We know that comforting feeling we get and the tantalisation of our taste buds as we take that first bite of a sugary treat, the reward centres in the brain go off like alarm bells as dopamine is released and we feel elated - well for a short while anyway. We also know that the sweet stuff, the processed kind especially, can be pretty bad for us.
Sugar is staggering our weight loss and health
Ok, so what is sugar and how does it make us gain weight?
Think of sugars as carbs. Sugar is practically in everything, naturally found in vegetables, fruit and dairy and added to food products to boost flavour and palatability. The three main types of sugar are sucrose, fructose and lactose.
Sucrose or table sugar, is the one we think of when it comes to sugar ladened foods. It’s a simple carbohydrate consisting of two simpler sugars bound together: glucose and fructose. When we digest sugar the two bonds get broken up in the gut, the fructose gets sent to the liver and the glucose is taken up from the gastrointestinal tract to our bloodstream to fuel our cells. Now insulin, commonly known as the fat storage hormone, raises in response to circulating blood sugar levels, too much sugar too fast leads to a fast rise in blood sugar and spike in insulin levels. The more insulin we produce, the more fat we deposit. Hello unwanted love handles and rounded middle.
It’s the refined starchy carbs and processed sugar that is causing a host of health and weight issues. Us Australians are consuming on average 27 teaspoons of sugar each day, way above the latest WHO recommendations of 6 teaspoons. There is a myriad of scientific research linking excess sugar consumption to obesity, metabolic syndrome, suppressed immunity, diabetes and cancer. The incredibly forward thinking Dr. Robert Lustig, a leading endocrinologist in the fight against excess sugar consumption, primarily processed sugar containing fructose for its major role in messing up our hormones leading metabolic disturbances and obesity.
Fructose: friend or foe?
When we look at fructose found in fruits and some vegetables, it’s encased by fiber, minerals and vitamins. The added fibre slows down the digestion and absorption of fructose making it easily metabolised, keeping you feeling fuller on less calories and mitigates sugars harsh effects. It’s the fibres effect in whole foods, like fruit which will control the insulin response to sugar.
Fruit and natural sugars should be included as part of a healthy balanced diet but if your goal is weight loss, you should be limiting your consumption of fructose - moderating how much fruit you consume and sticking to protein with every main meal accompanied by an abundance of nutritious vegetables.
Added fructose to products in the form of sucrose (50% glucose and 50% fructose) doesn’t contain the nutrient encasing, providing little satiety and can easily be stored as fat. This is what we need to be watching out for! So how can fructose make us fat? It’s quite simple, fructose is metabolised by the liver and the liver can only handle a certain amount of fructose before it gets stored as excess energy, or fat for later use.
High fructose corn syrup and sucrose (more commonly found in Australian foodstuff) are regular additions to many processed foods, both containing the two simple sugar molecules (glucose and fructose). Our body is used to producing glucose but not fructose, when we consume large amounts of fructose it’s metabolically straining. The fixture of fructose in most diets has no effect on ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and can interfere with the feedback loop of leptin (satiety hormone). Soft drinks are a prime example of the dangers of processed sugar products, they supply the body with a rapid sugar surge and place stress on our organs with no sense of satiety or nutritional value.
So, can I eat it?
We don’t need to put sugar in the naughty corner; I’m a firm believer that we shouldn’t typically hold any harsh judgment towards any aspect of our diet. Making informed logical decisions on what’s good and not so good for us is the key – psychologically, criticising a particular food won’t serve you and you may be more inclined to give in to that 4pm doughnut craving. With that said, if you really want to lose unwanted weight and get your health in check you do need moderate your daily sugar intake and steer clear of refined processed treats that don’t provide any nutritional value - basically ‘empty calories’. The truth is, much of the sugar Australians consume doesn’t come from natural whole foods and this is when sugar becomes a major problem for our waistline and health.
Hands up and step away from the doughnut: top tips for kicking sugar
- Get rid of tempting treats in the fridge, or pantry
- Break old habits – if you take a certain route home which you know leads you to the servo for a packet of chips and Big M, take another way home or change things up in your day to help you stay on track
- Have emergency snacks – think natural nuts (almonds, walnuts and cashews) or low sugar protein bars or balls
- Eat regularly and stay hydrated – consume your three TFL meals and two snacks
- Be mindful in your approach to cravings – have a big glass of water and ask yourself ‘am I really hungry?’ chances are you aren’t and you need to be logical about his and come back to your goals as to why you want to lose weight and why it means so much to you
- Choose foods as close to their natural state as possible
- Move, move, move and sleep, sleep, sleep!
- Watch out for hidden sugars in foods – always check labels and aim for less than 5-6g of sugar per 100g and start to familiarize yourself with the different names of sugar
- Add healthy fat to your diet
- Finally, have a bit of a plan in place – sugar cravings can be ravenous and it’s important to learn to deal with them in a healthy way. Have an outlet that you enjoy that distracts you - take a walk, read a book or catch up with a friend. Often sugar cravings can be brought on by our mental state – anxiety, stress, sometimes we just need an outlet but make it a positive one!
Take care of yourself and your health. Focus on eating real foods full of fabulous nutrition - your body will thank you.