The world likes to create enemies. Someone or something to blame. It’s key in not taking responsibility for our own actions. I have this other thing to blame therefore it cannot be my fault.
Trump has scientists, muslims, Kim Jong-un and fake news. The diet and fitness industry has created enemies too, fat, carbs and its most recent nemesis, sugar.
If you’ve read anything on the internet lately you’ll know that sugar is the new face of obesity and poor health. Books and websites that teach you how to quit sugar have sprung up everywhere. Sugar-free treats are clogging up social media feeds like blockages in our arteries. Documentaries like Fed Up have gained global attention and helped portray sugar as dietary villain number one.
But what do you and I actually know about sugar? Is it really the fourth horseman of the apocalypse?
Sugar is pretty hard to avoid, and, given the hype surrounding its evilness it’s understandable that you might be a little confused about WTF you should be doing.
So, what’s the truth about sugar?
Is sugar bad?
Is sugar the reason I’m overweight?
Do I need to quit sugar?
First up, like all food, it’s not good or bad. It’s just food, it’s just another decision to make and another thing to be informed about. You gotta ditch the good or bad mentality because food doesn’t have intentions, it’s not plotting for, or against you.
Sugar is fundamental to human biology.
Humans, that’s you and I, we need sugar. Surprise!
Sugar is the backbone of our DNA, in fact it’s crucial to life.
Despite this scientific reality somewhere along the line sugar became public enemy number one.
Now we fear sugar. But do we really need to?
WHAT IS SUGAR?
Sugar is far more than the white stuff you chuck in your coffee to make it taste more delicious.
There’s actually several different types of sugar. I could attempt to get into the biochemistry of it all but the truth is I’m not even sure I can pronounce all the different sugar families. Yup, I’m simple dude.
At a really basic level, sugar is a group of molecules that share a similar structure.
The world should probably stop making blanket statements of about “sugar” because there’s numerous sugars. They are all the “ose’s”.
Here’s a super quick overview of some of the sugars that naturally occur in nature:
- Glucose: It occurs naturally in plants and fruits, and is a byproduct of photosynthesis. As humans our bodies can burn glucose as energy or convert it into glycogen (fuel for our liver and muscle). Our bodies have the ability to produce glucose when needed. Cool, right!
- Fructose: Often called fruit sugar, it occurs naturally in fruit (duh) but also in vegetables.
- Sucrose: This is known as a complex sugar. It’s found in the stems of sugar cane and sugar beet, and is found naturally alongside glucose in some fruits and plants.
- Lactose: This is known as milk sugar. Our bodies create lactose but some people don’t have the enzyme that’s needed to make the process happen. This is where lactose intolerance comes from.
As I said before sugar is fundamental to human biology and is one of the building blocks of life. I mean shit, Nasa even found sugar in space!
For example, here’s a rough breakdown of the amount of sugar (fructose) in common (perfectly healthy) vegetables, that should make up a good chunk of our diet.
Sugar, sugar everywhere.
Suddenly the idea of a non-sugar diet starts to look a little stupid, don’t ya reckon?
SHANE, ANSWER THE DAMN QUESTION! IS SUGAR BAD FOR MY HEALTH?
Like almost everything in life, the damage is in the dose.
As I said, our bodies actually need sugar, in fact, they’ll make their own if they’re not getting what they need from your diet.
However, consuming too much sugar can take you down a dangerous path that can potentially lead to type-II diabetes and obesity.
So, how does this happen? Of all the sugars and all the ways you can consume sugar, what’s gonna do the damage?
Well, honestly, I reckon you can forget about about the sugar content in fruits and vegetables. These aren’t gonna cause you any harm. The real danger comes from added sugar.
Let’s look at a bag of M&M’s (my favourite) as an example. Now I could destroy a 180g bag of M&M’s during the course of a movie, yup I have a sweet-tooth. That bag of M&M’s has approximately 885 calories. Okay, that’s close to half the calories I consume in a typical day, not the best, but definitely not the worst thing that could happen.
BUT, the real problem is, a couple of hours later I’m still gonna be hungry.
Well, to make to make it real simple there’s really no nutritional value in an M&M. Ya know, the good stuff that fuels your body, like fibre, protein, healthy carbs and fats.
If, on the other hand I consumed 885 of calories from foods that do have nutritional value I’d feel full for most of the day.
What would that look like?
If I was a pretentious wellness blogger it might look like this:
- 2 slices of whole grain toast
- 1 avocado (smashed of course)
- 2 poached eggs
- 1 tomato
- 2 rashers of organic bacon
- some kinda weird kale smoothie with chia seeds
- followed by lakeside yoga at sunset of course
But, more likely to look like this throughout the day:
- Greek yoghurt
- a couple of black coffees
- a few whole grain crackers and hummus
- chicken breast, or fish (seasoned with some tasty spices, of course)
- asparagus, or beans, or broccoli, some kinda vegetable
- green salad with nuts and seeds
Yup, these foods still have some sugar content but they also have plenty of fibre, protein, healthy fats and carbs.
THE ONLY THING YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SUGAR:
Fruits and vegetables contain sugar but it occurs naturally AND it’s really friggin’ hard to overeat this stuff.
Lollies, fruit juices, cakes, biscuits, pastries and packaged foods contain added, processed sugar. You can eat a lot of this stuff and not feel full.
Too much added sugar can do you harm!
I’m not sayin’ you can’t eat the lollies, biscuits etc. I’m just sayin’ this is where sugar can become a problem and this stuff shouldn’t make up the bulk of your food choices.
HELP! I THINK I EAT TOO MUCH ADDED SUGAR
If lollies, cakes, bisuits, fruit juices, soft drinks and pre-packaged foods already make up a big part of your daily food choices, then yup, you’re probably eating too much added sugar.
From here you’ve got two main options:
- Cold turkey, otherwise known as an epic battle of willpower
- Slowing changing your habits around added sugar
If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written you’ll know I’m a much, MUCH bigger fan of the second option. ‘Cold turkey‘ is hard and usually ends up with us sayin’, “Bugger this I hate it!”
Like any habit, it’s far easier to build a new, healthier habit in place of an old, unhealthy one. Habits are learned behaviour and they are often so built into our lifestyle we’re usually making choices without even realising it.
So, what do you do about it:
- Be someone else. I know WTF, right? I’m not talking about dying your hair and getting a tattoo (that’s cool too though). I’m talking about making a new identity by creating a new set of values for yourself. If you want to be someone that consumes less added sugar, tell yourself, “I am someone who is in complete control of the food choices I make.” “I only drink soft drink at afternoon tea, not at morning tea.” “I don’t have sugar in my coffee.” “I only eat two biscuits a day, instead of four.” The more specific and defined you can be about your new identity, the more likely it is that it’ll become your new reality.
- Take a moment and consider what’s going on. When you hard-out feel like something sweet, just pause for a moment and consider what’s going on. Are you bored? Unhappy? Hungry? There’s a number of reasons we crave sweet things and it can be incredibly helpful to understand what triggers that craving in you.
- If you figure out what’s going on. Do something else. If you realise that you reach for a sweet treat when you’re bored, go for a walk, or start on some of the household chores. If it happens when you’re hungry, eat foods with healthy fats and protein, they’ll fill you up better.
- Make it harder. If you’re trying to eat less added sugar, make it harder to access. Put more steps between you and the sweet treats. Or, make a rule for yourself – I can have something sweet, but I have to walk to the shop for it.
Along with those few steps, here’s some other stuff you can do:
- Reconsider your priorities. When I was overweight, I always placed value ahead of my health. Meaning, if I really wanted chocolate, or lollies I would buy the biggest pack at the best price. I mean, $4 for 200g of chocolate is a way better deal that $1 for 25g of chocolate. I’d convince myself I’d make it last but I never did. Now however, I place my health ahead of the percieved value of extra chocolate. If I really want chocolate, I pay the dollar and eat the 25g and move on.
- Need SOMETHING sweet? Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. It has way less added sugar.
- Slowly cut back. It really doesn’t matter how long it takes, just aim for gradual improvement. Every tiny improvement counts and they all add up to big results over time. If you eat three chocolate bars a day, tomorrow aim for two. Get used to that for a couple of weeks, then cut it back to one. Then maybe it’s just one every other day.
- Exercise! Sugar increases serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain. But, surprise! So does exercise. Try substituting added sugar for an added walk.
When it’s all said and done, you’re in control. Understand that you absolutely can change, it just takes time.