Sugar: a bittersweet health issue

Sugar, spice and everything nice!

Christmas holidays have passed you by, it’s a New Year, new you. You’ve told yourself you are going to eat healthier, drink less alcohol, and cut back on sweet treats in 2018. And in the blink of an eye, March rolls in, tempting you with truffles galore and easter eggs- you can feel your New Year resolutions melting right in front of your eyes! Even though the chocolate is here, there’s no need to fear. This blog covers tips on how to reduce your sugar intake and gives you some natural alternatives that won’t leave your sweet tooth feeling lonely!

Sugar: a bittersweet health issue

Sugar occurs in all foods that contain carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Consuming nutrient-dense, whole foods is not an issue, as plant-based foods also have vitamins, minerals, water, fibre, and antioxidants which contribute to a healthy functioning body. The body digests whole foods slower, offering body cells a steady source of energy, preventing blood sugar highs and lows. Sugar becomes dangerous in it’s refined and highly processed forms, such as the sugar that manufacturers add to food to improve flavour and increase the shelf life of many food products. Examples of processed forms include high fructose corn syrup, brown/white sugar, corn syrup, malt sugar, invert sugar, fruit juice concentrates, and any sugar syrup molecules ending in ‘ose’ (e.g. dextrose, fructose, sucrose, lactose). These are just a few examples-sugar may appear as many different names on a product label.

Where are the hidden sources of sugar?

Top sources include soft drinks, chocolate bars, candy, fruit drinks, and cookies. However, the less suspecting culprits include yoghurt, ketchup, soups, sauces, bread, cured meats, energy drinks, cordial, granola, and cereal. Seemingly ‘healthy’ foods may not live up to their claim to fame. According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in two Australians are eating more sugar than recommended (The George Institute, 2018). In 2011/2012, the Australian Health Survey revealed the largest consumer of sugars were boys aged 14-18 with 10% of them taking in 38 teaspoons each day! The rest of us Australians didn’t fare so well either-the average across the population was 60 grams of sugar, or 14 teaspoons of sugar, per day. The majority (52 grams) came from added sugars found in manufactured food products, and only 7 grams came from more natural sources, such as honey and fruit juice. It is clear Australians are overindulging in discretionary, nutrient-poor, packaged foods and simply not getting enough whole foods into their diet.

(Photo source: Iquitsugar)

Sugar has an impact on your heart health

High amounts of sugar overburden the liver. The liver metabolises sugar the same way as alcohol-it converts excess to fat. As time progresses, fat accumulates around the liver which may progress into a fatty liver disease, a contributing factor for both diabetes and heart disease (Harvard Health, 2017). Over consuming sugar can raise blood pressure and promote systemic (wide-spread) inflammation within the body-both contributing to the development of heart disease.

How can I reduce my sugar intake?

If you’re looking for ways to sweeten foods or curb your sugar cravings, here are some tips to get you back on track to healthy eating:

  1. Remove white and brown sugar from the cupboards-out of sight, out of mind!
  2. Try cutting the amount of sugar by half and wean down from there.
  3. Instead of adding sugar to baking recipes, cereals, or oatmeal, add in freshly chopped fruit (e.g. bananas, apples, berries) or a small amount of dried fruit (e.g. dates, figs, apricots).
  4. Instead of having sweetened yoghurt, have natural or plain yoghurt, and add in some chopped fruit, or a tablespoon of a natural alternative (see below).
  5. Reduce the amount of sugar in recipes and add in natural extracts, such as almond, vanilla, or peppermint to enhance the flavour.
  6. Enhance foods with spices rather than sugar; ginger, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom are great options.
  7. Sauces and condiments can contain as much as 30% sugar. Use natural alternatives such as pure tomato sauce instead of ketchup, pesto instead of creamy sandwich dressings, or hummus instead of mayo.
  8. Bottled salad dressings are another source of hidden sugar. It’s simple to make your own using extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, fresh lemon or lime juice, a pinch of salt, and a drizzle of raw honey.
  9. When you’re eating out, avoid foods on the menu with descriptions such as glaze or sweet, ask for any sauces to be served on the side, and don’t be afraid to ask if the dish contains added sugar.
  10. Snack on nuts, seeds, home-made granola, plain yogurt, hummus and veggie sticks, oatcakes with a nut or seed butter, smoked salmon with cucumbers, cottage cheese and berries, or a piece of fruit (e.g. apple or banana) with a tablespoon of a nut butter rather than reaching for store-bought granola bars or candy bars.

What are some natural, unprocessed sweet alternatives?

  • Raw honey
  • Organic maple syrup
  • Rice malt syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Stevia
  • Carob syrup
  • Yacon syrup
  • Date syrup
  • Date puree

We recommend that even from these natural alternatives, you stick to a maximum of 2 tablespoons per day of added sugar from these sources. If you’re looking to cut back on sugar and/or improve your overall nutritional intake, amke an appointment with our Naturopath and Nutritionist, Amanda Harasym. Call Elevate on 9252 2225 for all inquiries.

References

Action on Sugar Charity Group. The University of London. (2018). Sugar and health. Accessed on Feb 13, 2018. Retrieved from http://www.actiononsugar.org/About%20Us%20/148723.html.

Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. (2017). The sweet danger of sugar. Accessed on Feb 13, 2018. Retrieved from  https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar.

The George Institute [for global health]. (2018). Australians eating too much sugar, new survey confirms. Accessed on Feb 13, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.georgeinstitute.org.au/media-releases/australians-eating-too-much-sugar-new-survey-confirms.

 

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