Our great big sugar high
The average Briton consumes 238 teaspoons of sugar each week, often in foods and drinks without knowing it. How is this peak sweet consumption impacting on our families health?
Many of us feel that we all eat too much sugar. Few of our children get through a day without consuming sugar in their daily diet. Fruit flavoured yoghurts, healthy appearing cereals, fizzy and soft drinks, fruit and oat snack bars contain added sugar in various forms and then there are the treats; the biscuits, cookies, ice-cream, lolly and of course the desert that accompanies each school meal. Is it any wonder that rates of diabetes, cancers, heart disease, dementia, depression and more are on the increase?
An increasing number of experts are calling for a pushback away from our out of control sweet habit. Sugar, whether added to food by you or the manufacturer, is a significant threat to human health. Obesity rates continue to rise with a quarter of Britons reportedly obese and half of adults overweight and an alarming 9.5% of children aged 4-5 years and almost 1 in 3 children in England are overweight. When we continue to consume regular sugars and sweeteners we risk personal obesity and disease with the associated toll on our country’s health services with escalating costs from our our ill health connected to poor diet. Obesity is associated with cardiovascular risk, cancers, disability during old age, decreased life expectancy and serious chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, inflammation and hypertension.
The food industry loves sweeteners and sugars, as they make every type of food more palatable. Sugars are in so many foods from soup to breads, dips, yoghurts, sauces to bread. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is used abundantly in processed foods, as a liquid it is easy to blend and transport.
For those trying to cut down, the answer is not simply to avoid the confectionary, cakes and sweets. Sugars and sweeteners are not always easy to spot when added to our food by the food industry. The average Briton consumes more than a kilo of sugars, 238 teaspoonfuls, each week but would have difficulty accounting for the majority of that. “Sugar is deeply and thoroughly embedded in our food supply” says Australian writer David Gillespie, author of Sweet Poison and Sweet Poison Quit Plan books.
Sources of processed sweetness like corn syrup, agave or maple syrup and honey contain a higher percentage of fructose than fruit, meaning additional fructose has been added. Some agave nectars, for example, can be 92 per cent fructose, eight per cent glucose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is used abundantly in processed foods, as a liquid it is easy to blend and transport and can be found in a wide range of food and drinks to make food more appealing and palatable; your dips, ‘healthy’ ready-meal, children’s ‘sport’ drinks and even alternative milks such as nut milks are offenders.
The No Sugar movement
On an individual level consumers to appear to be waking up to the sugar problem, research shows that we are buying fewer bags of granulated sugar. Defra statistics show that we consume fewer calories than in previous years from ‘free sugars’ such as table sugar, honey and sugars found naturally in fruit juices, although still at a higher rate than the recommended per cent we should be aiming. The problem is that for those trying to cut down or cut out sugar from their and their family’s diets have an uphill battle as sweeteners are in most processed foods in different forms, so that you have to turn label detective to find them.
There is a growing surge of people on social media sites sharing their own foodie pics and information on their recipes and diets that eliminate or reduce sugars; diets such as the Paleo, Raw food, Ketogenic, Atkins, GAPs diets are on the rise.
Gwyneth Paltrow is a famous proponent of the quit sugar movement, her new cookbook It’s All Good explains that her family do not eat any refined carbs or sugar. In a blog entry on her website Goop she talks about the sugar highs and mood changes that lead her to cut sugar out of her and her children’s diet: “Sugar gives you an initial high, then you crash, then you crave more, so you consume more sugar. It’s this series of highs and lows that provoke unnecessary stress on your adrenals. You get anxious, moody (sugar is a mood-altering drug) and eventually you feel exhausted.”
The UK Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham for Labour has repeatedly called for high-sugar children’s foods such as cereal brands Frosties and Sugar Puffs to be banned by politicians and limits set on salt, sugars and processed fats foods aimed at children’s.
David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison and Sweet Poison Quit Plan books are based on his own experience of quitting sugar, resulting in him losing 6 stone in a year. He describes eating sugars as highly addictive with the only solution to break the addiction being to “stop consuming all sources of the addictive substance. They are all hard to give up because they are addictive – but they are all easy to give up once you understand what you are doing and why.” He explains that “your palate adjusts significantly and quickly when you delete sugar. You can suddenly experience a whole range of flavours that either you didn’t know existed before or were muted by the presence of sugar.”. His family are also involved in the new eating plan and all sugars have been cut from the family diet. “The kids didn’t like it, but eventually they got used to it and their palates adjusted. Now they are pretty pleased with teeth that don’t have cavities, rarely getting colds and feeling energetic, with none of the highs and lows that come with sugar eating.”
Robert Lustig, is professor of paediatric endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco, author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar, numerous scientific and press articles and presenter of “Sugar: the Bitter Truth” (a YouTube clip viewed more than 4,800,000 times). Lustig explains that fructose fools our brains into thinking we are not full so we overeat. Fructose cannot be converted into energy , they turn excess fructose into liver fat. That starts a cascade of insulin resistance (insulin promotes sugar uptake from blood) which leads to chronic metabolic disease, including diabetes and heart disease.”.
What can we do?
The solution is to change our diet and the way we produce and think about food radically significantly reducing our sugar and sweetener intake, but where to start?
There are some absolute essentials of a healthier eating plan that will reduce sugars straight away:-
- Completely cut out any soft drinks, including fruit juices and replace with water or milk (raw organic milk preferably but that is for another post). British Dietetic Association (BDA) dietitian Sylvia Turner says “Some research suggests that sugary drinks make it harder for us to regulate the overall amount of calories eaten and a regular intake may be a factor contributing to obesity in children.”
- Cut out refined carbohydrates, so no pasta, bread etc, crackers. Eat your carbohydrates with fibre in its natural form, see Leafie’s recipes such as Paleo style courgette pasta with crispy bacon recipe as an example.
- Whenever possible prepare your own food so that you know what it contains and exactly what has been added.
- Carry out your own research into what will work for your family. Information, ideas and diet advice is now abundantly available online. Talk to friends and colleagues and investigate different healthy eating plans. Join social media groups for support and tips.
- Overall enjoy the fascinating and energising road to rediscovering eating naturally: there is something very special about eating food that you have prepared with your family and knowing that all of the food is loaded with goodness.