Every day it seems like we are preached to about the negative health effects of sugar. Sugar causes weight gain, sugar is bad for your digestion, sugar is bad for your skin and the list goes on. But there is sugar in fruit, so does that mean fruit is bad for you too? Turns out there are different types of sugars to be aware of, simple sugars and added sugars.
Foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains are all examples of simple sugars. These naturally occurring sugars are valid energy sources, and along with the other nutrients in these foods, important for nourishing a healthy body and therefore called “good sugar.”
Sugar that is added to foods like soft drinks, cakes and confectionaries, without any nutrient or fibre is called added sugar and considered “bad sugar.” In its most processed and refined form (think the white powdery stuff we stir into coffee, or high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks), sugar has absolutely no nutritional value. Void of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and enzymes, it’s a source of energy but not nutrition.
The World Health Organisation recommends our sugar consumption should only make up five percent of our total daily calorie intake, which equates to about 25g or six teaspoons per day. The Australian Health Survey found that in 2011-2012, Australians were consuming an average of 60g of sugars each day, or the equivalent of 14 teaspoons of white sugar. Processed sugars have a bitter-sweet effect on the human body, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth a taste.
So what happens to your body when you stop eating sugar?
Get ready for some mood swings.
Sugar is a highly addictive substance, so coming off it cold turkey will result in dramatic changes to your mood. But it is for the positive, so hang in there. Sugar releases the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin in the brain, activating your body’s reward system. The more sugar you consume, the better you feel, at least, temporarily. When you stop eating sugar altogether, your body will go through withdrawal, and it’s not pleasant for your body or your brain or the people around you. So make sure your family and colleagues are prepared.
Many people experience fatigue, headaches and irritability, these are all signs your body is adjusting to the low levels of glucose, dopamine, and serotonin. But after a week or so, energy will begin to improve, and you will feel more alive and full of energy. We promise.
Sugar causes inflammation in the skin, so the less you eat the clearer you completion may become. Diets high in refined sugar can lead to excessive insulin spikes. This triggers inflammation in the skin, which can cause the elasticity and collagen (which helps your skin to look plump and glowy) to become damaged. This can lead to premature wrinkling, sagging skin, and acne and rosacea. No one wants that so reducing your sugar intake will do just the opposite.
All Natural Sweet Dreams
Calling it quits with sugar won’t solve your sleep problems overnight, but in a few weeks time, you should notice yourself falling into a deeper sleep. Why? Foods containing high amounts of refined sugars reduce the degree of slow wave sleep (SWS), the restorative sleep that consolidates memories and information learned throughout the day, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the dream phase. Eating less sugar will reduce the number of times you wake up during the night, and improve your sleep quality overall.
Battle the bulge
A significant risk of consuming excess added sugar is weight gain. In most cases, sugary foods and drinks are high in calories. Consuming too many of these products will lead to weight gain, even with regular exercise. As the body usually digests products containing added sugars more quickly, they do not offset hunger for very long. This can lead to eating more regularly throughout the day and a greater calorie intake overall. It is important to note that sugar does not cause weight gain and obesity by itself. Sugar is one of several causes. Being overweight or obese is the result of a complex interaction between diet, physical activity, genetics, and social and environmental factors. However, limiting your amount of added sugar is one of the simplest ways to prevent weight gain and lose those stubborn kgs.
Remember, everything in moderation. What matters is your overall diet, which requires a balance of proteins, carbs and fats. You should certainly avoid loading up on Tim Tams and Fanta, but eliminating all types of sugar from your diet like apples and bananas completely, is totally unnecessary.
Here are some healthy food swap suggestions:
- Fruit muesli – plain oats
- Fruit yoghurt – natural yoghurt
- Sugar – cinnamon, or vanilla
- Milk chocolate – 70 percent cocoa dark chocolate
- Dried fruit – fresh fruit
- Muesli bars – nut-based snack bars
- Rice crackers – roasted chickpeas
- Wraps – rye crackers
- Mayonnaise – avocado
- Sweet chilli sauce – chilli sauce