Sugar - The facts - Why you should cut it out of your diet!

What are the recommended levels of sugar consumption?

Sugar consumption is at an all time high with an increasing percentage of the population being classed as obese. Added sugar should not make up more than 5% of your daily calorie intake, this being the daily sugar intake that you obtain from food and drink.

On the basis that the recommended daily calorie intake for a women is 2000 calories – the average female should have no more than 6 teaspoons/24g per day

The recommended daily calorie intake for a man is 2500 calories - a man should consume no more than 9 teaspoons/36g of sugar per day.

Why do we add sugar to food and drink?

Taste - Sugars are sweet because they contain OH groups (A hydroxyl group is a pair of atoms that is commonly found in organic compounds, such as sugars and alcohols). Sugars interact with the taste receptor for sweetness on our tongues.

Colour & flavour – We use sugars in our cooking, mainly for sweet dishes for a sweet flavour and colour through caramalisation.

Bulk & texture - Sugar provides bulk which impacts the mouthfeel and texture of many food products. Instead of being used for their sweetening properties, sometimes specific sugars are used as bulking agents or carriers for other ingredients, especially the sugars that are less sweet than sucrose.

Fermentation - It is useful to the fermentation process because it helps the glucose molecule break down into its constituent parts, which then form alcohol. It is the enzymes contained in the yeast, rather than the yeast itself, that breaks the chemical bonds of the glucose and allows the formation of alcohol.

Preservation - Granulated table sugar (sucrose) is the most frequently used sweetener in canning and freezing. Sugar helps preserve the color, texture and flavor of the food. The sugar in jams and jellies helps the gel to form, and increases the flavor.

Why do we get hooked on sugar?

We consume sugar because it gives us a rush of energy when we are tired or stressed. The sugar raises the body's blood sugar levels and it makes us feel good. This sensation does not last long but our body gets used to this sugar rush and then just craves more sugar. It becomes a force of habit.

This intake of sugar and the rush of blood makes us feel good, but we get cravings for more sugar. Through the day we become tired and irritable. Hormone levels in our body change as the body attempts to raise levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Sugar assists in triggering this serotonin release, and this causes us to crave sweet things.

Health issues connected to too much consuming too much sugar

Consuming too much sugar may worsen cognitive decline, increase the chances of diabetes, increase gout risk, harm your kidneys and cause cavities. An excess of sweetened foods and beverages can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions. For these reasons, added sugar should be kept to a minimum whenever possible, which is easier when you follow a healthy diet based on whole foods.

Sugar has the same effect on the brain as cocaine

The nucleus accumbens is the same part of the brain that is activated by certain drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, nicotine, and morphine. In other words, the job of food producers is to create foods that hook your brain, just like addictive drugs.

Now new research published in the British Medical Journal backs that up by demonstrating that sugar has a similar effect on the brain to powerful illegal drugs and that it can be as addictive as cocaine. Furthermore, they say cutting out sugar can cause cravings, binges, and withdrawal symptoms – like a drug addict going cold turkey.

Here are some tips on how to reduce your intake of added sugars:

  • Swap fizzy drinks and fruit juices for water and natural juice.

  • Cut sugar from your coffee or tea, and if you require a sweetness add a natural sweetener alternative.

  • Add plain yogurt and fresh or frozen berries and or a banana to your cereal instead of buying sugar loaded cereals.

  • Replace sweets with a homemade trail mix of fruit, nuts and a few dark chocolate chips.

  • Use olive oil and cider vinegar in place of sweet salad dressings like honey mustard.

  • Choose marinades, nut butters, ketchup and other sauces with zero added sugars.

  • Look for cereal, granola and granola bars with under 4 grams of sugar per serving.

  • Swap sweet breakfasts for egg breakfasts, poached or boiled egg or omelette.

  • Eat lots of food made with fresh greens and other vegetables.

  • When shopping stay clear of the sweet and snacks aisle and focus on fresh, whole ingredients.

  • Take a shopping list with you that has all your ingredients for the week, you are more likely to stick to what is on the list.

  • Do not go to the shop hungry. Research has shown that when you do you are more likely to fill your trolley with junk food. (Ref: Live Science)

  • In addition, using an app like my fitness pal is an excellent way of becoming more aware of the main sources of sugar in your diet.

The best way to limit your added sugar intake is to prepare your own healthy meals at home and avoid buying foods and drinks that are high in added sugar. Focusing on preparing healthy meals and limiting your intake of foods that contain added sweeteners can help you cut back on the amount of sugar in your diet. However the only person that can cut there intake of sugar is you.

You can find out more about sugar intake on the NHS choices website.

Learn more on the BBC Science website - Why is sugar so addictive?

Find out more on the Livestrong.com website - Too much sugar

Paul Brown – Life & Wellness Coach (Complementary Medical Association)

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