Sugar Awareness week is promoted by ‘Action on sugar’. This week is a fantastic chance for a light to be shone on the food industry and to show the consumer just how bad sugar is for us. It always surprises me to find out how much sugar is in foods we would never even think of. Childhood obesity is increasing. It is imperative that we are made more aware of the part that sugar nutrition facts play in this statistic and what we can do as responsible parents.
Sugar Nutrition Facts -Do you love sugar?
Nowadays, saying you love sugar is slightly controversial. However, we are used to sugar in our diet, so our bodies do, indeed love sugar as it’s addictive. I am looking at our slightly warped love/hate relationship with sugar and sugar nutrition facts in this post as 18th-24th January is Sugar Awareness week.
Smooth, velvety chocolate…. Springy muffins, laced with caramel sauce….. steaming hot chocolate, topped with marshmallows
My childhood was a healthy one. However, as an adult looking back, a few things remind me of the fact that not everything about sugar was widely known then. Ribena – remember that? The blackcurrant drink that contains a lot of sugar. Another drink we had that is no longer available was Del Rosa, which made Ribena taste pure! Food wise, syrup on bread as a treat and sugar sprinkled onto porridge. So, although my parents were very healthy for that particular time with lots of vegetables and home cooked food, we still had too much sugar in our diet.
Are you a sugar fan? Do you over-indulge? A chocolate croissant for breakfast, biscuits mid morning, and a sweet snack in the afternoon? There are so many temptations out there, in supermarkets, cafes, restaurants. Sugar calls us, pre-packaged into so many varieties of sweet goodness and can be so difficult to resist. In fact, one of my favourite activities is to visit a coffee shop and indulge in a cafe latte along with a sweet something. It is something I have done in every country and city I have visited in the world.
I can see a lot of people mentally shaking their head in disapproval at me and waving a theoretical finger in my face. ‘I don’t eat much sugar’, they say in slightly self-righteous tones. However, I’m going to now tell you a story about that very thought.
Five years ago, I was going through a difficult time. It had not been long since I lost my daughter and my relationship had dissolved. A few months later, my mind and body felt like it was having a melt-down. I spoke to my doctor who talked me through ways to help myself that did not include medicating. One of those ways was to cleanse my body to give it a boost and regain my energy. A three week sugar detox! I’d been so low of energy, I knew it could only be a good thing.
Detox from sugar
The first thing I did was clear my cupboards of anything containing sugar. That action and the subsequent one of going to the supermarket and shopping by examining ingredients gave me quite a shock. I had been quite oblivious to the amount of foods that contain sugar: tomato ketchup, bread, ‘healthy’ cereals, crisps, almost all pre-made sauces etc. I knew these were healthy but certainly did nor realize they all contained sugar. By consuming these foods at different times during the day, I was effectively putting sugar into my body in nearly every meal and snack. Which explains how I felt during my detox.
Day two to day six of the detox were horrendous. Starting with a headache, it worked up to shaking, craving and blurred vision. I felt awful and ill for six days whilst the sugar was coming out of my system. However, on day seven, I woke up to feeling like I was reborn. My vision was clear, I had tons of energy and no desire to eat anything sweet. The rest of the three weeks were fantastic. My mind was so much clearer and my body felt younger. When I finally tried something with sugar after the three weeks, it tasted disgusting. I am no longer addicted to it and my taste buds reject eating too much of it.
So, if sugar is so bad for us, why does the food industry lace almost all of our foods with it? Well, the sad answer is that its because its addictive as my experience proved. The reason I had headaches and cravings were because my body had become addicted to it after years of consumption. I didn’t know my sugar nutrition facts and the more I ate of a particular food, the more my body craved it.
The science behind it says that by eating sugar, we release opioids and dopamine in our bodies. When a type of behavior releases dopamine, we get a ‘high’ that we want to repeat. However, the more we have it, the less dopamine our brain releases and the more we crave it. This leads to compulsive behavior, such as eating two cupcakes instead of one.
This change to our brain chemistry causes binging, craving and withdrawal symptoms, just like drugs. However, sugar is so much more prevalent in our society than illegal drugs and consequently far harder to avoid. I can’t walk down the local high street without seeing a couple of cafes with enticing pastries, or a supermarket laden with sweets and cakes. In the summer, there is the ice-cream truck for children, in the winter a ‘treat’ visit to a cafe for a hot chocolate laden with sugary cream and marshmallows. It’s like nobody knows the facts of sugar nutrition.
So, what should we look out for on food labels? It’s not just ‘sugar’. The food industry is far too smart for that. Well, we should be trying to avoid or at least cut down on what is called ‘free sugars’. These are a mixture – those that are naturally found in honey and juice and also that which is added to both food and drink. The range of words used to mean ‘sugar’ are: glucose, corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, brown sugar, molasses and maltose.
Now we know the names used by the food and drink industry to ‘hide’ the sugar, here is a helpful guide to where we can most commonly find them. Sources include: fizzy drinks, fruit juice, jam, ketchup, cereal, prepared food, ice cream, cakes, pies, pastries and sweets.
However, not only should we be avoiding or at least reducing how much we consume of the above, we also need to be careful of our consumption of processed starch. These include white flour, white rice, white pasta and processed cereal. Food manufacturers have stripped out the natural structure of the wheat and corn and it is now absorbed rapidly in our bodies. It essentially floods our bodies with glucose (sugar).
In summary so far, we now know that sugar is addictive, that it can make us feel bad whilst also leave us craving more. We know how the food and drink industries try to cover up the ‘sugar’ ingredient by using alternative words and what we should be avoiding or at least reducing our consumption of. But what we need to know is what this ingredient does to our bodies. This is an interesting question with a horrifying answer.
Effects of sugar
In the short-term, eating too much sugar can give you acne, cause tooth decay, make you tired and put on weight. It can also cause bloating in people who have certain digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. None of these are nice conditions however the long-term effects of type 2 diabetes and heart disease should be enough to make us stop and think about what we put in our bodies. If they are not enough, how about increased blood pressure and a link to cancer.
When I did my detox, I was amazed that the ‘slump’ I felt on a daily basis mid-afternoon vanished. I no longer felt the need to have a coffee and a sugary treat to perk myself up. But so many people fail to connect the two, that we are having a slump because of the amount of sugar we have consumed in the previous hours and that putting more sugar into our bodies will just give us an artificial spike followed by yet another dip. A vicious cycle.
Swapping out sugar
I only did the sugar detox because of the mental and physical pit I was in at the time. The benefits were immense but I am also aware that I went back to eating sugar after the three weeks. Not as much but I found it difficult to cut it out forever. A sweet tooth combined with the easy access to many products with sugar in them made it very difficult to resist. So here I have put together some tips that we can all follow without varying our daily routine too much.
Swap your sugary breakfast
Swap out your children’s cereal for an unsweetened version, or oats or eggs. These will mean you have started your day off well and will also keep you full for longer.
Cook at home
Cook at home – when we eat out, we cannot control what goes in the food and it will often involve sugar. By cooking at home, we are automatically reducing our sugar intake.
Cook from scratch
Cook from scratch – try to avoid using jars of sauces. Look at the list of ingredients in the supermarket and put it down if it has sugar in it. If you don’t have time to cook from scratch, don’t worry, just make sure you go for a sauce that has a limited amount of ingredients in it and that none of the sugar ingrediants are masquerading as something else!
No fizzy drinks
Cut out fizzy drinks. The Dietary guidelines for Americans state that soft drinks account for half of the American’s daily dose of sugar. For example, an average can of pop has 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Take snacks to work. I often find that my mind turns to treat late morning and mid-afternoon. If I haven’t bought anything with me, it’s very easy to pop to a shop and ‘buy a little something nice’. A better alternative is to take a weeks worth of healthy snacks to work then at least I never get that hungry where I start craving sugar.
Easy tips for busy parents
I’ve deliberately kept this list short and simple. I am a busy single parent who works full-time. I don’t feel like I have enough time to do lots of cooking courses and completely revamp my culinary lifestyle. Instead, I want bite sized pieces of advice that are easy to follow and not too time consuming. I hope you have found that in the list above.
As our children are getting more overweight, I want to leave you with a thought. Although our brains need a certain amount of sugar to function adequately, consuming it can have a negative effect on those with ADHD. Too much sugar in a diet for people with ADHD can lead to attention and focus problems, changing moods and hyperactivity.
‘Sugar Awareness week’ is a good time to look at our diets. I know I will be.