Sugar consumption has tripled in the past 50 years and now accounts for a fifth of our total calorie intake. Sugar is a quick fix to boost our energy levels and lift our moods – and we’re fast becoming a nation of addicts. That’s the nature of sugar: one mouthful leaves you wanting more.
So why have we become so sugar dependent? The chemicals released by sugar travel the same pathways in the brain as cocaine and heroin. Dopamine is the pleasure chemical released in substance abuse that makes you feel instantly better, but, as with any addictive substance, over time you need more sugar to get the same high.
Part of the blame for our high consumption of sugar must lie with the message that has been drilled into us for years, that we should aim for a diet that is low in fat and high in carbohydrates. To quote the NHS’s Eatwell Plate guide, our diet should include ‘plenty of potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, plus at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day’.
But what we didn’t realise was that these starchy foods and fruit convert to sugar in the bloodstream, so while we’ve been trying to eat healthily we’ve actually been consuming a diet rich in sugar. Fruit – which is how many of us get our five a day – is high in fructose, which affects blood sugar levels. Any sugar that the body doesn’t need is converted to fat – and we’re getting bigger.
The average person consumes 21½ teaspoons a day, more than double the recommended amount. Part of the problem lies with ‘hidden’ sugars that are added to everyday foods, including cereals and low-fat items, such as flavoured yoghurt.
The fructose in cheap sweeteners such as corn syrup, which is used in everything from cakes to soft drinks, can suppress leptin, the hormone that carries the ‘stop now, you’re full’ message to the brain. It’s no wonder that the increase in our consumption of sugar has coincided with a rise in obesity levels.
Supercharge Your Health With Superfoods!
We’ve been told over and over again that you are what you eat. The problem for many of us is that we just don’t know how to eat healthful foods and what’s worse, we don’t know how to prepare them.
Supercharge Your Health answers both of these questions by explaining in clear and concise language what makes these foods super and why we should be eating them. For example, did you know that beans can help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels?
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A study at Cambridge University’s Medical Research Council found that overweight people ate nearly three times as much sugar daily as their thinner counterparts. In the UK, we’re three stone heavier than we were in the mid-1960s, and in the US the problem is even worse.
Scientists are claiming our addiction to sugar also makes us moody, forgetful, anxious and panicky and is increasing our risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Diets high in sugar have even become a focus of cancer researchers.
The theory is that increased blood sugar levels provoke insulin surges that may feed tumour growth, because insulin is an anabolic hormone which encourages things to grow.
Shockingly, sugar also makes us look older. ‘A diet high in sugar and high-glycaemic carbohydrates, such as breads, rice, potatoes and baked goods, can create a chemical reaction that makes skin more stiff and inflexible, leading to premature ageing,’ says Dr Nicholas Perricone, dermatologist and leading authority on diet and ageing. ‘Sugar molecules attach to collagen fibres and cause them to lose their strength, so skin becomes more vulnerable to sun damage, lines and sagging.’
Low blood sugar is a likely cause of sweet cravings. When we eat the pancreas secretes insulin, which takes the sugar into the body’s cells where it can be used for fuel. But refined starches, such as bread, pasta and cereals, along with crisps or sweet drinks, including smoothies and juices, make insulin levels soar and then drop again fast.
That can mean cravings for more glucose a couple of hours later. This so-called reactive hypoglycaemia is common and can bring fatigue, fogginess, mood swings and anxiety. Some people think they’re having a panic attack when actually it’s low blood sugar.
A high-low cycle of sugar hits can make your body numb to insulin’s effects, so you need more and more of the hormone to get blood sugar levels even. This is a condition known as insulin resistance. Eventually cells may become unable to process insulin altogether, which leads to type-2 diabetes.
In the past seven years, cases of type-2 diabetes have increased by 50 per cent in Britain and an estimated 850,000 people in the UK have the disease and don’t know it. Diet drinks don’t help the process and those who drink them regularly have a 200 per cent chance of being overweight and a 57 per cent increased risk of diabetes.
Whether it’s honey, table sugar, artificial sweetener or a diet drink, when your body gets something sweet, it produces insulin and that triggers a response that encourages your body to store fat.
6 WAYS TO CURB CRAVINGS
Chromium helps stabiliseblood sugar levels to prevent cravings. ‘Take 200mg of a form called Chromium GTF [Glucose Tolerance Factor] each day,’ says Dr John Briffa.
L-glutamine appears to fuel the brain to help prevent 4pm fogginess. Opt for the powder form, advises Briffa, and add one to two teaspoons to a litre of water and sip through the day.
Cinnamon keeps blood sugar even and tastes great when added to yoghurt or smoothies at breakfast. Ayurvedic doctor Sebastian Pole recommends half a teaspoon of cinnamon in 20ml aloe vera juice at 3pm to keep cravings at bay.
Meals containing protien — such as eggs, full-fat yoghurt, poultry, fish, pulses, beans,tofu or lean meats — and fats such as nuts, olives and seeds,olive, flaxseed and nut oils and avocados, along with vegetables, provide a steadier fuel to the brain than sugar and refined carbohydrates.
A mid-morning or afternoon snack with protein and healthy fats, such as a handful of brazil nuts or almonds (avoid cashews as they’re high in sugar) keeps cravings at bay.
Run up the stairs Just five minutes brisk walking or stair-climbing raises blood sugar naturally by encouraging the liver to release its glycogen (glucose) stores into the bloodstream.