Dr Jess: Sugar is in my personal and professional experience the most deadly threat to our health and the hardest to give up. Many people don’t realise that carbohydrates are long chains of sugar or that white flour breaks down to sugar in under half an hour! Look around any supermarket and you realise half of the food contains white flour or sugar. Our food industry has a lot of power over our health, marketing of so called ‘healthy’ foods like fruit juices, kids fruit snacks, breakfast cereals and cereal bars loaded with sugars is misleading and frustrating.
Take the challenge below and work out your number of teaspoons in a day, it is both shocking and also helpful to start looking at the carbohydrates, sugar and not the calories or fat…If all this is too much to take in take control of your food and automatically reduce the sugar by making food from scratch and eating more vegetables.
Sugar is likely the single largest factor in rising obesity and chronic disease…learn more and renew your commitment to cut your sugar down.
Increasing levels of sugar in our diet and food are the main factor responsible for our increasing weight – 2 in 3 of the UK population is now overweight or obese, and there are many increasing health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease (1) and kidney disease (2) contributed to by sugar.
Sugar is more addictive than heroin or cocaine…
Studies in animals and humans show that sugar produces similar behaviour to addictive drugs including heroin and cocaine and it can be a harder addiction to break and resist (3). This is why we can find it so hard to resist sugary foods and drinks, particularly if we eat them regularly. This supports our observation that the more sugar you eat the more you want.
We eat 4x more sugar now than 100 years ago (4)…
Sugar consumption has dramatically gone up over the last 100 years and more so over the last 50 years since the increase in processed and convenience foods and the rise of the junk food and soda industries. The best way to change your health is to go back to the way we used to prepare food, from scratch. This doesn’t have to take longer, many meals can be prepared in under 30 minutes and batch cooking and home-made freezer meals can build your own range of convenience food to fit with any family and budget. Learning to cook is one of the greatest gifts you can give both your own health and that of your children.
A diet high in sugar (including fruit) increases inflammation and pain, your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer by 3x…
Eating higher sugar is now well proven to cause both an increased risk of diabetes and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke (5). Fructose (fruit and processed food sugar) in particular is shown to cause fatty liver disease (5). Cancer risk can increase anywhere up to 3 times in studies looking at sugar intake and cancer rates particularly in those who have drinks with high levels of sugar regularly (6).
Sugar speeds up the ageing of our cells…
Substances called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are formed in our tissues when we have high levels of sugar in our diet. These AGEs have been associated with kidney disease, COPD and recently skin ageing. Glycation products affect our cells and a part of our DNA called the telomere shortening which causes increased ageing of our cells (7).
and can cause ‘brain fog’ & memory problems…
Sugar has been shown to affect brain function even in healthy people and small studies show it causes a poorer performance in brain-related tasks such as adding up and response time (8). Sugar intake is particularly important in the older population where in a large group of 45-75 year olds higher sugar intake was associated with a lower ability to learn and remember words in a list (9).
Excess sugar is stored as fat…
Sugar and insulin levels play a critical role in weight gain. Controlling the levels of carbohydrate and sugar in our diet is likely considerably more important than looking at levels of fat. Low-carb diets are a successful and healthy way to maintain weight.
TEASPOON CHALLENGE – Work out your number…
Carbohydrate breaks down to sugar, refined carbohydrates like white flour break down to sugar within half an hour.
If you divide the grams of carbohydrate on a packet by 5 then it gives you the number of teaspoons of sugar. For example e.g. a standard Twix® contains 15g of carbs which is 3 teaspoons of sugar.
Use an online search or app to calculate your total carbohydrate per day (excluding vegetables* except white potato) and divide by 5 to get the amount of sugar.
*Ignore vegetable carbohydrates as they break down very slowly to sugar, overall help stabilise blood sugar levels and have many other benefits that offset the sugar.
Some common examples of teaspoon amounts are:
Lets look at some other common foods:
- 1 banana – 5 teaspoons
- 1 cup of grapes – 5 teaspoons
- 1 sugar doughnut – 5 teaspoons
- 1/2 cup sultanas – 12 teaspoons
- 2 chocolate digestives – 4 teaspoons
- 1 mini bag of Haribo sweets – 2.5 teaspoons
- 1 small glass orange juice – 6 teaspoons of sugar
- 1 toasted teacake – 6 teaspoons of sugar
You should try and keep your sugar levels as low as possible (aiming for under 8 teaspoons daily for adults and under 6 teaspoons for children) especially if you have diabetes in our family history and to avoid being one of the likely 5 million of us in the UK that will have diabetes in the next 10 years. Many chronic diseases can be improved by decreasing your sugar. Follow the tips below to help you cut down.
HELP CUTTING DOWN ON SUGAR
The less sugar you eat the less you want – and the more sugar you eat the more you want. Sugar is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, if you don’t break the cycle you will continue to eat more. As you eat less sugar you begin to taste more of the flavour in natural foods like vegetables and enjoy taste over sweetness.
Avoid sweet fruits – Fruit sugar is as dangerous as table sugar (if not more so due to the fructose content) stay away from large amounts of exotic fruits like mango and pineapple that are very sweet. As a rule of thumb fruits that grow naturally in the UK like apples and berries are generally relatively low in sugar.
White flour breaks down very quickly to sugar – White flour breaks down to sugar fast and can raise your blood sugar in a few minutes so cut down your white flour alongside your sugar for both the benefit on your health and an improvement in your sweet tooth.
Cut down your processed food – By eating ‘real food’ i.e. food made from scratch from whole ingredients you will automatically cut down your sugar. As well as seeing the improvement in your health in many cases it is a lot cheaper and not much more time consuming to make your food from the basic ingredients. I challenge you to a ‘Real Food Detox’.
Stay away from sweeteners – (possibly with the exception of liquid pure stevia extract) as they perpetuate our sweet tooth and have been shown to raise insulin levels, increase weight gain, cause bloating and diarrhoea and alter our gut bacteria.
Consider Gynema sylvestre – An ayurvedic herb that can help you cut down on sugar and reduce your cravings for sweet things. In a small study volunteers cut their sugar consumption by 40% when taking lozenges of this daily (20). Gymnema comes in the form of tincture (an alcoholic extract of herb) or lozenges and is generally considered safe but consult with a doctor if you have issues with your blood sugar or diabetes or are on medication.