Sugar awareness week

Why it’s important to be aware of your sugar intake

Posted January 17th, 2021

#Sugar Awareness Week

Everyone knows that too much sugar is bad for us. You know it, but do you take any notice of it? Do you really understand why it is so bad for us? And do you know what are considered to be the safe amounts?

We as a nation are consuming more sugar than ever before and it’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing. The government has ‘attempted’ to tackle the issue (pretty ineffectively in my opinion) by adding a 20% sugar tax to fizzy drinks.

Recommended Amounts of Sugar: Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes).

  • Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (5 sugar cubes).
  • Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (6 sugar cubes).
  • Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes)
  • There’s no guidance for under 4’s but it’s recommended to avoid it completely for children at this age.

Whilst these are a good guide provided by the government / nhs, I would still consider them to be on the higher side and would aim to regularly consume less than this if possible. Remember, this isn’t natural sugar in foods like milk, fruit or veg, this is added sugar we are talking about here, so mostly from processed foods, cakes, biscuits and confectionary.

The Sugar Basics and its History

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, in its simplest form. There are lots of different types of sugars, determined by the length and make up of their atom chain, e.g. fructose, glucose, lactose, and combinations of two or more of these, and so on, and it is very rapidly absorbed into the blood stream.

When blood sugar levels drop, we feel hungry and when they elevate, we feel satiated. This usually works as a great internal signal for us to know when to eat.

Before processed (or extracted) sugar was discovered and produced and marketed in massive quantities, natural sugars found in foods caused little problem. The other nutrients in whole foods they are found in helps to slow down the absorption of the sugars so blood sugar levels remain stable.

But then came the discovery of how to extract sugar from food, delight the taste buds, kill the feelings of hunger, and not bother with the rest…

All well and good… tastes great, instantly satiated feeling, all is good… or perhaps not…

When such concentrated sugars are taken alone, their sudden absorption results in an immediate rise in blood sugar (commonly known as a sugar rush). Without the complex carbs and other nutrients to slow down this absorption, the blood sugar shoots up. But then this sudden feeling of energy, even euphoria, is often followed by a crash.

One can feel exhausted and weak. And then of course, the craving for more sugar to counteract this occurs. And this can lead to a vicious cycle that most of us will be familiar with.

When it was first discovered, sugar was a rare delicacy available only to the very rich. Today it is one of the cheapest products to produce and as it is very stable (i.e. doesn’t go off), it makes it even cheaper.

Back in 1815 when it was discovered, people ate a maximum of 15 lbs of sugar a year. Today the average person consumes more than 120 lbs a year, i.e. more than their own body weight!

Hidden Sugars

Another problem is that a large amount of this sugar is hidden. We all know confectionary and chocolates are high in sugar but were you aware that even most meat products contain around 3% of added sugar? And that more than 13% of most processed vegetables is added sugar? If you look on the food labels of the marjority processed foods, you’ll find sugar hidden in some form in there somewhere.

Nutrient Debt

And the issues with sugar aren’t just in relation to elevated blood sugar levels. When we eat sugar, we feel satiated but our very real need for other nutrients is not met (as it contains no protein, fat, minerals, vitamins or fibre). It’s essentially what is known as ‘empty calories’ and therefore when one eats large quantities of sugar, a ‘nutrient debt’ has also occurred. The metabolism of sugar requires a whole host of other nutrients in order to happen, but it will go ahead without those other nutrients present, basically stealing them from elsewhere.

Are there ‘healthier’ sugar alternatives?

Yes, there are. Natural sweeteners are those that may contain calories and also supply some nutrients. Raw honey, Canadian maple syrup, jaggery (popular in India) and molasses are examples which contain some beneficial components such as enzymes, vitamins and minerals that the body knows how to process.

Stevia is popular amongst diabetics as it doesn’t affect blood sugar and is very sweet (up to 200 times sweeter than sugar!). It has no calories or carbs but it can leave a metallic aftertaste. There are different qualities though, and the less processed, the better.

One of my preferred sugars is coconut sugar because of its low glycaemic load (effect on blood sugar), and its rich mineral content such as calcium, potassium, zinc, iron and anit-oxidants. It’s far less sweet than sugar too and is great for baking or desserts. Date sugar is another good alternative.

What about sweeteners?

I’m not a fan of zero-calorie sweeteners. Studies show that they are actually associated with greater BMI, obesity and metabolic syndrome. High fructose corn syrup is one that I avoid at all costs (made from genetically modified corn). It is linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease too, especially seen in people who consume large amounts of fizzy drinks. And others like aspartame, NutraSweet, saccharine, etc are all a big no.

Sugar, in small quantities in a diet that is otherwise rich in essential nutrients, is generally fine. As long as it is used as a condiment rather than a food, it will likely cause little problem. However, if sugar is eaten (or drunk) on a regular basis or in large quantities, or as a major source of energy, and especially if replacing whole foods, health problems with more than likely follow.

Join the 7 Day Revitalise & Reset Programme starting February 1st!

If you feel sugar is an issue for you, if you’d like to break sugar (or other food) cravings, clean up your diet, and give your digestive system and liver some love, join me for the 7 Day Revitalise & Reset Programme which runs from Monday 1st to Sunday 7th February. All the details and how to sign up can be found here, but feel free to email me with any questions: vee@veevital.com.

Vee is a registered Nutritional Therapist, a Health Coach and Essential Oils Educator, based from The Thames Club. Vee specialises in helping women aged 40+ to increase energy, lose weight, balance hormones and feel great! Find out more at www.veevital.com.

 Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash