As a diabetic, I deal with the problem of sugar every day. And I can tell you one thing: maintaining a low-sugar diet isn't easy. Sugar's not just in the usual suspects, such as chocolate, cola drinks or other sweet treats. You'll also find it in bread, sausages, ready-made meals and even coleslaw and sauerkraut. A supposedly healthy fruit yoghurt? Count up to six sugar cubes lurking in there!
Why is sugar everywhere? There are several reasons, all because of the food industry. Sugar is cheap to produce, carries flavour well, and preserves and increases your appetite for even more sugar, so it's good for business.
But what benefits the industry can have devastating consequences for our health. Excessive sugar in many of our foods adds high-energy dense and unnecessary calories to our diets that attack our bodies and make them sick.
Why sugar is a happy and a worry stuff.
Increased sugar consumption causes fatigue, irritability, anxiety, aggression, sleep disorders and many of the so-called civilization diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. And, fatally, the latest research shows cancer cells also love sugar.
So, our modern diet comes with substantial risks because we consume too much sugar. Nutritionists recommend only 30g of sugar a day for women, 40g for men, and only 25g for children. Ideally, only 10% of our food energy intake include sugar. But on an average day, adults will consume as much as 150g of sugar a day. For children, that figure can rise to a whopping 400g!
Of course, sugar isn't completely unhealthy. You need sugar or good carbohydrates to get through your day. Without it, your blood sugar levels drop too low, and your body works at minimal capacity. Brains, in particular, need carbohydrates in the form of glucose to ensure optimum activity.
But you could get enough from simple sugars like glucose and fructose to keep your grey cells going.
More often than not, however, we consume double the refined sugar, known as sucrose, we need. This is because many of our common store-bought foods contain industrially-produced household sugar, feeding our organs daily with more carbohydrates than they can work with. Even the liver, which stores sugar reserves for emergencies, is filled quickly. To breakdown so much sugar into usable components, our bodies rely on massive insulin production. Unfortunately, insulin stops short at burning fat – and you know where this is leading.
Sure, sugar also makes you happy, because sweets activate the reward system in your brain. And that's even more reason why we should be careful how much we consume. Our ancestors' associated sweet foods with good food, because they needed the energy to survive. Unfortunately, our love of sugar is still written in our genes. Even knowing about sugar's dark side effects can't change how we crave it. Yet as a Type 1 diabetic, I sometimes consciously treat myself to a chocolate bar or a piece of cake to cheer up my reward system.
Keeping an eye on sugar is possible.
Don't worry! We're not going to wag our index fingers and rob you of the sweetness of life. We're just keen to show you how you can have your cake in moderation.
Our nutritional team has put together some tips to help you be more conscious about how you enjoy sugar or get it completely under control:
- It's sometimes difficult to unmask the sugar in everyday foods. It's hidden in the ingredients list as maltose (malt sugar), sucrose (household sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar), glucose (dextrose) or modified starch.
You can also see it in the proportion of carbohydrates listed on the label. The higher this proportion, the harder your body can consume it. Your pancreas quickly releases more insulin to master simple carbohydrates. More complex carbohydrates, like di-sugars or poly-sugars, raise blood sugar levels more slowly. Either way, when we're talking a lot of sugar, insulin spikes and fat burning is postponed.
For a low sugar meal, rely on fresh foods with few or no carbohydrates, like fish, meat, eggs, vegetables, natural yoghurt, quark and cheese, and berries.
Slowly feel your way towards sugar-free foods. Gradually reduce foods that contain unhealthy, insulin-promoting household sugar. If you can halve your sugar consumption within four weeks, you're on the right track. Then halve it again over the next four weeks. After a few more weeks, your sugar cravings may have changed remarkably. Once you stop using sugar as a drug, you're better able to control your intake of sugary foods.
Try modern, primarily organic sweeteners such as xylitol, sucoline or stevia. The next time you bake a delicious cake or biscuit for your loved ones, surprise them with an alternative natural sweetener. In contrast to household sugar, xylitol, sucoline and stevia make the blood sugar and therefore insulin levels rise much less. Raw cane sugar or date, coconut blossom and maple syrups are good alternatives to refined sugar – a significantly lower glycemic index needs less insulin to break down.
If you crave sweets, the best trick is to drink a large glass of water or a large cup of unsweetened tea. Sometimes it also helps to put a stick of cinnamon in the tea or coffee mug when pouring.
You don't have to go without natural fructose carbohydrates, either. Fresh apples or berries contain relatively little fructose and therefore make great low-calorie, vitamin-rich snacks. Bananas are also very healthy even though they have higher fructose. But they're Mother Nature's own snack food, so the sugar is relatively harmless for our bodies. It's only when you consume extremely high fructose amounts daily via sweets and sugar-rich fruit that you can put a strain on your glucose-converting liver.
Don't overdo the substitutes.
Last but not least: sugar substitutes and sweeteners. They come in good and less suitable varieties and all should be enjoyed in moderation.
Modern, natural sugar substitutes such as xylitol, sucoline or stevia, for example, can cause diarrhoea in excessive quantities. However, since even small doses can deliver sufficient sweetness, you shouldn't worry too much.
Classic artificial sweeteners, on the other hand, are really dangerous. Scientific studies suggest they change your metabolism over time. A study by the University of Texas even shows that, rather than helping people lose weight, they can actually be more fattening. That's not surprising because they were initially developed for pig fattening. Although artificial sweeteners contain no calories, their sweetness activates the pancreas to produce more insulin to cope with the expected sugar rush. That means your body is tricked into storing more fat and increasing your appetite for sweets.
Their reputation for causing disease has also strengthened in recent years. Adult-onset diabetes, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and even cancer have been posited as the result of excessive sweetener consumption.
Are you rising to the challenge of consciously reducing sugar in your diet? You can take matters into your own hands at any time, even if manufacturers insist on adding more sugar. In this case, less is MORE for your health.
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Editorial office for nutrition: rk