29 Sep Has sugar kidnapped your willpower?
Sugar addiction is a problem that is grasping its grubby hands at our willpower one chocolate bar, soft drink or baked good at a time. Each day, Australians consume an average of 20 teaspoons a day – when they should really be having under 5! Some do their best avoid the sweet poison treats and opt for ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ products from the health food store or aisle. Yet, they will soon come to understand how much hidden and added sugar is creeping in’s way into your body and robbing your health. If you are someone or you know of someone who is battling sugar addiction or just looking to clean out your diet, this post will benefit you. Today, we will go into a bit of science around sugar and how it holds our hormones hostage, demands ransom and throws our sense of balance out of whack. Through this understanding, you may better comprehend how your body metabolises (or doesn’t) each delicious sweet treat you pop into your mouth. This post will give you some valuable insight into your body and may trigger you to re-think some of your food choices. It is my role as a health coach to support people just like you. There is a way to escape. I am here to negotiate terms with the addictive aspects of your brain. I can get you out the other side of this vicious addiction safely and intact!
While I don’t claim to be a scientist or nutritionist, I know a lot about food and how it affects your body. With that in mind, I am making a bold statement – refined sugar is poison… My last post in this series discussed the addictive qualities of sugar and the effects of sugar on our bodies, health and longevity. At a scientific level, sugars are carbohydrates. While I am not afraid to demonise added sugars, it is important to note that some kinds of sugar have some significance in our diets. When we are babies we are exposed to sugars through our mothers breast milk. These natural sugars feed the bugs in our gut and ensure a healthy balance of good bacteria. Unfortunately as we build our sugar consumption as a young child and later as adults, we continue to overfeed these little guys and that’s when we start to mess with the intricate balance within our gut and can develop health complications. Studies show that added sugars are linked to the likelihood of disease, obesity, diabetes, inflammation, autism, ADHD etc. To further complicate the process, the reason you may be battling an addiction or find it so hard to resist the Tim Tams in the staff room, is because humans are genetically programmed the seek out sweet foods. Why? For the energy…
Sugar is used primarily as a fuel or energy source and our brain relies on the glucose within sugar to function. When our blood glucose drops, our brain sends the message to refuel, which is why you can get a cravings for carbohydrate rich foods. At one stage humans needed to make it through a cold winter or fuel ourselves for a huge hike to shift location. The difference between our ancestors then and our bodies now is that, we would once have to scale forests to find a beehive, then we would have to battle a swarm of bees to get to the sweet treat. Now, we just slide open a drawer or give in to temptation at the petrol station. It’s everywhere and we are in a constant battle with our genetic programming to say no! Unfortunately, we eat far too much sugar for what is required by our bodies and all we have done is set a benchmark for how much our brain and body now wants and craves. The sooner we recognise how much our body actually needs, vs what we consume – the better. For some (myself included) they have switched their body from a glucose (sugar) burner to a ketone (fat) burner. Through switching their nutritional intake to include more healthy fats and virtually no sugar, your body can access it’s other fuel source – fat. But that is for another post…
Let’s explore a little more about what sugar actually does to us when we consume in excessive amounts. “Excessive”consumption of sugar is anything more than 6-9 teaspoons of sugar a day (1 teaspoon is around 5g). As soon as we take a bite of anything sweet, our body immediately sets to work. The digestion of sugar begins before we even swallow our food! First your blood sugar level spikes and this triggers dopamine (feel good hormone) to be released into your brain. Immediately, you get this sick sense of pleasure and often you either a) keep eating or b) look forward to your next hit of sugar later. To counteract this spike in blood sugar levels, mass amounts of the hormone insulin are sent around your body in vain attempts to drop your blood sugar levels down. Insulin does a really good job of dropping these levels. After all, it is it’s primary role in your body. But it is what happens next that is scary… Because insulin is so productive, your blood sugar levels will often fall rapidly. Because of the high amount of insulin in your blood, your body panics about this huge shift and determines that you are in famine and may not get anymore food and energy for a while (remember our bodies are programmed to eat sugars when stocking up energy for later). So our trusty liver sets about the task of storing energy for later use. However, because you just ate way more sugar than you needed, the liver quickly works out that it already has enough stored energy. So the extra glucose (sugar) is packaged into fat as a form of long-term energy storage. After your liver has stored energy in reserve (in the form of fat) your body returns to its normal state and a very shortly later, your dopamine taps you on the shoulder giving you a little reminder that you like to feel gooooood. So, to save the day and make your feel like a million bucks, your ghrelin (hunger hormones) wakes up and you start to feel a grumble in your tummy. If that isn’t enough to prompt you, your cortisol (stress hormones) levels rise and all of a sudden, you just ate another handful of skittles… And so the cycle begins again….
So hopefully you understand a little more about sugar and its place as well as how our bodies just do not understand how to process the excessive amounts of sugar that we eat in today’s day and age. You may just be thinking about what kinds of sugars are okay to eat and how much. Sugars come in many different forms, come much more complicated than others. Sugars often end in ‘ose.’ The most commonly discussed are glucose, sucrose and fructose.
Glucose is the sugar that fuels us that I mentioned before. This is the body’s preferred energy source. Glucose is metabolised by most cells in our bodies and used as energy directly. Glucose is found in foods full of complex carbohydrates and occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread and legumes. Your aim is to steer towards low glycemic index foods (meaning the glucose is metabolised slowly). These foods are more likely to include starch, glycogen, and fiber. These are the sugars that you should be including in your diet (in moderation – remember carbohydrates in excess can be stored as energy for later and still spike your insulin levels).
Fructose is also know as “fruit sugar” and is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, and added to various beverages such as soft drinks and fruit-flavored drinks and sweet foods. Fructose is only metabolised by our liver. Hint: this is not the ideal place! What happens when our body is faced with too much fructose is that our liver becomes freaked out by the overload. Excess amounts of insulin is produced to combat the overload and this excess is converted to fat. This gets into your bloodstream, converts to plaque and can often be associated with heart attacks.
Sucrose – Think “fake sugar ” and commonly known as table sugar, and is obtained from sugar cane or manufactured into high fructose corn syrup. This is found in lollies, chocolates, desserts, ice creams etc. Fruits and vegetables also naturally contain sucrose to varying degrees. Sucrose is metabolised much the same as fructose – not well!
For every teaspoon of table sugar that you eat, you only get useable energy from half – the rest gets stored as fat (most likely around your liver). The key message here is that fructose and sucrose are NOT used as lasting energy which is why we can be bottomless pits for it. There is nothing about these sugars that turns off our appetite hormones – this probably explains why you can drink soft drinks and juices, huge bowls of fruit and endless lollies, without getting full. You may feel sick, but often never full.
Working with a health coach like myself is an excellent way of tracking your sugar consumption. You may not even realise what sugars you are eating. Food manufacturers are smart and find ways to include sugar in foods to get you hooked and you don’t even know it! Working alongside someone like me could be an excellent way to scope your pantry, guide you and make some healthy swaps in your diet with little effort.
It isn’t hard to understand why we get so confused when it comes to which sugars we should be eating. A general rule of thumb is to steer towards more smart choices of “natural sugars” which are those that exist naturally in foods like low fructose fruits and vegetables (berries, avocados, olives, some citrus fruits) and low GI foods. These foods also include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, which help reduce the blood sugar spike that can result in health issues. When we consume whole foods, we are also eating other components (like fibre) that help us to digest and metabolise the food correctly to avoid surges in insulin and fat storage. Before you think about juicing your fruit and veggies, it may fair well to note that you strip out all the fibre from the food and are left with what? The sugar.
Most of the sugar we eat today is added and hidden in our food. We are eating around 20-23 teaspoons of sugar a day. The major culprits are yoghurts, sauces, dried fruits (dates are a big one), juice, soft drink; grain-based desserts, dips, chocolate and lollies. Foods with added sugars tend to be higher in calories and lower in nutritional value – they usually don’t offer the same amount of beneficial nutrients, such as fiber, that foods with natural sugars may have. These foods are more likely to lead to a significant rise in blood glucose. Without fiber to signal fullness, foods that contain added sugars are also more likely to be consumed in excess – and we all know what happens to fructose once it enters the body…
Many people find that they are inadvertently being tricked into eating more sugar than they need. Some “healthy” foods are anything but! Beware of products such as agave, maple syrup, rice malt syrups and honey. They are foundationally still sugar. Your body processes them the same. While some may argue there are “extra nutrients” within these “natural sugars,” Sarah Wilson of ‘I Quit Sugar’ states that honey only has 2% nutritional content. This problem means that we eat products from the health food aisle or store and think that because it is “refined sugar free” that is is better for us – this is a total myth. We also must beware of eating excessive amounts of sweet fruit. Fruit is farmed and produced in a way that makes it sweeter than it would be in the wild. It is sprayed to keep the bugs away and this means that it matures for a longer time period on the tree. The longer it is on the tree, the sweeter it gets. What makes it sweeter? Sugar! We wouldn’t usually have access to such sweet and delicious high fructose fruits without todays agriculture. Sugar is sugar no matter whether is is labelled ‘organic’ or ‘healthy’ – our body does not know the difference between 2 tablespoons of honey and 2 tablespoons of sugar…
Here are some different names of sugar you may find on a nutrition label:
|Buttered syrup||Evaporated cane juice||Muscovado|
|Cane juice||Fructose||Palm sugar|
|Carob syrup||Glucose||Rice syrup|
|Coconut sugar||High-fructose corn syrup||Saccharose|
|Confectioners’ sugar||Honey||Sorghum syrup|
|Corn sweetener||Malt syrup||Sucrose|
|Date sugar||Date sugar||Sweet sorghum|
|Dehydrated cane juice||Dehydrated cane juice||Treacle|
I hope that today’s post gave you some insight into the different kinds of sugars and how they are metabolised within your body. A great resource to explore is the documentary ‘That Sugar Film.’ Which details sugar consumption, addiction and marketing in an entertaining and interesting way. Our next post will look into some ways that you can tweak your diet to counteract and heal your sugar addiction. The role of a health coach is to take a look at your nutritional intake and suggest ways that you can incorporate foods that minimise cravings, ensure ongoing energy throughout the day and most likely lead to weight loss and improved health and wellbeing.
If you are interested in a FREE 50 minute health history consultation. I can work alongside you to explore your health, nutrition and lifestyle. This consultation will allow you to set goals and a vision to improve the quality of your life and potentially engage in a coaching relationship. If you are interested in finding out more, please reach out via email firstname.lastname@example.org or take the step to book in for an appointment now. by using the button below
How to beat sugar addictions – https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/07/20/how-to-beat-sugar-cravings_a_23038502/
Women, periods and hormones – https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/11/23/this-is-why-women-feel-more-hungry-around-their-period_a_21613086/
How sugar makes us fat – https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/04/20/so-this-is-exactly-how-sugar-makes-us-fat_a_22046969/
IIN Health Coach Course Resources – Module 11.
Sarah Wilson – I quit Sugar information videos. Sugar 101. IIN course material.
Food Addictions. Mark Hyman Lecture. IIN Course Materials
Food Cravings Engineered by the Food Industry – https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/food-cravings-engineered-by-industry-1.1395225