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 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?