26 Mar Linda’s Blog #4 – All About Sugar
It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me! I’ve been on my healthy weight loss journey for a while now. This week I’m sharing everything I’ve learned about sugar on a recent quest to improve my health.
One thing I have found during my healthy weight loss journey is that after a while things seem to get a bit stale (I’m not talking about the food!). What I mean is that every now and again I find I become uninspired with eating a healthy balanced diet. I find myself retreating to old habits. This might include snacking out of boredom or eating more sugary foods than I know I should be eating.
What I’ve realised is that when I find myself slipping in to old habits, what I need is something new to spark my interest and give me a fresh focus. For me, I find Lent and entering a new season a perfect opportunity to refresh my diet.
Recently there has been a lot of talk around sugar being the new “food devil”. I know that my snacks are often quite high in sugar and I’ve been eating more than I should recently. As a result, I decided to take a look at reducing my intake of ADDED sugars. Now I’m sure you already have a couple of questions for me. Is sugar really that bad for you? What is added sugar and where can I find it?
Not being entirely sure what the deal was with sugar myself, I decided to do some of my own research. When learning more about nutrition, I like to know I am getting information from a reliable source. The British Dietetic Association has a fantastic library of Food Fact Sheets here.
Can we cut sugar out of our diets completely?
Here’s the thing: any dietitian will tell you that simply cutting out a whole food group isn’t helpful unless you have a true health reason for not tolerating it. When it comes to sugar, this applies too, at least to a degree.
We can’t cut out sugar completely. This is because, in a nutshell, all carbohydrates are sugars – or at least that’s what they are broken down to in the body. Carbohydrates, along with fat and protein, are macro nutrients that provide the body with energy. Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source for the body because the majority contain a sugar molecule called glucose. Glucose is the fuel our brains, organs and muscles need to function and do every day activities. This means that our bodies retrieve sugars from less obvious sources of sugar including bread, potato, pasta and some sweet tasting things like fruit and some veg.
So, in essence, we all need some form of carbohydrates (sugars) in our diets, if in moderation.
However. The British Dietetic Association says that every age group in the UK eats at least twice the amount of added sugar than is recommended. It also says that added sugar is not necessary for a healthy diet. It looks like I could be trying to reduce the added sugar in my diet after all!
What is ADDED sugar and where do I find it?
Now that I get that sugar isn’t just the white granules I try not to add to my tea, the “added” sugar bit is making more sense to me. It seems that sugar is broadly split into two broad types:
- Intrinsic sugars: These are found in lactose in milk and milk products, as well as sugars contained in fruit that is still intact.
- Extrinsic sugars: These are sugars that are added to foods. This includes table sugars added to cakes, biscuits etc. However, these added sugars also include things such as syrups and even honey. This was a surprise to me!
So, the foods I can be looking to reduce my intake of include the usual suspects, but also things like sugar sweetened yoghurts. Sugars added to food and drink can be disguised by listing them in different ways including: sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose, molasses, lactose, corn syrup or fruit juice concentrates.
How can these added sugars affect my health?
In nature, the sugar found in fruit comes with fibre, vitamins, minerals and water which are all beneficial to our health. However, some processed foods can be very high in added sugar. These foods are often also low in nutritional value and may be high in saturated fats.
Apparently, high intakes of sugar can be bad for our health if we aren’t very active or if we are carrying additional weight. The way our liver breaks down high amounts of sugar may increase our risk of diabetes and heart disease.
What about weight gain? Whilst a small amount of sugar won’t make us overweight, I’ve realised that eating a diet high in added sugars may make putting on weight more likely as it may make my calorie intake higher than a diet lower in added sugars. However, I guess it’s important to keep in mind that eating too much of most types of food will make me put on weight!
A high sugar diet is also bad for my teeth! It’s important that I look after what remaining teeth I have left (I might have had a few fillings!). By eating a diet lower in added sugars, I can help to look after my teeth. If I do eat something sugary, I should try to eat it alongside other foods to offer more protection to my teeth.
Putting it all together . . .
Learning more about sugar has really opened my eyes to some of the ways added sugars are often ‘hidden’ in the processed foods I eat. I even found a website that gave a visual example of what the recommended 5% or 10% of our daily intake of sugar looks like in foods eaten over the course of the day. It made me realise that I have had far more than even the 10% of sugar intake . . . oops! I never counted things such as bread or sauces as part of my “added” sugars. It makes me realise that perhaps our society does seem to be a bit too sweet overall. I guess I have been proving the BDA’s statement right about eating twice the recommended amount of added sugar!
What have I learned whilst reducing my added sugar intake?
- Sugar is more widespread than I thought . . . Once I started looking out for it I found it was everywhere. Even in a lot of savoury foods or in natural yoghurt for example.
- Initially I craved it like mad . . . I found myself longing for that afternoon and evening fix of chocolate. However, that actually soon went. Afterwards I found the craving wasn’t even there anymore. Just a piece of fruit tastes sweet enough that I don’t feel the need for chocolate. Hard to believe, I wouldn’t have believed it a week ago . . .
- One week on and I notice I have so much more energy! I also have more consistent energy. I guess that makes sense because when most of my sugar intake comes form intrinsic sugars that occur naturally in foods, it takes longer to break them down. The sharp energy increases and energy dips seem to have disappeared (for the moment at least!)
In summary . . .
Do I dare jump to any long-term conclusions or judgements based on my little lent experiment? Not yet. It’s still too early in the day. However, doing some research has really opened my eyes to the role sugar plays as part of a healthy lifestyle. One of the biggest things I’ve learned through my reduced added sugar intake? I’ve learned to appreciate the more subtle sweetness of fruit and even some vegetables such as sweetcorn . . . It’s a wonderful experience!
If you would like to learn more about sugar, you might want to take a look at the following:
- NHS: How does sugar in our diet affect our health?
- British Dietetic Association: Food Fact Sheet on Sugar
- Our own blog post: Understanding Food Labels
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