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The ‘S’ word... don’t say it out loud!
There are many ways to sweeten the concept of sugar addiction – we’ve accustomed ourselves to having a giggle at our bestie being a ‘chocaholic’ and our Grandma having a ‘sweet tooth’. Sugar addiction can lead to a number of chronic health problems that may not present themselves until it’s too late. It’s time to ditch the secret stash, the donut shop loyalty cards and create new habits to avoid sacrificing your health.
Types of Sugar
Sugar comes in many forms and can be hidden behind a number of different names. Often sourced and extracted from sugar beet or sugar cane plants, you’ll also discover sugar in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars by our digestive system, which provides energy for the body. There is an abundance of names for sugar that I’ll add below, but let’s break it down into four for now -
Glucose is our body’s preferred energy source and primary fuel – almost all foods contain glucose.
Fructose is found in ripe fruits, honey (40%), maple syrup (35%) and agave sugar (90%) – this is usually found together with glucose and is what makes food taste sweet.
Galactose is mainly found in dairy products in the form of lactose.
Sucrose is derived of half glucose and half fructose and can be found in the form of table sugar, brown sugar, caster sugar, raw sugar and low GI sugar.
As mentioned above, there are a number of hidden names that the food industry uses for sugar – particularly those promoting ‘healthy’ foods (check out our blog ’20 Health Foods That Aren’t Actually Healthy’). This may seem like a long-winded list, but there are many more hidden out there - acesulfame potassium, alitame, aspartame, cyclamate, monk fruit, neotame, saccharin, stevia, sucralose, thaumatin, agave nectar/syrup, coconut sugar, corn syrup (dark), fructose, glucose, golden syrup, grape syrup, honey, isomalt, lactose, maltose, maltitol, maple syrup, molasses (treacle), polydextrose, rice syrup, sugar and xylitol.
How Sugar Affects Us
Sugar is an addictive substance, often compared to drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. It increases dopamine levels and for many it creates a sensation that the only way to feel ‘normal’ is to have access to the substance. If this craving is not satisfied the brain reacts by going into a mild depression. The high that we receive when we consume sugar does not satisfy hunger and spikes our dopamine levels, followed by a sugar-induced cortisol elevation, reducing our immune system by 50% for the first hour – this ‘fructose infusion creates building blocks for chemical addiction’ (Gillespie).
The over-consumption of sugar can also incur the following health issues –
· Chronic inflammation
· Gut bacteria issues/imbalances (including increased Candida)
· High blood sugar
· Tooth decay
· Implications for obesity
· Insulin Resistance
Fructose can be the culprit for mineral depletion (including collagen and elastic), uric acid elevation, has links to heart disease, stroke, fatty liver disease, cancers, PCOS, infertility, impotence, depression and anxiety.
How to Reduce
First and foremost, there is no ‘healthy’ amount of bad sugar, secondly it’s not going to be easy and you’re going to have to make some seemingly hard decisions whilst altering your mindset.
1. Attitude – nutritious foods don’t have to be boring or expensive
2. Eliminate habits – drinking liquid calories (soft drinks, frappes, alcoholic beverages), buying confectionary at the supermarket
3. Create good habits - increasing water intake, eating mainly low-GI carbohydrates
As per J. Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad One’s, to eliminate and build habits you need to follow 4 rules – cue, craving, response and reward. To eliminate we need to make it invisible (cue), unattractive (craving), difficult (response) and unsatisfying (reward). To create good habits we need to make them obvious (cue), attractive (craving), easy (response) and satisfying (reward).
‘The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible’ (Clear).
Whether you gradually reduce your sugar intake or quit cold-turkey, it’s up to you to take control and beat the addiction that is sugar. It’s important to be aware of your habits before you can change them.
D. Gillespie, 2010, Sweet Poison Quit Plan, Penguin Group, Australia
J. Clear, 2018, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, Random House, Great Britain
A. Barclay, P. Sandall, C. Shwide-Slavin, 2014, The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners: Discover the Taste, Use, Nutrition, Science and Lore of Everything from Agave Nectar to Xylitol, The Experiment, United States