Sugar. These days it’s hard to escape, and seems to be in almost everything. But is all sugar bad for us? What impact does it have on our bodies? Before you jump on the ‘sugar free diet’ bandwagon, it’s important you know what sugar is doing to your body, and whether you need to kick it to the curb!
What exactly is sugar?
Sugars can be consumed in two ways - those which are naturally found in things like fruits and honey (fructose) and milk (lactose), and those that are added during cooking, processing, or when you add it yourself at the table (these sugars are generally added to things to make them taste nicer). These sugars can either be classified as simple or complex.
Simple sugars have only 1 to 2 molecules of sugar in them. Because there are only a few molecules to break down they are quickly and easily absorbed into the blood, causing a spike in blood sugar and energy levels, and ultimately leads to the dreaded sugar ‘crash’. This crash then makes us tired and looking for an energy boost from sugar again…. and thus the cycle begins.
Complex sugars include starch and fibre, and can contain hundreds of sugar molecules - meaning they take longer to break down, longer to digest, and enter the bloodstream slowly.
So is it good or bad for me?
It depends on the source! Even though it sounds like simple sugars are the ‘evil’ twin, you might be surprised to know that the natural sugars found in fruits, nuts, green vegetables, beans and whole grains are all simple sugars as well. However, when sugar is naturally found in whole foods it also comes with a truck load of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Fibre slows down the absorption of sugar, and also helps to make us feel full.
When we eat processed foods with added simple sugars (such as those in table sugar, soft drinks, delicious cakes and cookies and lollies mmm….), we are consuming these simple sugars without these added nutrients or fibre, meaning we have nothing to make us feel full, and why we tend to eat up ending more, which equals more calories!
How to curb those cravings
Shockingly, consumption of sugar has increased by over 45% per person per day in the last 30 years. Because we are eating more processed foods, which contain more added simple sugars (which can often be hidden), our craving for them increases the more we eat.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that we consume no more than 6 tsp of free sugar per day, when on average we are consuming more like 15! For reference, one can of soft drink contains 7 tbsp of sugar….
My number one tip for avoiding sugar cravings is to… avoid sugar in the first place! Because sugar triggers the pleasure centres in the brain and gives us an energy boost, we crave it more when the eventual crash kicks in. You’ll find the less you eat sugar, the less you will crave it.
Easier said than done, right? If going cold turkey is a bit too much, here’s some tips I’ve found useful over the years:
Start your day with a good brekkie - include some protein and complex carbs. Starting the day off with a full tummy will stop you grabbing for mid-morning empty calories.
Make sure to relax - times of stress can deplete your body of energy, making it search for emotionally satisfying foods. Take some time out to centre yourself and reduce that anxiety.
Eat more protein - this will keep your blood sugar stable all day, keep you full for longer, and help with mental alertness.
Get enough sleep - if you don’t, you’ll be fatigued and will trigger your body to want a quick boost of energy…
Eat more of the good kinds of carbs - add fruit, sweet potatoes or brown rice in your diet during the day.
Find a healthy alternative - try a piece of fruit for natural sugars and an energy boost that will be full of fibre.
Desperate? Try sugar free options - a company called Loving Earth makes great organic raw chocolate - have a square or two - but don’t go crazy!