Sugar - give it to me straight!

Ok, I’m going to be straight up with you here and hopefully give you everything you need to know about sugar in the one article - because it is not something we should be beating around the bush with! The number of negative effects it has on your health is outrageous and the worst part is that the food industry has been fooling us into consuming more and more of it without us even knowing! Gone are the days when the only sugar in our diets were a couple of pieces of fruit a day and maybe a small dessert here or there.

So let’s break it down. Sugar is also called sucrose, it’s made up of 1 glucose molecule and 1 fructose molecule. Glucose is our bodies source of energy and we metabolise it with no dramas and any excess gets stored as fat. Simple.

Fructose on the other hand is metabolised differently in the body. A proper balanced diet (before processed food took over the world), had a couple of pieces of fruit per day giving us a small hit of fructose but it also came with fibre and our body could cope with this okay.

These days, the food industry has put sugar into so many products (in the form of high fructose corn syrup – HFCS - because it’s so cheap) and we are overloading our body with fructose. Anything from muesli bars to yoghurt, tomato sauce, stir fry sauces, and even smoothies and juices have added sugar.

Fructose is not needed for a single metabolic process in the body so when we ingest it, it goes straight to the liver to be dealt with, almost like a toxin. This switches on a pathway which turns the fructose into fat which builds up around your organs…hello fatty liver disease! It also causes insulin resistance and insulin is needed to produce leptin (tells us when we are full) that then switches off ghrelin (tells us when we are hungry). So our brain doesn’t get the signal we are full and keeps receiving the signal that we’re hungry so we keep eating…hello obesity and diabetes! But wait, there’s more. The bacteria in our bodies LOVE sugar and when they feed on it they produces acids, such as uric acid and others, which strip important minerals like magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin C from our bodies and also cause inflammation…hello holes in our teeth, cardiovascular disease and cancer!

Maybe it makes more sense for you here…  

So hopefully you’re convinced now that sugar is causing some serious problems and we all need to start reducing it. But unfortunately you’re up against a battle. The food industry is making millions of dollars from us purchasing their sugar laden foods, and they do it because they know it makes food taste better…(I’ll let you in on a little secret; it only tastes better because our bodies and palates are attuned to sweet foods from eating things like yoghurt, muesli bars and fruit juice and not even realising it had added sugar). Sugar has also been proven to be highly addictive and is even used as an ingredient in cigarettes!

So we’ve become addicted to sweet things and as long as the food industry are still making money from these products, they will continue to add sugar to as much as they can. But stay strong, if me and many of my clients can do it, so can you!

Start by filling your diet with foods that don’t have labels, i.e. wholefoods. Then when it comes to any products that do have labels, read them! Look how much sugar is in foods per 100g and then also per serving – because a lot of the time we actually eat more than the suggested serving size. Remember that every 4g = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Some foods have naturally occurring sugars which we don’t need to ring alarm bells about, and the way to find out is by looking at the ingredients. If you see any of the names below…it means added sugar!

Agave nectar, Barley Malt, Beet Sugar, Black Strap Molasses, Brown Rice syrup, Brown Sugar, Cane juice, Cane sugar, Caramel, Carob Syrup, Caster Sugar, Coconut Sugar, Confectioner's Sugar, Corn Syrup, Date sugar, Demara Sugar, Dextran, Ethyl Maltol, Evaporated Cane Juice, Fructose, Fruit juice concentrates, Galactose, Glucose, Golden Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Lactose, Malt syrup, Maltodextrin, Maltose, Maple Syrup, Molasses Syrup, Muscovado Sugar, Organic Raw Sugar, Panela, Rice Bran Syrup, Rice syrup, Sucrose, Treacle, Tapioca Sugar.

And we all know that the ingredients listed at the top make up most of the product, so manufacturers sneakily add a few different types of sugar into the product so it drops to 8th, 9th and 10th on the ingredient list instead of 1st!!! Unbelievable right?

I can already hear your minds ticking over, what about fruit? Well firstly fruit provides us with a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which processed food doesn’t. It also comes with a heap of fibre and this is really important because it slows the process of fructose metabolism, meaning we are much less likely to have an overload and begin the cascade of events outlined in the diagram above. This is important to note with concentrated forms of fruit too. Take fruit juice for example; one glass of apple juice can contain up to 8 apples and little to no fibre. There’s no way we could eat 8 whole apples and if we did that would that definitely count as a fructose overload. Similarly, dried fruit can also cause a fructose overload as a large handful of sultanas might actually equate to about 40 grapes.

So fruit isn’t the problem and you can confidently enjoy 2 serves of fruit per day as recommended, it’s the added stuff you need to be on the lookout for.

Are sugar substitutes the answer? No. The problem is that sugar is addictive and unless you remove all the excess sugar in your diet, you will still crave sweetness. The good news is that most of us will notice a reduction in sugar cravings just 2 weeks in to removing added sugar. All of a sudden your palate changes and a piece of milk chocolate is bursting with too much sweetness for your liking. Of course sometimes we do like to enjoy a sweet treat or a raw dessert and using small amounts of more natural forms of sugar is a better alternative, but be weary of recipes with full cups of honey, agave, or other sugar substitutes because at the end of the day, they are still sugar.  

If I haven’t got you across the line already then just take a look at 17 year old Larry here from That Sugar Film (which I highly recommend by the way). This is a result of multiple cans of soft drink per day. If this is what sugar is doing to the hardest part of your body, imagine what it’s doing to your soft tissue and organs!!!

How much sugar is in the foods you eat? Click on the products below to see how much sugar they contain. I have also listed what the 'real' serving sizes usually are compared to the suggested.