have to work extra hard to process excess sugar.
It depletes the body's vitamin and mineral stores - particularly vitamin B, which keeps your metabolism healthy, boosts your energy levels, keeps skin, hair and nails healthy and keeps your immunity strong.
It makes you look old.
"Look past the pretty pink icing and see sugar for the fattening toxin that it is."
-James Duigan (writer of the Clean and Lean diet)
10 Day No-Sugar Challenge
Try cutting sugar completely from your diet for 10 days and see what difference it makes to you. Follow the challenge here...