Sugar is a controversial issue. We all know that it is not good for us, but do you really know to what extent, or how much you are actually consuming each day. Most of us have reduced the obvious forms of sugar in our diet but there are still a large number of us consuming large quantities of sugar on a daily basis.
Every day I have clients come to me with supposed good diets. They are conscious of not adding sugar to their cup of tea or cereal, but when we look into their eating programs I find that there are ‘hidden’ sugars in many of their daily foods.
Before we talk about ‘hidden’ sugars, let’s talk about the types of sugars. Sucrose (is the common white or brown sugar), glucose, fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar), maltose (malt products), maple syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, and palm sugar.
From this list you can see that sugar is more than just the white granules that you add to your coffee or sprinkle on your cereal. Sugar is hidden in many of our foods such as soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, pasta sauce, pretzels, cheese spreads, tomato sauces, alcoholic beverages, biscuits, cakes, pastry products, bread and cereals.
How does sugar affect you and your health?
Firstly, obesity is a major health issue, and is directly linked to cardiovascular disease. High consumptions of sugars in our foods lead to an overconsumption of calories. The excess calories are stored as fat. The extra storage of fat becomes overweight and then obesity, when not corrected.
Many of the foods that are high in sugar such as lollies, chocolates, biscuits and cakes are generally lacking of any nutritional value. They are referred to as empty calories, meaning that you consume calories but don’t receive any vital nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Instead, these foods actually ‘rob’ your body of vital nutrients such as zinc and chromium during the digestion process.
Sugar has an acidic effect on our body. Acidic bodies tend to require alkalising substances to correct the body’s acid/alkaline balance. Alkalising substances such as calcium are used. Calcium is abundant in our bones and it is used to neutralise the acidic effect of sugar. When calcium is continually reabsorbed from the bones into the blood stream this can lead to osteoporosis.
Sugar consumption leads to tooth decay by supplying the oral bacteria with a food source and creating an acidic environment to rob the tooth of its enamel protection.
Have you ever eaten chocolates or lollies and felt great for a short time afterwards? The sugar affects our levels of brain ‘feel-good’ hormones called serotonin. This neurotransmitter boosts our mood. But with regular consumption of sugar influencing the levels of serotonin, our body reduces the production of our natural serotonin. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression.
This will also cause an addiction in your body. You continually crave the foods high in sugar to create this altered mood state. The addictive nature of sugar also due to the mineral deficiencies created by the sugar consumption – chromium deficiency causes sugar cravings. The irregular blood sugar levels also create a vicious cycle. I call it the ‘Blood Sugar Rollercoaster’. We have highs and lows – highs in blood sugar and moods and lows in blood sugar and moods. The lows create a ‘need’ to consume more sugar to create the ‘high’ again.
This blood sugar rollercoaster creates a demand on the pancreas to continually produce the hormone insulin. The constant demand for insulin to regulate the blood sugar levels can create a situation called Insulin Resistance. This is where the cells of the body stop responding to the action of insulin and the blood sugar levels can rise above normal levels. Untreated insulin resistance can lead to Diabetes 2. Treatment for Insulin Resistance involves correcting the blood sugar influx from the diet and creating a demand for the muscles to utilise the blood sugar, such as during exercise.
As you can see the harmful effects of sugar goes beyond just weight problems or tooth decay. Sugar is added to nearly every processed food, from a slice of bread to tomato sauce. In this article I have only scratched the surface of how sugar affects our bodies. Sugar damages nearly every organ including the liver and kidneys, and it has also been linked to learning disorders in children.
I recommend that we all begin to look at our diets closely. Look at the labels of your foods and see how much sugar is in those foods. Better yet ensure that the majority of the food in your diet is natural and non-processed. This will ensure the reduction of hidden sugars. For instance have an organic chicken breast with salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing for lunch, instead of that processed meat patty burger with chips. Your body will thank you for it!