Nov
01

Sugar: My sweet opinion

Written by | 14 comments »

Disclaimer: You’re not gonna like me for this, especially after Halloween. Sorry.

I’m a sugar addict.

It all started when I was 7. My grandma had a special drawer for candy and instead of making it out of bounds, she happily showed it to me and suggested I snack from there when hungry.  It was all too much. The bright colours! The frosted sugar! The crazy flavours! And from there it spiralled out of control.

At age 8 I experienced the ultimate in independence – choosing my own lollies in the Pick ‘n’ Mix section of my local dairy (corner store). At 10, many sleep overs at friend’s houses meant videos and M&Ms and caramel corn. As a teenager during exam time I studied over Natural Confectionaries and Red Bull.  By the time I was nearing twenty I started getting serious about running and wanted to lose some weight so naturally the refined sugar intake reduced.

And now as an adult I think I’m pretty sugar savvy. I don’t eat cereal from a box. I don’t drink pop. I don’t buy biscuits. I don’t add sugar to my coffee.

But I do have a handful of raisins in my morning porridge. I do add honey to my unsweetened yoghurt. I do eat tomato sauce when I make hamburgers or homemade fries. I like balsamic vinegar in my salads. I eat at least 2 pieces of fruit each day, sometimes more. I love to bake with dates and bananas as a sweetener. Sunday morning pancakes with maple syrup are the best. I religiously complete each day with a small square of dark chocolate. I won’t pass up on home baking from a friend and sometimes at the movies I even indulge in the pick ‘n’ mix.

I had no idea how much sugar I was actually consuming until I read Sarah Wilson’s ebook ‘I Quit Sugar’. (Click here to buy it through my affiliate link if you like) Even on my seemingly healthy diet, sugar was popping up everywhere.

So why care? Well, if you hadn’t already heard – Sugar is killing us. This terrifying lecture by Robert Lustig happens to be terrifyingly long too – but if you can spare 90 minutes, it’s highly worth it. (If you need the condensed version then check out this instead. And if you’d rather read a more balanced review, this article by Gary Taubes takes it down a notch explaining that all this research is not conclusive…but should we still worry? His conclusion says yeah, yeah we should. Read it.)

So let’s break it down. Sugar comes in many forms, but these are the main three:

Glucose: The most common sugar, also known as dextrose. This is the type of sugar that our bodies can actually use as fuel. It is, as Robert Lustig puts it, the energy of life. We like this sugar.

Fructose: The sugar that sweetens fruits. Also the main component in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It’s sweeter than table sugar and our bodies actually cannot use it for fuel. Read: it gets turned to fat. Fructose is processed in the liver and when consumed in high doses (think fruit juice) can create all sorts of bad reactions. Poor liver. This is pretty much Lustig’s main point: Fructose is a poison. Check out about 1:23:00 into Lustig’s lecture. He thinks fructose should be banned by the FDA. This guy is serious.

Sucrose: This is the sugar you find in your kitchen. 50% fructose and 50% glucose. So you would assume it is better than consuming HFCS and you would be correct. But it still contains fructose. The poisonous fructose.

So as you can see, the main thing we should be worried about is fructose. In short, our bodies don’t actually recognise fructose as a fuel in the same way that glucose is recognised and used. It’s processed in the liver and the liver basically turns it into fat. Fructose is metabolised like fat.

“Eating fructose is like eating fat that your body can’t detect as fat…and makes us eat more fat.” – David Gillespie in Sweet Poison.

So (and these are just estimations from various sources around the interweb)

  • Table sugar = 50% fructose
  • One banana = more than 30% fructose
  • Honey = 40% fructose
  • Agave = 90% fructose

Are you saying that fruit is bad for me?

Well…not really. I dunno. This gets confusing. Fructose is bad in part because we can easily consume so much of it without being full.  Fruit has fructose in it but it also has some fibre in it (and some antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins, minerals) so theoretically we should be able to feel full before too long. It also takes a lot longer for the fructose to get to your liver when consumed as fruit as opposed to the intense hit that the liver gets when we drink something high in fructose, which allows the liver to process it better. So don’t drink your fruit.

Fibre = good. Fibre will slow down the journey of the fructose to your liver and hence make it easier for your liver to process. Most processed foods don’t have fibre in them anymore because it reduces shelf life and doesn’t freeze well. In other words, fresher is better!

What about artificial sweeteners?

Think about that for a moment. If you (like me) are trying to eat natural and whole foods rather than processed ‘food’, you wouldn’t even be asking the question. If you like the idea of putting something artificial in your body then go right ahead. I used to drink diet coke like it was no-one’s business. Now I shudder at the thought.

Artificial sweeteners are just that: artificial. They’re additives. The main ones are saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame and sucralose. They’ve all had their time in the spotlight, most of them have at some point been linked to cancer in rats and some of them are banned in various countries. It’s even suggested that these no-calorie sweeteners will make you fat even faster than sugar. So do yourself a favour and just stay away.

Stevia?

Stevia is a plant, but not all plants are good for us! I’m sure that in some cases, Stevia can and has been used well. But in our culture we tend to look for miracle cures…so we’ll just replace the high level of sugar we consume with this new wonder plant. Uhhh.. not so.  This post sums it up nicely. If you are craving sugar, you’re probably better to eat a small piece of fruit. We need to stop looking for different sweeteners to curb our cravings and rather try to stop the cravings altogether!

So in summary, this is my stance on sugar and sweeteners:

  • Avoid refined sugars where possible(check out those food labels and you’ll be surprised).
  • Avoid natural sweeteners such as honey or agave,
  • Put down the fruit juice. Don’t drink sugar. Eat an apple instead and only drink milk or water.
  • Artificial sweeteners aren’t the answer.
  • Eat carbs with fibre only.
  • Rather than try to find a sugar replacement, try giving up sugar and you’ll find the cravings will stop and natural things will start to taste sweeter.

I have been one entire week now without adding honey to my yoghurt, forgoing dried fruits and steering clear of tomato sauce. It feels amazing. My tips:

  • Eat coconut. Coconut flakes in my yoghurt taste sweet.
  • Drink tea. I’ve started drinking 2 cups of green tea each day. Not sure why, but it makes me feel great.
  • Eat fat instead of sugar. I have an entire post about this, but for now just know this: your body can use fat. It can’t really use sugar. Therefore fat = energy for my body. Sugar = fat for my body.
  • Eat mayonaise (full fat) with your (homemade) fries instead of ketchup. There’s only a teeny teeny bit of sugar in it.
  • Gorge on vegetables. Hungry? Grab a vege.
  • Fruit isn’t awful for you, but just eat in moderation. 5+ a day doesn’t mean 5 pieces of fruit!

That’s it for now. Well done if you got this far! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you eat too much sugar? Do you eat too much fruit, honey, additives, agave, sauces? Have you tried to be sugar free before? What works for you? Do you love sugar too much? Do you have a bad reaction to sugar?

  • Jenn

    I know all this, and agree. However sugar is like crack…I’m addicted..

  • Emma Schoombie

    Pam, where’s your post about fat? I’d love to read :)

  • Pamela

    Jenn I know what you mean…it’s a tough one to stop. But it really feels amazing when you do – and it means you’ll enjoy food a lot more without needing to sweeten it. I used to add sweet chili sauce to EVERYTHING, but now I find I can really taste the flavours of the food I eat.

    And Emma – fat post coming up real soon! :P

  • Kara

    Yup, I think you pretty much have it. Good Job Pam! I would say that the less you have, over time the less you want. For myself its important that I treat myself a “little” bit; as cutting all of anything out seems to trigger a deep desire for it. I have a particular hate for artificial sweeteners, they are in everything now and there is SO much misinformation about it. So many people think they are doing themselves good when they are quite literately poisoning themselves. The history of aspartame for example… not good!

  • Rodrigo

    I’m so confused right now, I don’t know what to eat anymore :(

  • http://www.staceysmith.co.nz Stacey

    Pam-epic read (and yes I made it all the way through!) although wont be reading the 90mins article I’m afraid…you summed it up well enough for me!
    It’s all about reading labels if people are really worried….legally companies have to list their ingredients so check for the Fructose amount if not sure!
    And i DEFINITELY agree that people need to eat more fat than sugar-this is a simple, good rule….eat some good fats and go burn it off-it’s FUN to burn off foods and will be easy if you are fuelling your body right!!!

  • Melissa

    I think this is awesome information. I did know fructose is no good for your body as our ancestors didn’t really eat it on a regular basis. They only found it sparingly and it gave them huge energy highs.
    I really want to try to go without sugar (for a week at least). But I have a hard time not having a teeny bit in my tea and I really do love baking. Maybe I should just bake and give it away. :(
    A really healthy diet to follow is ones they get diabetics to follow. You have to eat carbs but the right amount at the right time.

  • http://tararaam9.blogspot.com Tara

    Hi Pamela,

    While I whole-heartedly agree with you that sugar consumption needs to be highly regulated, I’m not sure if all the information above is correct/reliable. I can try to offer some insights from what I have learned through my own research, but by no means do I claim to have all the facts.

    Firstly, Robert Lustig is a highly criticized extremist in the field, and while he makes a lot of good points, much of what he says is discredited by the fact that he over-exaggerates a lot of his facts and says things that don’t have complete scientific evidence (not yet, at least). I like to take everything that he says with a grain of salt and refer back to scientific evidence, though others are welcome to do as they please. :)

    Fructose is not a toxin. It is in fact metabolized quite well by the liver, so long as it is consumed with fiber, as you mentioned above. Fructose is easily converted by the liver into a glucose product that is then metabolized by the exact same metabolic pathway that glucose is. It is not converted into fat unless we consume too much of it, or consume too much too quickly. When consumed in normal amounts, it gets broken down the same way that glucose does. The only difference is that EVERY cell in the body can easily metabolize glucose, whereas fructose can only be metabolized by the liver. But the actual metabolic pathways are very similar, and both can be be used for fuel. See this website if you are interested: http://www.biocarta.com/pathfiles/feederpathway.asp (The part that I am talking about is where Fructose is converted to Fructose-6-Phosphate, which is the exact same thing that glucose is converted to in glycolysis).

    As you mentioned, the problem with fructose is when we get it in liquid forms that overwhelm our liver too quickly, or when we consume extraordinarily high amounts through table sugar or HFCS. But otherwise, there’s no reason why anybody should limit their fruit intake out of fear of fructose, because our bodies are very capable of breaking down fructose from fruits and vegetables (which makes evolutionary sense as well…why would our bodies evolve in a way that does not support efficient metabolism of nature’s most common sugar?)

    Also, don’t forget that even if you do consume sugar and it is converted to fat, your body does need some fat. And as long as the fat is a healthy amount, it can be easily broken down and used by the body.

    Anyways, I’m definitely not advocating sugar consumption. Especially in the United States, we are at dangerous risk of obesity and diabetes, both of which have more than doubled in the past 10 years here. So I definitely commend your efforts to inform yourself and others of the risks of this substance that people consume more than they drink water. But I do believe that sugars are necessary in healthy amounts, and great care needs to be taken that we are receiving it from the right sources.

    I think processed sugars are a very “hot” topic these days, and there are many scientists and experts who claim that they know everything about the topic, and sometimes even provide erroneous info to the public, which is sort of a scary thought.

    Sorry for the marathon post, thanks for reading (if you got to this point haha), and thanks for opening up a great discussion. :)

    -Tara

  • Pamela

    Tara, thank you for your comments! I have noticed/read that Robert Lustig is quite ‘extreme’ in his findings. The NYT article that I referenced makes sure that we know it’s not actually SCIENTIFICALLY proven, but that there definitely is some truth in it.

    I totally agree with all your points. I think the main take out for me from all my investigating is that DRINKING sugar should just be avoided. Fruits should be consumed in moderation (but aren’t bad for you, obviously) and anything with high amounts of added sugar should probably be avoided other than the occasional treat.

    I suppose most of it is common sense really – except understanding what fructose is, where it’s found and how it’s processed is all quite interesting and useful to stop me thinking that a huge glass of fruit juice, or anything sweetened with HFCS is good for me :P

    Thanks for stopping by :)

  • Jess

    Hey Pam,

    Thanks for posting this, it’s so interesting.. slightly overwhelming too though!

    I’m keeping a food diary at the moment, and it is CRAZY to see how much sugar creeps in there. It’s hard to find something to eat for breakfast now! I love muesli, but the sugar levels in that must be insane. So I’ve tried mixing it with things like All Bran – but there is still so much sugar in that too!

    I’ve never understood friends who could survive the morning from eating peanut butter toast on white bread for breakfast. Please tell me I do not have to give up muesli, fruit and yoghurt for that!

    Also, what do you think of coconut oil? Seems to be the latest craze… I have an underactive thyroid and I read somewhere that it is really good for this condition. Have started having a bit spread on toast with marmite – but having trouble getting my head around eating it.. as it looks like lard and just tastes, well, so oily!

    The quest to understand what we put into our bodies is a bit daunting… but hopefully worth it! Only problem is, everyone seems to have a different opinion… and on the internet it is hard to seperate the good advice from the crap! It seems like you have such a healthy, balanced opinion though. Love reading your blog!!

    • Anonymous

      Hey Jess, 

      Good on you for keeping a food diary – I find it helps me so much to take stock of what’s actually happening. It’s so easy to mindlessly nibble on a few things during the day without realising that it all adds up pretty quickly.

      You’re right, store bought muesli is usually packed with sugar. Why not try making it yourself? I have a few muesli recipes that I’ll be posting soon – it’s so easy and it allows you to control what you put in. Try looking for chia seeds instead of all bran. Chia seeds are crazy high in fibre and super good for you. Just sprinkle them over your breakfast! I definitely won’t suggest white bread either… :P  I enjoy using coconut oil occasionally, but I use it for cooking and baking rather than a spread. There’s mixed opinions about the stuff though. If you’ve read good things, then stick with it – maybe just try using it melted in cooking rather than as a spread! I’d stick with avocado or almond butter on bread :P SO many different opinions out there…I’ve just been reading about food combining and it blew my mind. I’m completely confused now. Heh. 

      Glad you enjoy the blog! :)  

      • Bmbrown204@gmail.com

        I’m 10 years old and I am confused. Does sugar kill you? If so how long does it take? And do you have to eat too much to die?

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  • http://www.ladiesholiday.com/ Ladies Holiday

    I am trying to find out as much as I can about this…Been sugar-free for a week. Thanks for the info and support! Cheers!