Even as recent as a few years ago, the worst we could say about sugar was that it was bad for your teeth and a potential factor in weight gain. However, these days according to significant medical research, we now know that sugar has more far-reaching damaging effects to the body. Furthermore, these damaging effects may become irreversible and increase the risk of some pretty serious health problems now and in the future including cancer, heart disease and other associated health problems. So, how does sugar affect the body and what can be done to reduce or even eliminate this insidious, so-called food from your and your child’s diet?
How Does Sugar Affect Health ?
The first thing to be aware of is that sugar contains no nutrition whatsoever. So, if it’s levels in your diet are quite high, then there is a chance you are not getting enough nutrients. This can negatively impact on future health including nutritional deficiencies and markedly reduced nutritional stores in the body. Secondly, sugar (in the form of fructose), is metabolized by the liver and unfortunately, not particularly well as the liver has many detoxifying roles in the body and can quite easily become overwhelmed. As a result, the surplus sugar turns to fat in the liver and can lead to fatty liver disease and a reduction in liver function which in turn, opens up a whole host of other health problems. Sugar can also affect mood and energy levels as it triggers a surge of serotonin (sleep regulating hormone) from the brain to counter the initial sugar rush, leading to an almighty dip in energy. Clearly, sugar has a lot to answer for.
Always Check food labels
Sometimes food may come disguised as a healthy, low-sugar product when actually it contains a significant amount of sugar. Such culprits include breakfast cereals, (even the ones that are not obviously coated in sugar) such as cornflakes, Cheerio’s, Rice Krispies and others. Ready made meals including soups and sauces are also often jam-packed with sugar as are low-fat and “diet” foods. To get an idea of proportionally, how much sugar a food product contains, a good rule of thumb is the nearer sugar is to the start of the list of ingredients (i.e if it is 1st, 2nd or 3rd), the higher the sugar content. To make sure you are not being fooled into eating more sugar than you intended, just read the nutritional information on the food labels to check the sugar levels. It is also important to be aware that some products contain sugar in different forms and with different names. Below is a list of the various names for sugar.
• Hydrolysed starch
• Honey corn syrup
• Hydrolysed starch
• Invert sugar
Carbohydrate is an essential macro-nutrient and comprises around 60-65% of a balanced diet. However, some carbohydrate-rich foods can be quite high in sugar. On the nutrition label, sugar will be included as “Carbohydrates (of which sugars)” . So, to find out if a carbohydrate-rich food is high in sugar, a handy method to calculate this is:
Check the nutrition label to find out how much sugar the food contains for every 100g, then:
• If the product contains more than 22.5g of (total) sugars per 100g, this food is high in sugar.
• If the product contains 5g of (total) sugars or less per 100g, then this food is quite low in sugar.
• If the product contains sugar levels between the above two figures, then that product would be considered a medium level of sugars.
How Much Sugar Is OK?
Although sugar is now considered a bona fide unhealthy food, according to health organizations, small amounts of sugar that are used to sweeten foods rather than completely drench them are harmless when limited to mealtimes only and not on a regular basis. The main focus is on the overall amount of sugar and frequency in the diet. So, rather than eat a completely sugar-free diet (although if you can do this then great!), just avoid foods that are very high in sugar and keep an eye on the hidden ones, limiting them to meal-times only. It is also worth noting that fruit juice, given it’s sugar content compared to whole fruit, is fast losing it’s status as one of the “5-a-day”. While fruit juice is a healthy beverage compared to fizzy/sugary drinks, it doesn’t match up to the health benefits of intact fruit and actually contains almost the same sugar content as other non-fruit, sugary drinks.
There are many wonderfully tasty and healthy foods out there that can keep a sweet tooth satisfied. Here are a few ideas to help reduce your overall sugar intake.
• Carrots chopped into sticks, put them in a bag and eat like crisps
• Fruit juice ice lollies, a fantastic treat for a warm day
• Sugar snap peas, a seriously tasty snack packed full of nutrients
• Mixed dried fruit and/or fruit crisps (dried fruit has a slightly higher sugar content than the other alternatives , so not to be a staple in the diet.
• Stevia (from the stevia plant), fast becoming the new, improved healthy sugar to sweeten tea/coffee and well, anything you like really!
• Honey, another healthier alternative to refined sugar
It is also worth pointing out that “sugar-free” products may not contain sugar but they will more often than not contain all manner of chemicals that are just as unhealthy or even more so! Opt for naturally low-sugar foods instead.
A Final Thought
While candy still exists in this world, your kids will know about it and if they are completely deprived of it, there is a chance that they may become fixated with sugary foods, potentially causing health problems in later life. This is a problem every parent faces and many find that the best way to go about it, is just not to make a big deal about candy and give them to your kids occasionally but not as a reward or as a special treat. Before you know it, your children will be choosing the healthier options by themselves and you will be helping them to carve a life-long, healthy lifestyle.