Sugar is everywhere
We all know that eating to much sugar is is detrimental to our health. So how do we monitor what we are eating?
It is easy for us to hide behind the so-called ‘healthy sugars’ like honey, dark chocolate and fruit. But many of us are still developing mood disorders and sleep problems that are leading to adrenal and autoimmune diseases because of our ‘healthy choices’. We can swap the processed sugary carbs for healthy sugary treats but still be eating to much sugar, still be addicted.
If we eat three pieces of fruit a day, a small handful (which normally leads to another handful) of dried fruit, a teaspoon of honey in our tea, that small bar of really dark chocolate (you know that one that we tell ourselves is really good for us) after lunch, and maybe again later after dinner, where we also had raw honey drizzled over our coconut yogurt. What do we see? A conservative day could see us easily consuming 25 plus teaspoons of sugar, and that’s not counting the hidden sugar in things like tomato sauce and commercial breads.
We tell ourselves I ate good ‘sugar’ and convince ourselves that we don’t have a problem.
Sound familiar? The problem is, SUGAR IS SUGAR!
It doesn’t matter what other healthy ingredients we also ate with the sugar, the chemical composition of sugar – whether it’s in a chocolate bar or an apple, remains the same. Any food that causes elevated blood glucose is not conductive to health, and it is highly addictive.
Important things to know about sugar
I need to make it clear when I talk about quitting sugar, I’m talking about quitting fructose. It’s fructose that’s the enemy, not glucose. Fructose makes us eat more and converts directly into fat. Fructose is digested and absorbed differently than glucose is. More and more scientific research is being done on the effects of fructose on our bodies, and these studies are finding that fructose makes us sick.
The science (I don’t mind if you skip this bit)
Once in the digestive tract, sugars or starches are first broken down into simple sugars (monosaccharides such as glucose and fructose) by digestive enzymes. Glucose requires sodium for transport across the gut barrier and gets transported into the body high up the digestive tract. Fructose is absorbed farther down in the duodenum and jejunum and does not require sodium for transport. Once absorbed both glucose and fructose enter the blood and travel to the liver or other tissues in the body.
Fructose both enters the cells and is metabolised differently than glucose is. Mostly glucose needs insulin to enter the cell. Insulin binds to and activates the insulin receptor, which causes a signal to the cell to increase the number of glucose transporters (called GLUT4) on the cell surface. But fructose enters cells via a different transporter (called GLUT5), which does not depend on insulin.
So while glucose can be readily converted into energy (metabolized/burnt as energy) by any cell, fructose metabolism occurs predominantly in the liver. Glucose and fructose are metabolised by many of the same enzymes, although the end products are very different. Glucose metabolism is a tightly controlled conversion from glucose to glucose-6-phosphate, which can then be used for ATP production or converted into glycogen or triglycerides for storage. On the other hand fructose, is firstly converted to fructose-1-phosphate, which is then converted into a type of simple sugar called a trios, which can be used in glycogen synthesis, but once glycogen stores are replenished, trioses provide a relatively unregulated source of precursors for triglyceride synthesis. Meaning that, when we consume large amounts of fructose, excessive production of triglycerides results which contributes to insulin resistance.
There is more!
Evidence shows that fructose, but not glucose may cause liver damage by making it easier for endotoxins to cross the gut barrier. It is still unknown whether this is by directly affecting intestinal permeability or if it alters the composition of the gut microflora. In one study fructose was injected into small blood vessels in the connective tissue around the gut in rats (I know horrid isn’t it!) (mimicking fructose absorption from food), fructose increased inflammation due to oxidative stress. Another study showed that fructose increased cell surface molecules in the cells that line blood vessels (endothelial cells), which regulate inflammation.
We know that some cancer cells preferentially utilise fructose for energy, and high fructose diets have been linked to increased cancer risk.
Complicated isn’t it.
Avoiding all dietary fructose is not necessary as moderate amounts of fructose are beneficial for us, small amounts of fructose actually can reduce blood-glucose levels in response to glucose consumption and improve insulin sensitivity.
It’s the overconsumption of fructose from with concentrated food sources or excessive carbohydrate intake is what we need to worry about. Fruit in moderation can be happily consumed, depending on what fruit it is two to four servings a day with keep fructose levels in the healthy ten – twenty grams a day range.
We are eating more sugar than we’re designed to eat
It doesn’t matter if you are eating much less sugar than the average person, and many people comment that your diet is really healthy, as you jog down to your local gym to lift some weights – you can still be consuming too much sugar.
How much sugar?
One teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.
World wide recommendations are increasingly being revised down and down. The American Heart association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories a day and men no more than 150 calories a day from added sugar. That converts into about six teaspoons (24g) for women, nine teaspoons (36g) for men and three teaspoons (12g) for children, inclusive of hidden sugars.
The NHS say added sugars shouldn’t make up more than 10% of the energy (calorie intake) you get from food and drink each day. This is about 70g (17.5 teaspoons) for men and 50g (12.5 teaspoons) for women, but it varies depending on your size, your age and how active you are.
So you can see that there is a huge difference in the recommendations – So who has got it right?
Sarah Ballantyne, PhD founder of The Paleo Mom website and The Paleo Approach book recommends dietary fructose should be maintained in the ten to twenty gram per day range and that we should be regulating blood – glucose levels and insulin release by eating low- to moderate-glycemic load food. This approach helps regulate insulin and insulin sensitivity as well as leptin and leptin sensitivity. Fructose causes insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and inflammation and may also cause increases intestinal permeability and damage to the liver. Fructose also doesn’t suppress ghrelin levels after eating, leading to immune dysregulation and increased hunger.
Our lifelong sugar habits are linked to an increase of autoimmune disease, which is made worse by sugar. We are gaining weight that we are unable to shift and we are riding a dangerous roller coaster of highs and lows.
The harsh reality of quitting sugar
Quitting anything can take months and studies say it takes between 21 and 66 days to change a habit from a psychological perspective. My own experience from quitting sugar has taught me that it is best done slowly over a couple of months. I swapped processed foods to non processed foods first, then went low carb before turing to paleo then autoimmune paleo. I still love sugary things but now I follow The Paleo Approach recommendation of 20g of fructose a day, I have no cravings most of the time.
Sarah Wilson author of ‘I quit sugar’ recommends when you first quit sugar, you must quit all of it. Including fruit, fruit juice, agave and honey. She explains that some nutritionists advise just cutting out the added sugar, but a lot of the sugar experts agree – it’s best to get rid of it all at first, so you can break the addition and then recalibrate. After the initial detox period that can last any where up to six weeks sugar should be a non-issue. After eight weeks some safe table sugar alternatives and fruit can be reintroduced.
Should you be quitting?
Think about this, in many countries the sugar and corn industries are supported by government tariffs, and around the world government nutrition bodies are too often funded by the sugar industry. There is a lot of resistance to eliminating sugar and its easy to see that the big world-wide health initiative that is needed is not coming any time soon! Ask yourself – who can we trust?
- We’re eating tons more low-fat food. We’re exercising more, yet we’re still gaining weight.
- 150 years ago we ate hardly any sugar, today we eat more than a kilo of the white stuff a week!
- The low-fat industry is a big business, and often contains more sugar ( sugar is added to make a food taste more like the original) than the full-fat version.
The changes have to be made consciously by us!
If you have a niggling suspicion that you are still eating to much sugar, you probably are. A few more things to think about are how do you feel int he afternoon? Do you get that common energy slump? Do you crave something sweet after meals – My husband and I nicknamed this the ‘take the taste away!’ crave. How about your stomach, does it get bloated after eating? Can you eat one piece of cake and walk away? Are you slim all over apart from your podgy middle? Are you mostly razor sharp and clear headed or foggy and slow?
If you can tick a few of the above then maybe its time. Time to reduce/track or even quit the sweet stuff?
I recommend that you learn and read as much information about sugar, its absorption and sugar politics as you can. Its vital to know why you are changing a life long habit, in order to beat it! Keep motivated and remind yourself why you are doing it, having an understanding of how harmful sugar is definitely takes the fun out of eating it. We can build new neural pathways in our brains slowly, doing things differently. Change doesn’t always happen quickly but you can increase the success rate by keeping a track of how you are doing. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that food journals greatly increase adherence to dietary recommendations.
The first changes that I recommend anyone who wants to cut back to do are pretty standard really. You may be already doing them? But the obvious thing to start with is refined carbohydrates like cakes, biscuits and squiggly white floury things. Find healthier replacements for the sugary foods you love the most. Start making a few changes and swaps, become more food conscious. It will become more easy the more you do it, and if I can do it anyone can do it!
This is how I started
- Get rid of processed bread – Big flat mushrooms instead of burger buns.
- Ditch the sweeteners – all sugar substitutes have negative health effects.
- Replace sugar loaded tomato ketchup with mashed avocado with a splash of lemon juice.
- Coconut cream instead of yogurt.
- Fizzy water instead of juice.
- Avocado instead of grapes with sliced apple, after dinner.
- Half your sugar in your tea and coffee – then reduce by a few grains each week.
- Organic dark 85% chocolate instead of Cadburys cream eggs, your taste buds will soon adapt.
- Don’t miss meals, as skipping meals and snacks can trigger sugar cravings and binges.
- Reach for a piece of fresh fruit. A pear, an apple, something you don’t have to peel, cut or cook is a quick alternative.
Read more about sugar “Sugar – The sweetest drug”