Are you addicted to sugar? I’m betting that nobody said yes. So just try giving it up completely for a week. None in your tea or coffee, none in your breakfast cereal, none in your soup or that convenient ready meal in the freezer, and certainly none of those delicious fizzy drinks. Unless you’re a doctor or some sort of expert on nutrition, you’ll fail simply because you don’t know where it’s hidden.
Sadly it’s everywhere. What’s worse, it IS addictive. We crave sugar, it provides us with an instant kick that makes us feel better. Then of course it brings on a sugar low and that makes us want more sugar so that we’ll feel good again.
This is bad because in the long term it’s bad for us. The obvious result of too much sugar is of course rotten teeth, but it also causes insulin to be released to deal with the sugar, and insulin in the blood triggers the body to go into fat storage, and that makes us more prone to heart disease issues. It also increases the risk of inflammation, cancer and other nasty diseases.
There is also a link to a decrease in ability to fight these diseases by depressing the immune system. For example, it’s been proven that drinking only one can of regular (as opposed to ‘diet’) fizzy drink can increase the risk of heart disease by 20%. Just to catch us out, the so-called diet drinks, if drunk regularly, are linked to actual weight gain and a 44% increase in the risk of heart disease.
Incidentally, it’s not only the sugar in soft drinks that rots our teeth. It’s the carbonic acid too. It rots the teeth at an alarming rate. Stick to sugar-free squashes or milk if you want to keep your teeth.
A fact: too much sugar does not cause diabetes. It would be nice to be able to blame it on sugar alone but diabetes is caused by several things, including obesity and lack of exercise. However, once someone has diabetes, failing to control sugar intake can lead to serious complications like blindness, heart attacks and strokes. Not worth it for a spoonful of sugar.
Another fact: cancer cells love sugar. Recent research has shown that high levels of insulin lead to an increase in cancer cells while they die if deprived of sugar. So, are you sure you really want that can of pop? Do you feel lucky today?
How do you avoid too much sugar? A little sugar won’t kill you, it’s overdosing on it that makes you ill. The trouble with sugar is it has so many names when put on food and drinks labels. There are in fact around 35 different names for the stuff. Some are natural and some are refined. That’s not refined as in ‘posh’ that’s as in processed. A few examples: molasses, corn syrup, caramel, rice syrup, fructose, agave, brown rice syrup, malt syrup and turbinado.
Some new research is starting to show evidence that too much sugar can even damage our brains. It’s sometimes called ‘Type 3 diabetes’, which isn’t entirely accurate, but it does show that too much sugar can show symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s.
Are artificial sweeteners the answer then? To some extent yes, but too much can cause other problems. The trouble is they’re routinely put in stuff like ‘diet’ drinks, yogurt and chewing gums to replace sugar but feed our addiction to sweetness. They reduce the calorific content, true, but still trick your body into thinking you’ve eaten sugar, making it react in the same way.
So how addictive is sugar? If you’ve ever tried to detox, give up coffee, that sort of thing, then the withdrawal from sugar is much worse, with headaches, mood swings and all that nasty stuff. Still better to suffer some short term discomfort than to get a stroke or heart attack, surely?
Manufacturers of food and drinks are not unaware of the addictiveness of sugar, that’s why they put so much of it in. It’s also cheap. It annoys me, to be honest, when I pick up a can of a well known brand of tomato soup and find the second largest ingredient, by volume, is sugar, with only tomatoes above it at 78%. Am I mad to expect tomato soup to be savoury, not literally sweeter than a dessert?
If you’re posh and have soup as a starter, and it’s sweeter than a dessert, how can the next course be any less sweet? So by the time we get to the dessert it has to be around 90% sugar or we simply won’t be able to taste it. Sugar works that way; when we get a taste of it, the next taste needs to be sweeter still in order to satisfy our craving for it.
It’s everywhere. It’s in places you’d never expect. A fine example is a breakfast cereal specifically aimed at dieters that contains 17% sugar. Sugar is full of calories, and they’re all empty. That is, they make you fat but don’t provide any food value. You’d be better off eating that wheat cereal that contains no sugar and no salt. They’re also high in fibre, and fibre is good for you.
Another ironic example is all those ‘diet’ meals that pack the supermarket shelves and freezers. Check the labels carefully, because while they’re low in fat, which is good, they make up for the loss of flavour that’s imparted by fat by increasing the sugar, so you’ll actually gain weight in the long term. The sugar is also why you feel good after eating them, it gives you a high. Then an hour later you’re craving biscuits or cake. Not exactly a good method of weight reduction.
What about fruit? Fruit’s healthy but it’s sweet. Yes, fruit is good for you. Some fruits however contain more sugar than others, apples and strawberries are low in sugar. The sugar in fruit is fructose, while processed sugar is sucrose. Sucrose bad, fructose good. Fructose provides energy and while we can’t taste the difference between sugars, our bodies know the difference.
Even with fruit we must be prudent. Balance is the key. Even vegetables contain some sugars. The advice today to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day is sound.
Then there’s dried fruit. That stuff is concentrated fructose and as such isn’t recommended for diabetics (also because they’re also concentrated carbohydrates). That was good news for me because I hate them and, as a diabetic, I can now cheerfully pick them out of my no-added-sugar muesli and feed them to the birds with a clear conscience.
Those lovely takeaways we like so much, that spicy Indian meal, the lovely Chinese dish. Packed with sugar. It’s also largely uncontrolled. Unlike the manufacturers of foods, they don’t have a set percentage of sugar. It varies. That’s one reason when we cook a curry at home it doesn’t taste as good as the takeaway. That and because we don’t spend day after day cooking curries.
Finally, carbohydrates. This is a more complex form of sugar intake in that the body takes carbohydrates and turns them into sugar. So the more you eat the more sugar you’re taking in. That form of sugar is unavoidable and can only be reduced by eating less high carbo foods.
Example: If you look at a packet of food containing starch, it may say there is 6.1g of carbohydrate of which 0.1g is sugars. This means that of the carbohydrate in the food, 0.1g is simple sugar but the rest of the carbohydrate is in a more complex form. Your body will still turn it into sugar so all carbohydrates affect your blood sugar levels.
It’s clear that as long as we’re addicted to sugar the manufacturers of processed foods will continue to increase the amounts they put in their products. The levels of sugar in foods has increased insanely in recent years. The only way to stop them slowly intoxicating us is to stop buying their products until they reduce the sugar in them. The loss of sales is the only reasoning that they’ll take any notice of. Don’t leave it to someone else, your body’s at risk too.