It’s official, we’re a nation addicted to sugar, consuming over one million tonnes a year in the UK. That averages out at 15 teaspoons a day each! If you don’t consider yourself ‘sweet toothed’ and don’t believe this applies to you, think again. You could very well be consuming a small mountain of sugar without even realising it.
Like so many of my weight conscious friends, I watched BBC1s documentary The Truth about Sugar this week. The programme held a personal fascination for me, I quit sugar a year ago. It wasn’t the only thing I quit, I altered my entire way of eating, but giving up sugar was the most beneficial change I made for my health and weight and I have absolutely no intention of ever going back.
Sugar and our addiction to it is undeniable. Forget what you’ve read about fatty foods creating an overweight nation. Refined sugar is the real killer. This stuff has a powerful effect on the reward centres in our brain. It releases the feel good chemical dopamine. When we regularly consume sugary foods these receptors down-regulate. The next time we eat something sweet the effects are blunted, we need progressively larger doses to attain the same ‘hit’. I talk about sugar as if it’s a drug, and that’s exactly what it is. Make no mistake, the addiction is no different and the withdrawal symptoms can prove just as powerful. It’s only the social consequences which are not as severe.
How sugar free do you think your daily diet actually is? A year ago I was fat, sick and tired. But I truly believed what I was eating was okay. Not brilliant, not super healthy, but in my eyes, fairly balanced. I’d have the odd takeaway at weekends, I liked a glass or two of wine in the evenings, but most of the time I’d stick to low fat meals, healthy snacks and diet soda. I had absolutely no idea why the weight kept creeping on. I didn’t even have a very sweet tooth, I wasn’t a chocoholic and sugary foods didn’t particularly excite me. Given the choice I’d pick crisps over chocolate any day. It turns out that my arch enemy was sugar, I just didn’t know it.
Sugar is hidden in so many of the foods we consume. Confusingly it’s not always labelled as ‘sugar’. Corn syrup, dextrose, molasses, sucrose, there are now over 50 alternative titles for it. Manufacturers know we’re starting to take note, so they’re changing labels, making sugar content less immediately obvious to spot. It’s shocking to learn just how much is sneaked into some seemingly innocent meals. A couple of years back this would have been a typical food day for me. Not a booze filled weekend with copious amounts of snacks and takeaways. Just a regular, working weekday with meals I thought were healthy.
I would often start my day with the best of intentions. What better breakfast than a pot of healthy, real fruit, natural yoghurt. Low in fat, high in protein, heck Danone’s Danio even contains a superfood! It also contains a crazy amount of sugar! The pots aren’t particularly big, you’d polish the lot off in a few mouthfuls, but this seemingly healthy breakfast contains a frighteningly high 4.5 teaspoons of sugar. Accompanied by a fresh apple juice made from concentrate … add another 9 spoonfuls. That’s more than 13 sugar cubes before your day has even begun.
Mid morning snacks were always a toughie. Something to keep me going until lunch without the temptation of reaching for the biscuit tin. A fruit and nut cereal bar seemed like the perfect solution. Fruit, nuts and let’s face it, it has to be healthier than the vending machine selection right? In actual fact this ‘eat natural’ snack contains the same amount of sugar as a kinder bueno chocolate bar.
A warming tin of tomato soup was always my cold weather default lunch. Quick, easy, satisfying and healthy … aside from the 5 teaspoonfuls of sugar, plus another for the wholemeal bread roll.
Down a sports drink with it for that mid-afternoon energy boost and you can virtually treble the sugar hit.
Pasta was probably my favourite food in the world. I’d eat giant platefuls of the stuff. I’d cook it at home, I’d eat out at Italian restaurants more than once a week. I truly loved it. I never felt good afterwards, that sleepy, bloated, lethargy would swamp me. I don’t eat wheat pasta at all anymore. but back then my perceived healthy choice would have been wholewheat pasta with tomato sauce. When it comes to pasta sauces, ‘Seeds of Change’ organic tomato looks like a healthy option. It actually contains more sugar than the cheaper brands, over twice the amount of some! Combined with a small plateful of pasta, thats another 3 and a half teaspoons of sugar to add to the days tally and we’re not quite done yet.
Desserts were never a daily thing for me but you’d be forgiven for treating yourself to a weight-watchers chocolate pudding, presuming it to be a guilt free option. When something says LowFat on the packet those alarm bells should start ringing! In reducing fat content, manufacturers have to replace the missing flavours with something else. More often than not, that ‘something’ is sugar. A whopping 5 teaspoons in this tiny fat free chocolate pot.
If I was working late I’d always fancy a snack before bed. Eating dinner at 6 and not sleeping until midnight left a six hour gap for hunger to creep back in! Dried fruit and nuts seem like a healthy choice. Be aware that dried fruits, especially the sharper, tangier ones such as cranberries, often contain added refined sugar to sweeten them. Opt to snack on a small palmful of trail mix and you may as well pour a handful of sugar down your neck. Another couple of sugar cubes to add to the stack.
So that’s it, day complete. Yoghurt and fruit juice for breakfast, soup for lunch, an energy drink pick-me-up mid afternoon and pasta for tea, with a fruit and nut bar and trail mix snack. Sounds fairly healthy right?
Forty five and a half sugar cubes!! A cube is the same as a teaspoon (4grams) I actually feel a little sick looking at the mountain of refined sugar cubes stacked up on my plate. That would have been a fairly regular day for me a couple of years back. With the world health organisation advising people aim for no more than six teaspoons to achieve the biggest health benefits, I was overdosing seven fold most days. Bear in mind this doesn’t even take into consideration alcohol intake, you can probably add another handful of cubes to account for the wine I drank alone!
It’s no wonder we’re getting fatter and sicker. We’ve been doing the food shop all wrong! The low fat fad of the mid-eighties hasn’t helped to slow our combined weight gain, the hundreds of ‘diet’ products lining supermarket shelves are not effectively combatting the obesity crisis. Our collective waistline has expanded in line with an increase in added sugar. Stop counting calories, avoid anything that claims to be ‘LowFat’ and look instead for low or no sugar foods. Cut your intake right down or quit altogether, it will be the most beneficial change you make to your health this year.