When I was 13 years of age, I started a summer job in a café in West Wales. It was there that Summer, four words were said to me which were to have a profound effect on my life. ‘Well done for refusing.’ The discussion centred on smoking a ciggy. After I turned down the offer of a ‘smoke’ from one of the older women, another one, who I now refer to as ‘My Ciggy Watchdog’, looked at me, smiled and uttered those words. These few words, from a friend who could see the potential danger of smoking, would in time become my fortitude and my health, because mercifully they stopped me from all temptation to puff the guts out of a cigarette when I was stressed, or under peer pressure. I say mercifully because I could have been a victim like so many who died many years before their time of smoke related disease, including my much loved and respected dad.
I relate this story simply to connect the emotional effects cigarettes had in my life with sugar which a group of scientists together recently labelled the modern toxic substance and akin to smoking a ciggy. However, munching on a bar of chocolate as a reward for a busy day or enjoying a homemade apple pie was always a guiltless pleasure for most of us until recently. Today refined sugar, like sucrose and corn syrup, have made us a nation of sugar addicts with consequences akin to smoking.
And the problem with too much sugar?
When sugar calories are absorbed into our bloodstream, they provide us with energy. If we do not use the energy, we get fat and according to studies, are put in potential danger of Diabetes II and heart disease. According to Robert Lustig, professor of paediatric endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco, author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar, calories from added sugar as in fizzy drinks, table sugar and sugar added to processed foods is alarmingly 11 times more potent at causing diabetes than general calories.
Check out this table which compares a list of regularly consumed food products which contain hidden sugar. Seeing Heinz Tomato Soup, which contains 14.6g (4 tsp sugar) per portion, I could help but think about my easy peasy Sian’s Plan homemade Tomato and Chickpea Soup Recipe which only contains 1.8g (0.25 teaspoons) per portion.
Why are we consuming too much sugar?
There are lots of reasons why increased sugar intake has sneaked into our lives. Any regular readers will know that being aware is half the battle:
Portions of sugar products have become larger over the years; just compare muffins purchased from a coffee bar which can weigh up to 140 grams to a fairy cake made at home which weighs approximately 40 grams. And don’t even get me started on the sugar laden, enticing, voluminous cupcake toppings.
Confectionery such as chocolate bars are now available in King Size, while smaller bars are available in ‘multi buy’ packs, encouraging us to eat even more.
2. The Bliss Point
The “bliss point” is the precise amount of sugar assured to “send consumers over the moon”.
According to Salt, Sugar, Fat author Michael Moss, the food industry knows exactly what they were doing by discovering and manipulating our taste buds, craving more sugar, which in turn makes even more money for the corporate giants.
To lengthen the shelf life of processed foods and to increase profits, sugar has also found itself in almost every manufactured food found in the supermarket, from bread to pizzas and sauces, to freshly prepared salad bar ingredients and from fruit juices to breakfast cereals and yoghurts to cheeses.
The thing is, treats are now something of the past. Fizzy drinks and confectionary are no longer an occasional treat – they are an everyday fact.
Can we live without sugar?
In terms of nutrition, we can certainly live without sugar. We can get all our energy from natural sugars contained in fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains or protein found in fresh meat and eggs etc. In terms of emotion, the answer is probably no. Can you imagine a life without chocolate?
Consuming less sugar is challenging as most of us fail to realise how much sugar we are consuming, particularly if we rely on ready made meals. The NHS states that added sugars should not make up more than 10% of the energy (calorie intake) you get from food and drink each day. Currently this is about 70g (approximately 14 level teaspoons) for men and 50g (10 level teaspoons) for women. Don’t forget it should always be less for children. It is even being suggested that added sugar should be confined to 5 teaspoons a day.
So let’s do baby steps and start reducing the amount of sugar in your diet.
How do I do that?
If only giving up sugar was as easy as reaching for the eSugar lump (i.e. akin to the proliferation of eCigarettes that are about). However, it is not impossible. Here are some ideas.
A refined sugar free diet is growing in popularity. This necessitates removing all processed manufactured foods from your diet, including ready made meals, sauces, preserves, commercial breads, packed salads, pre packed sandwiches, commercial fruit juices and fizzy drinks like cola etc. Why not try it out?
The easiest way is to cook from scratch, using wholesome fresh ingredients. Check out Sian’s Plan for ways to do this. Limit eating out or takeaways to a very occasional treat.
Sprinkle alternative sugar products on your porridge and bake at home using alternatives such as coconut palm sugar or Xylitol.
Coconut Palm Sugar
Produced from the sap of the coconut palm’s flower buds, coconut palm sugar has a glycaemic index rating of 35, much lower than refined sugar. It has also been found to contain amino acids, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and B vitamins.
Cakes made using this sugar have a caramel, butterscotch flavour and colour. This sugar replacement was voted The Winner by my family in a recent Cake Test. It is pricey at £3.45 for 250 grams, but well worth it.
This sounds like an artificial sweetener. It’s not. Xylitol (“Xyl” is the Greek for wood) was first made from Finnish birch trees in the early 1900s. It is naturally produced by most living things including trees, fruits and plants. Xylitol has 40% fewer calories than sugar, 75% less carbohydrates and a low GI (of 7), and as an extra benefit it also is thought to inhibit the bacteria in the mouth that causes tooth decay.
Cakes I made using xylitol at home also passed the delicious Cake Test by my family. Cost is £2.75 for 250 grams.
Are you a Sugar Watchdog ?
Unlike cigarettes we do not need to eliminate sugar from our diets completely as studies claim that it is the over consumption of refined sugar (empty calories) in our diets that has the potential to harm us. Unfortunately most harm is inflicted on children who are subjected to the most damaging advertising from a very young age. Mums and dads need to stay firm, swap processed junk food which contain most of the hidden refined sugar and in its place provide tasty home cooked meals using fresh and wholesome ingredients. Keep sweet treats and fizzy drinks as an occasional treat.
Every home need a Sugar Watchdog. Now that you know the dangers could it be you?