Sugar is everywhere. It’s in breast milk, fruit, many vegetables, most starches and even in our blood. In fact, if we didn’t have sugar in our blood stream, we would die. The key, as always, is moderation. Taking you on a trip right back to the 15th Century, Paracelsus, a Swiss German physician and alchemist who developed the discipline of toxicology hit the nail on the head when he wrote “Poison is in everything, and no thing is with- out poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” In simple terms, too much of anything will kill you. Even water and oxygen.
The science behind the sugar debate is complicated and like most complicated things, you’ll find people on both sides who sound like they know what they’re talking about. Here are some facts, figures and opinions. When it comes down to it, the most sane advice that’s been coming out of the food battle air waves is still Michael Pollan’s Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Easy!
“The truth about sugar is that it’s addictive, just like cocaine. The more we eat, the more we want to eat and, as a result, the unhealthier we become.” – Amanda Jane Harvey, The Noble Nutritionist
How much do we need?
In most cases, our bodies only need around 6 to 9 teaspoons of sugar per day depending on whether you’re female or male. And of course, certain circumstances like professional sports people may need different amounts. After 1 medium sized apple, you’ve already consumed around two thirds of your sugar quota for the day. So despite how important sugar is for our bodies, we only need a small amount and what better than from a wholefood source.
There are many non-industrial cultures that have a high sugar diet because of the high availability of fruit yet are lean and healthy. The difference between a non-industrial, traditional, whole food, high sugar diet and the obesity and disease epidemics in industrialized societies? – added sugars, bad fats and processed foods.
What about low-fat?
Low-Fat food products are high in sugars – that’s why they still taste good. So even if it’s low in fat, it’s still high in empty calories. Stick with full-fat, unflavored foods and while you’re at it check the label, it should have a 0 where the trans fat section is.
Break it down for me…
We asked nutritionist Amanda Jane Harvey to simply explain how the body processes sugar. Over to you Amanda!
Sugar (sucrose) consists of two simple sugars; glucose and fructose. Glucose is everywhere
but fructose is mostly found in fruit. Every cell in our body naturally uses glucose but the liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose. Evolutionary process has meant that fructose interferes with our satiety signals (feeling full). Back in our ancestors time, we used to only eat lots of fruit at harvest time, so we’d gorge on it knowing that in the coming winter there wouldn’t be much around, our bodies would tell us we weren’t full so that we could fit in more fruit. Fruit contains fiber which slows the uptake of sugar making it a good energy source. These days it’s the hidden and added sugars in processed foods that can cause increases in weight gain and other health issues.
A good idea when you’re eating fruit is to eat it with a good source of fat such as cheese, coconut oil or nut butter. The fat will help to keep you full which will prevent you from feeling hungry and overeating. Apple slices with nut butter? Yum!
Hidden sources of sugar
Amanda also pointed out that we need to watch out for food that is sweetened with fruit juice, as this is still sugar. In fact drinking bottled fruit juice is not much better than drinking a can of fizzy drink. A glass of juice can contain up to 10 teaspoons or 48 grams of sugar and, as there is no pulp in most store bought juice, it also lacks the fiber to help with the absorption of fructose. You are better off sticking to whole fruit smoothies or vegetable juices.
The many faces of sugar…
Like a spy in the house of health, the food industry has found lots of ways to hide sugar in processed foods. Even in those cute, organic and expensive kiddie cookies from your health food store. Of all the food products available in the US between 2005 and 2009 75% of them contained added sugars. This is the truth about sugar.
Here are some common names for what is actually sugar; fruit juice concentrate, dextrose, maltose, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, invert sugar, raw sugar, malt syrup, corn syrup, agave, barley malt, beet sugar, caramel, carob syrup, caster sugar, date sugar, dextran, ethyl maltol, lactose, maltodextrin, diastatic malt, sorbitol, saccharin, aspartame, xylitol.
Healthy Mamas Listen Up!
Every ‘body’ runs to the beat of a different food drum. Even at Healthy Mama HQ we have fruit loving mamas, protein loving mamas and detox loving mamas… the thing that binds us all is that we stop and listen to what our bodies are tell- ing us. If you eat fruit and feel bloated your body is telling you to cut down, if you eat a sugary snack and get a high followed by a slump your body is telling you to cut down, if you eat starchy vegetables and get a tummy ache…guess what? You’re body is telling you something! We are dedicated to bringing you clear information from professional sources however we believe that one of the best sources of information is your own body. Eat real food, as close to it’s natural state as possible, indulge yourself in quality treats occasionally, listen to your body and heart and above all, enjoy!
Amanda J Harvey, Australian Nutritionist & Master Fitness Trainer David L. Katz M.D., Director, Yale University’s Prevention Research Centre
Ferris Jabr, Associate Editor focussing on neuroscience and psychology, Scientific American Magazine
Kerry Torrens, Nutritional Therapist, BBC Good Food Guide
Eat real food, as close to it’s natural state as possible, indulge yourself in quality treats occasionally, listen to your body and heart and above all, enjoy!