What is sugar?
Most of us think of sugar as the white stuff we put in tea or add to a cake, but sugar is so much more than that!
Sugars are the building blocks that make up carbohydrates (along with fibre and starch). There are 3 main sugars that make up carbohydrates we most often eat – fructose, glucose, and lactose. The body converts the sugar we eat to ‘glucose,’ that we can use for energy! Sugar has had a hard time in the media, but the real problem with sugar comes down to the type and amount we are eating, as well as how active we are.
Do you need to quit sugar?
Short Answer: No way!
You have probably heard that ‘quitting sugar’ helps with weight loss. This is, at least in part, true.
When people quit sugar – they remove many processed and high calorie foods from their diet, and eat more wholefoods. Thus, it is unsurprising weight loss is a result of going sugar-free.
What this doesn’t mean, however, is that quitting sugar is necessary to lose weight. Many foods that contain natural sugars, including dairy products, fruit and vegetables provide us with essential vitamins and minerals, fibre, phytochemicals, antioxidants and a whole lot of other goodness our body needs. Additionally, the sugar in these products is most often digested more slowly, meaning our blood sugar levels rise slowly, and we have energy for longer.
But what about fructose?
Fructose is framed as the biggest bad guy when it comes to sugar.
This is because it is processed slightly differently to glucose. Fructose is digested via our liver – thus it has been suggested fructose may be linked to diseases such as fatty liver. This is only an issue when consumed in excess (see added sugars below), and not a problem for those of us consuming our 2-3 pieces of fruit/day (which is only half of us mind you!).
These are the sugars that as a nation we eat too much of – and could benefit from reducing. During processing and preparation foods often have sugars added. These most often have little nutritional benefit, and usually find their way into poor quality, high calorie foods. Note that while these sugars are a problem, they are only part of the problem. Enjoy your favourite ‘sometimes’ foods like cakes, biscuits, lollies and packaged snacks occasionally.
Sugar Tip: Look for products with <10g sugar/100g. You can also look for where the sugar appears in the ingredients list – the closer to the beginning it is the higher percentage of the product is sugar. Make sure it isn’t appearing in the first 3 ingredients. This is where it can get tricky, because food companies use many words for sugar e.g. raw sugar, brown sugar, golden syrup, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose, dextrose, malt syrup, fruit concentrate.
What about sugar cravings?
Sugar cravings can be hard to beat. We crave sugar for a number of reasons:
- Sugar is a fast and easy energy source.
- We become accustomed to it.
- You train your body to expect sugar at certain times e.g. after dinner.
- It tastes really good!
Tips to reduce your intake and beat sugar cravings:
- Swap out the common culprits for low-sugar alternatives – sweetened yoghurt for plain greek, sweet cereals for low-sugar alternatives (or make your own!), fruit juice for whole fruit, skip the honey/jam (go nut butters!) and ditch the sugar in your coffee/tea.
- Don’t use artificial sweeteners or chew gum – these increase your taste for sweet foods.
- Create a supportive environment. Remove ‘sometimes’ foods from the house if you need to. Buy them as needed, or enjoy them when out with friends/family.
- Use ‘crowding.’ Focus on what you need to eat more of rather than what you need to eat less of e.g. ‘I want to eat more vegetables.’
- Wait 1 hour: If craving something – wait an hour. If you still want it. Have it. Most cravings go away with time.
- Eat mindfully: At the kitchen table. Not in front of the TV, at your desk, on the lounge…
The bottom line: Don’t quit sugar. Just aim to eat less added sugar. Sugar from dairy products, fruit and vegetables should be included as part of a healthy diet, while foods with added sugars should be enjoyed occasionally.
By Ellouise Whiltshire for Health & Performance Collective
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