Q. Why kick the sugar habit?
A. You may have noticed recent news articles warning about the toxic dangers of sugar. Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco have called for sugar to be taxed and controlled just like alcohol and tobacco, calling it one of the “dietary bogeymen” – like saturated fat and salt. The researchers were particularly concerned about liver toxicity (non- alcoholic fatty liver disease) that could be caused by one type of sugar: fructose. They warned that “a little is not a problem, but a lot kills slowly”. Most of the body’s cells can use glucose, but fructose is processed by the liver first. This isn’t a problem if we only eat small amounts, but overloading the liver with fructose means some of it will be converted to triglycerides. Not only can this raise the level of ‘bad’ fats in the blood but over time it may damage the liver too. However it should be noted that clinical trials have not proven a link between fructose and liver damage.
Q. Does that mean fruit is bad for you?
A. Fructose is a natural sugar that is found in fruit and honey. It has a similar structure to glucose, and when glucose and fructose are joined together they make sucrose – commonly known as sugar. Fruit, honey and dried fruit have been eaten since the beginning of time, and all have health benefits. What’s different now is the amount of added sugars that we eat. Rather than cutting down on fruit, which is packed with fibre and antioxidants, limit the amount of soft drinks, sweets and biscuits that you eat.
Q. What about other types of sugar?
A. All sugars and refined carbohydrates raise insulin levels – over time the resulting peaks and troughs in blood glucose can lead to insulin resistance, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. And remember that natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and agave nectar are all sugars too.
Q. Is sugar addictive?
A. We’re all born with a ‘sweet tooth’. Breast milk is sweet, while poisonous substances generally taste bitter, so babies are born with an innate preference for sweeter tastes. That’s one of the reasons why children don’t usually like broccoli! In animal studies, sugar addiction has been observed. While there’s no evidence that sugar is physically addictive for humans in the way that drugs are, even the sight of sweet foods can stimulate the reward circuits in the brain. However, it is possible to change your taste preferences.
Q. I’ve read that sugar is ageing, is this true?
A. Too much sugar can a have an ageing effect on the skin. It links with collagen and elastin, making what’s known as ‘advanced glycation end products’ – this reduces the elasticity of the skin, making you look older than you are. Before you go for botox, try a sugar detox!
Q. Why is sugar called ‘empty calories’
A. It’s easy to eat large amounts of sugary snacks without feeling full. They tend to be low in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals – so you increase your calorie intake without getting much nutritional value.
Q. Is it every healthy to eat sugar?
A. There’s really no need to eat high-sugar foods, unless you are very active. Intense exercise enables the body to handle sugar better, so if you’re training for a half marathon you can get away with eating some sugary snacks.
Q. Which foods should I cut down on?
A. Major sources of sugar in the British diet are soft drinks, cereal, biscuits, cakes, jam and sweets. The main issue is the addition of sugars to processed foods, rather than the sugar we add at the table. For example, manufacturers adding corn syrup and other cheap sweeteners to drinks. Women aged 19-64 years eat an average of 10g of added sugar a day (just over 2 teaspoons). Yet when the sugars found in foods (not counting the natural sugars in milk and whole fruit) are taken into account, we eat an average of 52.4g a day. That’s over 12 teaspoons of sugar hidden in everyday foods and drinks.
Q. How can I tell if a food is high in sugar?
A. Sugar can be described in many ways. Look out for sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolysed starch, invert sugar or corn syrup on food labels, and try to limit these. Also check the amount of sugars per 100g. If a product contains more than 15g of sugar per 100g, it’s a high-sugar food and should only be eaten occasionally.
Q. Are artificial sweeteners healthier than sugar?
A. You’ll often hear that artificial sweeteners are carcinogenic, but the jury is still out on that. However, there is some evidence that artificial sweeteners may disrupt your natural ability to recognise the relationship between sweet tastes and calorie content. This means that eating a lot of artificially sweetened foods could trigger subconscious over-eating. So while they’re calorie-free and undoubtedly better for your teeth than sugar, artificial sweeteners are not necessarily weight-loss friendly. Ditch the diet drinks too!