Sugar sugar sugar – since time began and humans found sugar in nature in the form of fruit, it’s been an obsession. Put simply sugar tastes great and makes you feel good. Often it tastes nice and it gives you that needed boost of energy when you are feeling a little tired. A perfect recipe to keep you going but unfortunately if consumed consistently over time is likely to affect your waistline.
Modern life is set up to service our sugar fixes. We are constantly marketed to on television, billboards, the internet – you name it, most advertising mediums you will find “Have a break, Have a Kit Kat” or some other feel good slogan that tells you your rewarding yourself with pleasure.
Before we get into the big debate about the pro and cons of sugar, let’s examine some facts:
Types of Sugar: Sucrose, Fructose and Glucose
These three are important carbohydrates, commonly known as simple sugars. Sugar is found naturally in whole foods and is often processed to improve the flavour of foods (often in low fat processed foods which should read low in fat, high in sugar). Your taste buds cannot distinguish between them but your body can. They all provide the same amount of energy but are PROCESSED and STORED differently in the body.
This is the body’s preferred energy source. Glucose is also called blood sugar as it circulated in the blood. The body processes most carbohydrate into glucose, either to be stored in the muscles or the liver for later use. Insulin is secreted to control the levels of glucose in your blood and facilitates the entry of glucose into cells. Excess glucose is converted into fat.
This is the sugar found naturally in fruit and vegetables and is added to various drinks as soda and fruit-flavoured drinks. However, it is VERY different to other sugars (like glucose). Fructose is only metabolised in the liver (not muscles of the brain). It is more lipogenic or FAT-PRODUCING than glucose. Unlike glucose, it does not cause insulin to be released to stimulate the production of leptin (a key hormone for regulating intake and expenditure). If you do not eat regularly enough your body can initiate the leptin response (if it thinks it is starving) and will actually store all food as fat!
This is commonly known as table sugar. It is made up of fructose and glucose. When consumed an enzyme splits the sucrose into fructose and glucose. The sugars are then synthesised in the same ways a described above.
Ok now that’s the heavy info over. Back to the sugar addiction debate…..
What is it about Sugar that is so addictive?
Firstly, it gives you an energy boost when your blood sugar drops. But as sugar is high on the Glycaemic Index it means the effect burns off quickly and you drop back down low again. So to prevent this from happening you should try to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks evenly spaced throughout the day – with each meal having some protein as it keeps you fuller for longer.
Secondly, the neural pathways that control food are the same as those for substance abuse. That is why it can be very easy to continue eating something tasty. For example one or two jaffa cakes can lead to the entire box or a couple of scoops of ice cream.
There has been recent research (Horizon programme Feb 2014) that suggests the most addictive combination for humans (and rats) is ½ sugar 1/2 fat. This combination is found in processed foods like donuts, cheesecake, ice cream. The especially guilty pleasure things that we treat ourselves to.
How do you reduce your sugar consumption?
- Learn to understand what the sources of sugar are. The best way to do this is to record what you eat and enter into Myfitnesspal. This tool will not only tell you total number of calories but it will tell you the sugar content of the food
- Processed foods and ready meals often have added sugar to improve the taste whilst advertising the product as “Low in fat”. The label should read “Low in fat, High in sugar”.
- Yoghurt’s are another potential source of sugar that is often overlooked. Again advertised as no fat they can often have high amounts of sugar
- Sauces and condiments (ketchup, mustard) often have a lot of added sugar to improve taste
- Know the names of sugar. There are literally hundreds of names for sugar. Food manufacturers are clever often spitting up the types of sugar into 5-6 different names (some that you might not recognise) to appear to reduce the sugar content. You will find an extensive list of these names on MyFitnessPal.
Sugar in itself is not the route of all evil and food addiction. It’s a necessary part of our diet. The same adage applies to sugar as all the other food groups. Eat a balanced varied diet with at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day – it’s better to aim for 7 veg and 2-3 fruit. If you eat meat try to ensure the source is grass fed organic meat and avoid processed foods at all costs. Informed nutritional choices will allow effective weight management over the longer term. In order to bend the rules you must understand them first – this especially applies to sugar consumption.
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