2016 saw sugar unseat fat as king of the bad foods (according to diet books and the media anyway). You’d have to have been hiding under a rock this last year to have missed this story. It was huge! And the proposal for a government sugar tax in 2018 has provided the fuel to keep the story running. So what’s the truth behind the hard hitting headlines? And what does that mean for sugar and your health?
Sugar science made simple
- Sugar is empty calories. It provides no vitamins, minerals or other useful nutrients to the body. It is just a very concentrated fuel that can be burned for energy. Potentially useful in some situations, not something that should be part of our everyday diet.
- Sugar feeds the bugs that cause teeth to decay. So if you’re going to eat sugar, clean your teeth straight afterwards to minimise the effect.
- Excess sugar consumption over time causes a condition called insulin resistance which can lead to type 2 diabetes. There is also a link between sugar and Alzheimer’s that has led to it being called type 3 diabetes in some circles.
- Excess sugar consumption has been linked to liver disease, high cholesterol and heart disease.
- Sugar is addictive. It releases dopamine in our brains which gives us a happy buzz and keeps us coming back for more.
- Sugar added to food comes in many forms and may not be clearly labelled as sugar in ingredients lists (look for anything with an “ose” on the end, glucose, fructose, sucrose).
Does this mean you should religiously avoid any tiny bit of added sugar, lest you suddenly end up with a life threatening illness? Of course not. As with anything, for a healthy, active person, a little on occasion is unlikely to do you any actual harm.
But there’s a big difference between having the occasional treat and a regular 4pm vending machine habit. So if sugar is more of a staple for you, then try our sugar management strategies:
Sugar management strategies
- Cut out added sugar altogether. Extreme. Possibly painful. But a sure fire winner when it comes to preventing it having an effect on your health.
- Choose low sugar foods, those that offer 5g or less per 100g of the substance labelled “Carbohydrates (of which sugars)” on food labels.
- Fruit sugars can still have a negative effect even though fruit has valuable nutrients. Eat the whole fruit and skip juices or snacking on dried fruit to stay in balance.
- Try healthier sugar alternatives. There’s increasing evidence that artificial sweeteners can cause their own health issues, so instead try stevia, or a little raw honey.
Sugar and your health
Tackling sugar consumption will be an essential part of stopping Ireland becoming one of the world’s fattest countries. WHO projections show the proportion of obese and overweight men in Ireland is projected to rise to 89 per cent and women to 85 per cent by 2030. If we are to stop this terrifying picture becoming tomorrow’s reality, we all have to address how we eat today.
As we’ve alluded to, it is possible to get over anxious about sugar and your health and lay all the world’s issues at its door. Cutting down on sugar is only one tactic in creating a healthy diet. You need to make sure you’re eating enough of the stuff your body needs (protein, good fats, whole grains, fresh vegetables etc.) as well as cutting out empty calories you can do without. And you need to stay fit and healthy. Your nutrition is the foundation for fitness, but only getting up and moving will keep your whole body functioning as it should.