As a society we are finally starting to become more conscious about our health and because of this it is becoming more and more well-known that sugar is not good for us. The UK have recently announced that they are introducing a sugar tax on soft drinks (thanks to Jamie Oliver) and other countries are starting to move in the same direction as well. But what is all the hype around sugar? Why is it so bad for us? What effect does it have on us? There are so many questions flying about so I want to try to answer a few of them for you.
What is sugar?
Sucrose (table sugar) is a carbohydrate made up of two molecules: glucose and fructose. Glucose is converted into energy in our body and is therefore important for our health. Fructose, on the other hand, cannot be utilised by our body in the same way so there is no biological need for it in our diets. It passes straight to our liver and gets stored as body fat - et voila... we have a problem! To read about this in more detail check out an older blog post of mine here.
What foods have sugar (fructose) in?
Sweets, chocolate, cereal, low-fat/flavoured yogurt, donuts, cakes, honey, syrups (except rice malt syrup) and almost all other processed foods (often in the form of high fructose corn syrup). Fruit does contain fructose (given away by the name) but whole fruits are also full of fibre, vitamins and other important nutrients so it is not recommended that we cut fruit out of our diet. However, it should still be eaten in moderation - it is sugar at the end of the day (and yep, this does mean that eating the whole bag of grapes in one sitting is not a good idea...boooo!). It is also important to eat whole fruit rather than fruit juice in order to reap the full health benefits.
Effects on body?
The term 'moderation is key' doesn't really work when it comes to fructose. Why? Because it is highly addictive - studies have actually shown it to be as addictive as cocaine. Fructose also causes leptin resistance and leptin is a hormone which controls our appetite and tells us when we are full. Without leptin, we don't get those same feelings of fullness as we do when we eat healthy, nutritious food. How easy is it to munch your way through a whole pack of biscuits or have a second (or third) slice of cake? We all know the feeling... it's literally impossible to stop at just one square of chocolate!
2) Weight gain
A study by the British Medical Journal showed that increased consumption of sugar is significantly associated with weight gain and increased risk of obesity. The study also found that sugar can increase body weight through over-consumption e.g. the taste of it makes us want more (see point 1 above). This is especially true in fizzy drinks - they don't provide the same feeling of fullness that we get from real food so, before we know it, we've had 2 or 3 cans a day.
3) Insulin resistance
Insulin is a hormone produced by the body which allows glucose to be absorbed from the blood stream by cells (thereby regulating our bloody sugar levels). A great analogy I've read is to think of insulin as a key - it unlocks the cell to allow sugar to enter and be used for energy. Fructose, on the other hand, does not trigger the production of insulin in our body (e.g. it is insulin resistant). Insulin resistance is the cause of type-2 diabetes and overconsumption of fructose can play a huge part in this.
4) Risk of cardiovascular disease
Numerous studies have also shown that a higher intake of fructose also plays an important role in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease - one study which included more than 60,000 men and women aged between 45 and 83 showed that those who consumed two sweetened beverages per day were 22% more likely to experience a stroke when compared to those who drank less than two sweetened beverages per week. These frightening stats show us that fructose is definitely not the kind of thing we want to be taking risks with!
Fructose, at the end of the day, is a perfect example of 'empty calories' e.g. food with no nutritional value. We are much better off eating proper, nutritious food that will give our bodies all the energy, vitamins and nutrients that it needs in a natural way. Of course it's nice to treat ourselves once in a while... we don't want to take life tooooo seriously, but it is important to look after ourselves - we only get one body! So feed it with the good stuff everyday and we can enjoy an indulgent treat every now and again :)
If you are interested in starting your sugar-free journey I highly recommend joining the next I Quit Sugar 8 Week Programme - you will receive 8 weeks of full meal plans, shopping lists, delicious recipes and an online community for support. I've done it before and it is a great way to get a better understanding of healthy eating without feeling like you are depriving yourself at all. You get to eat such delicious food and it's all so easy to make! The next programme starts on 9th June (registrations close on 7th June) and you can sign up here.
For any more advice or for personalised meal plans please contact me using the contact form.