Understanding sugar: uncovering its hidden secrets
Sugar, many of us have a bittersweet relationship with it. Many of us seek resolutions to its addictive nature. But how healthy are these 'healthier' alternatives? And what can we really do to cap our cravings?
Let's take a look...
What is sugar?Sugar is a sedative drug, sharing the same opioid pathway as other drugs such as heroin. Its addictive nature is extreme and the more we eat it the more we crave it, needing more and more over time. It is recognised as a toxin by the body and treated as such. It is hard to avoid in this obesogenic environment we live in but it is imperative to be mindful of consumption whatever your health concern.
Do I not need sugar?The body’s requirement is to have sugar, in the form of glucose, in the bloodstream. The body can manufacture this from other elements in our diet rendering it unnecessary to ingest any commercial sugar at all.
If sugar is so harmful why do we still eat it?In our primitive past, we needed foods like fruit to get necessary nutrients and fibre, and we are programmed to be attracted to these foods as a result. However we are living in an obesogenic environment where sweet choices are no longer the natural sugars that can do us good, they are the commercial sucrose versions. Once our taste buds become accustomed to this synthesised form of sugar, anything less tastes inferior and not sweet enough. The synthetic version stimulates a drug like response and activates a stress response. If these sweet foods are eaten regularly it means that our body is regularly being ‘stressed’.
Doesn’t sugar provide energy?Sugar gets absorbed very quickly into the bloodstream. In order to bring this high level of sugar down to a normal level, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin. Over time this mechanism becomes too overworked to be effective, therefore lowering the blood sugar too much and creating a hypoglycemic state. Stress & anxiety produce this response too. This stress can be external stress (emotional, work, school, environmental) or stress from a diet low in nutrients to support this stress response or a diet of regular stimulants (sugar, coffee, alcohol, drugs). In stressful situations the adrenal glands produce adrenaline and this causes blood sugar levels to rise. This then triggers the release of insulin again and the pattern repeats.
To the person, this yo-yo of blood sugar feels like sudden hunger, fatigue, aching muscles, lack of concentration, occasionally sweaty, clammy hands, dizziness, anger, irritability and most importantly a craving for something sweet. The most common response to this is continually snacking on foods that contain sugar or other substances such as alcohol or caffeine resulting in hyped behaviour once it is ingested.
What about honey & fruit juice?Stick to eating raw and unprocessed honey, maple or agave syrup, which retains all its natural enzymes. Fruit contains fructose, but it’s bound up in fibre and released slowly into the bloodstream. Fruit is excellent for most people, but apples, pears and berries are the best options. Combine them with protein such as yoghurt to slow down the release of these natural sugars.
What products contain sugar?By now you will probably know that sugar is something to reduce to a minimum. However, sometimes we are just not aware when we are eating it. Cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolates, soft drinks may be obvious but sugar is in most packeted, bottled, frozen and canned foods as well as ‘healthy’ snack bars. Here is a list of the ‘hidden forms of sugar’:
- Modified starch
- Corn syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Rice syrup
- Maize syrup
- Raw/ brown sugar
- Hydrolysed starch
- Molasses Treacle
All of the above are forms of glucose. When reading the back of any ingredients list, the higher up the list that you see any of the above, the greater the quantity in the product. So when you next tuck into a pre-made snack, check the label and make an informed choice.
Is there such a thing as a healthier alternative to sugar?I would recommend you do not replace sugar with sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, saccharin or sorbitol, as they have been shown to stimulate an insulin response similar to that of refined sugar. Honey, xylitol and stevia are far healthier versions.
If you are struggling with sugar cravings, particularly mid-afternoon when energy levels tend to drop, you might wish to consider supplementing with the trace mineral Chromium. Research shows that Chromium reduces the symptoms of 'sugar withdrawal' by stabilising blood glucose, reducing sugar cravings, binges and the resultant fat gain (by increasing lean tissue).