Are you addicted to sugar?
A new weight loss movement claims sugar is an addiction as dangerous as some drugs. So should we all be kicking the habit or is there an easier way to cut down?
According to Connie Bennett, US author, becoming ‘sugar free’ helped her rid herself of 44 health issues, from migraines to heart palpitations. Which is why she’s written two books encouraging others to do the same. Child obesity expert DR Robert Lustig has gone further by saying sugar is as addictive as cocaine. The theory is that we’re programmed to prefer sweet foods, as in nature they tend to be safer to eat. But our intake is no longer limited to wild berries and raw honey. Instead, our processed foods are packed with added sugar, making them scream ‘eat me’ at every turn! So should we all chuck the chocs and go cold turkey? Nutritionalist Angela Dowden says not necessarily, but we should try to have a healthier relationship with the sweet stuff…
How bad is sugar?
Too much sugar is linked with tooth decay because bacteria in the mouth use it to produce tooth-damaging acid. A surplus of sugar is also linked to heart and liver disease and certainly doesn’t help if you are trying to lose weight. The big problem these days is that sugar calories slip down so easily, particularly in drinks. And with added sugar in many of our foods, we just don’t realize how much we’re taking in. While some people claim you need to cut it out entirely, you can still gain health benefits from cutting down. In fact, a little sugar helps make a healthy diet easier to stick to. Follow our guide to getting the right balance of sweetness…
Know your limits
The guideline daily amount for adults is 90g – but this is TOTAL sugar, including the type found naturally in whole fruit and milk. For ADDED sugar (which includes sugar on fruit juice and honey), the limit is 50g a day. A 500ml bottle of cola contains 53.5g of added sugar, so you can see how easy it is to overdo it. Food labels only list total sugar, so have the 90g figure in mind when you’re looking at them. As a rule of thumb these figures show the highs and lows of sugar content:
High – over 15g of total sugars per 100g
Low – 5g of total sugars per 100g
Research at the University of California found that healthy young people had a significant rise in blood fats (linked with heart disease) on a high fructose diet. This fruit sugar has also been linked with people struggling to lose weight around the tummy, where it’s damaging to health. One common source is high fructose corn syrup, known in the US as HFCS. It isn’t widely used here, but is in some squashes and biscuits. Whole fruit has fructose plus fibre and nutrients, so isn’t a problem. But the key fact is still the total sugar not the type.
Fruit and nuts are healthy sources of sugar and unsaturated fatty acids.
4 steps to curbing a sweet tooth
- Keep blood sugar steady. Eating regular meals that combine protein (lean meat and fish) and slow releasing carbohydrate (like grainy bread) will help you avoid the blood sugar dips that stimulate cravings.
- Reduce volume. If you’re currently having two teaspoons of sugar in your tea, taper it downwards by half a spoon at a time over a few weeks.
- Reduce sugar frequency. When you’re ready, take one or two of your daily sugar hits (morning bickie with tea, evening bar of chocolate) out of your diet altogether. This will benefit your teeth hugely too.
- Swap sweet snacks. Have some healthier sweet snacks to hand (see our suggested Sugar Swaps, below).
Sugar swaps to help you cut down
|Biscuits, cakes and confectionary||Fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, malt loaf, plain biscuits, whole meal scone|
|Canned fruit in syrup||Canned fruit in juice|
|Sugary desserts||Baked apple, summer pudding, plain yoghurt or fromage frais with pureed fruit|
|Sugary drinks||Pure juice diluted with fizzy water, low-fat milk, no-added sugar squash, water|
Are sweeteners better? YES AND NO!
Having a diet fizzy drink is definitely better than having a full-sugar one, but with the preservatives, acids and flavorings that come alongside, it’s still good to limit them. Some researchers believe ‘zero-calorie’ artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to associate sweet tastes and high calories, making it harder for people to regulate their food intake. But other studies show that swapping sugar for sweeteners can help weight loss, so it’s quite complicated! The bottom line is probably to limit both sugar and sweeteners as much as possible. Of all the sweeteners, Stevia seems to get the biggest thumbs up from nutritionists and obesity experts.
Are you a sucker for sugar?