It is the dreaded ingredient we can’t seem to get enough of – the wolf in sheep’s clothing, delivering little parcels of bliss to our taste buds at the same time as it delivers thunderous blows to our health.
Well, take a seat and we’ll summarise some of the key facts. As with most things in life, the answer is complicated:
Established Fact #1: Our attraction to sugar is lodged deep within our genes. Humankind progressed to seek out high calorie foods and we’re rewarded with a dopamine rush when we give our bodies such prizes. They were rare prizes back in the days of life on the plains and savannahs, except, of course, in the times of suburbs and cityscapes, they’re no longer rare. In fact, they’re now to be found in almost every meal, every snack and every beverage with which we intersperse our days.
Established Fact #2: Most of the sugar we consume every day is not found in easy-to-recognise little heaped teaspoons, the ones we add to our porridge or our tea. It’s hidden in all our favourite sauces and condiments, it’s three times as much as we imagine would go into making the saccharine breakfast cereals our kids adore, to say nothing of the fruit juices we nobly select as ‘healthier’ options. It is even to be found in as seemingly innocent daily staples as that mild-tasting loaf of bread!
Established Fact #3: Sugar can do some proper damage to our health. Heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease have been linked to high sugar consumption. In addition, research has shown a possible link between excess sugar in our diets and Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and ageing in general!
So, what is a person to do? We feel surrounded, bombarded, defenseless against this enemy. Is our only option to sacrifice every hope of happiness and vow never to touch the stuff again?
Hold your horses, it’s (thankfully) not that simple!
The kind of sugar we’ve been convinced is trying to kill us on a daily basis – your white table sugar and the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that hides in every packaged food imaginable – are actually in and of themselves not such evil imposters. In fact, by the time they hit your liver, all sugars look the same. Your liver cannot tell whether they came from honey, from fruit or from white sugar.
The problem is when your body is hit with way too much, way too fast, as happens with fizzy drinks and other foods laden with fructose and not much else. Unlike fruit – also a source of fructose – fizzy drinks and sweets come with none of the extra nutrients and the fibre that fruit does, which slows down the processing of that fructose. Compare the time it takes to eat an apple versus the time is takes to chug a glass of cooldrink.
It’s unlikely that we’d consume a bucket load of apples in one sitting, but we could quite easily sink a litre or two of fizzy drinks in an afternoon! Hello calories, bye-bye nutrients! Too much of that sort of behaviour and we’d quite understandably find ourselves ill.
But it’s more than just avoiding the obvious, it’s also learning to identify which packaged foods are sneaking in way too much added sugar, even in supposedly healthy products. A little homework will go a long way in helping you gain control of your sugar intake.
And finally, sugar is not the one key element that will solve all your dieting and health woes. Ultimately, it is still a well-rounded diet of healthy, nutrient-dense foods combined with regular exercise that will give you the best chance of living well for longer.