Why you need to reduce your refined sugar intake - the dangers of added sugar and its health consequences
I can’t quite believe it, well maybe I can as I can be quite stubborn and have good will power, but I’ve only consumed one regular chocolate bar so far in 2016! When I told Ben I was going to cut out sugar as much as possible I don’t think he believed me. I’ve had no cakes, crisps, biscuits or chocolate (aside from that one refined sugar filled chocolate bar last week).
I allowed myself a final chocolate bar last week as I’m getting braces in two weeks and then I definitely won’t be consuming sugary food. Once the braces are off I’ll have a veneer and false tooth which I want to keep in the best condition, so I’ll again be avoiding any added sugar in food. This isn’t my only reason though. I’ve watched several videos, lectures and films about the dangers of added refined sugar and how it is the worst single ingredient in the modern day diet.
The video that sticks most in my mind and has been viewed over 6 million times on YouTube is this one by Dr Lustig. Sugar causes so much damage to our bodies and over time is like a slow poison. Here are just some of the shocking dangers of consuming too much added sugar:
- It causes weight gain as if you don’t burn it off it is converted to and stored as fat (so don’t be fooled by ‘fat free’ labels as if they contain lots of sugar this is actually way worse than fat).
- Too much added sugar in the diet puts strain on the liver and can cause insulin resistance eventually leading to type 2 diabetes
- It’s addictive. Some sources claim it’s more addictive than cocaine. I definitely crave chocolate every day if I have some and I can’t leave it in the kitchen cupboard if I know it’s there! Having not eaten it for so long now, the craving has gone and I don’t want to start it up again!
- Bad for teeth. We’re taught this from a very young age and know it causes tooth decay. It’s the only thing I thought sugary foods did, before I learnt the other dangers
- Your body can’t deal with anything else. When you have a huge sugar influx your body may use all available resources to deal with the sugar, so if any other bad germs enter your system at the same time, they may be ignored as you don’t have the capacity to deal with these too. This can lead to illness and disease. Scary!
The worst thing is nearly everything aside from whole foods contains added sugar. I'm certain 90% of our local supermarket is shelves full of sugary products. It’s also hidden in foods as it has around 50 different names, so you may not even realise it’s in the foods you eat. I do my best to eat a whole food plant based diet and check labels on everything else! We do have treat night on Friday’s and enjoy an oven pizza or takeaway this night only. Otherwise it’s homemade meals for us with fresh plant based ingredients making the bulk of the meal.
Towards the end of last year I’d been really good and only consumed sugary treats on a Friday or a special occasion. So this cutting down made cutting it out a whole lot easier. If you’re struggling to cut it out, then try this by giving yourself one reward day a week when you can eat it. It makes it more enjoyable and easier to start cutting it out. I got to the point where I’d been so good all week I didn’t want to ruin my healthy habits by eating choccie on a Friday and so wouldn’t. It made me think more about what I was eating and I didn’t want to eat this ‘very bad for me’ snack.
Not all sugars are equal, which makes the whole traffic light labelling system you see on most foods really misleading. Eating a ‘high sugar’ apple is not the same as eating a ‘high sugar’ packet of sweets. Sugar which is naturally found in foods is processed very differently, especially when in the presence of fibre which helps slow its release into the blood stream meaning the body can cope much better.
Many people say they just can’t stop eating sugar, which I’m sure is because it’s addictive! I certainly am like this when I eat it. Just try and stop for a week and then hopefully the cravings will go. I still enjoy ‘snacks’, but I’ve substituted the unhealthy sugary foods for much healthier snack choices. Here’s what I do:
Crisps – unbelievably lots of ‘adult’ crisps contain sugar, MSG, and loads of other rubbish. Instead I eat Organix baby crisps or snack on whole grain plain rice cakes (Kallo do some great organic ones). If a plain rice cake is too boring, try spreading on some whole nut butter such as cashew nut butter by Meridan. Delicious!
Chocolate – just buy a tub of cacao powder (I love this brand*). It’s full of antioxidants and you can make a ‘healthy’ hot choccie with warm water and almond milk, chuck a teaspoon in a blender with a banana and milk for a chocolate milkshake. You can also use it with cacao butter and coconut palm sugar to make dark chocolate. Coconut palm sugar is a much better alternative to regular refined sugar as it doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels as much, though I’m still avoiding it as it’s an added sugar. Check out my food section for lots of cacao containing recipes.
Sweets – I’ve not eaten sweets for over a year and a half now. I used to be quite a sweetie addict and at one point I preferred sweets to chocolate, easily polishing off a family sized pack in one sitting! I found sweets quicker to give up than chocolate and didn’t miss them as much. If I have a sweet craving now I will snack on dried fruit or fresh fruit and this always satisfies it. A bowl of mixed nuts, dried berries and dried fruit gives the feeling of a packet of sweets and is much better for your body.
Fizzy Drinks – I used to enjoy diet coke a few years back and could drink one every day. The sweeteners in diet coke are just as bad for you as the sugar in the normal coke! Really damaging. Reading this will make you realise how bad coke and fizzy drinks are for you. I only drink green tea, hot cacao, water and homemade smoothies/juices. If you love the fizz, why not try sparkling mineral water? It’s got to be a million times better than a sugary fizzy drink.
Processed Juice – Lots of store bought processed juices are bad as the fibre has been removed from the fruit and some even have added sugar! Smoothies are much better as they use the whole fruit. We occasionally make our own juice at home which is mainly vegetable based. I have a smoothie nearly every day with, for example, oat milk, oats, bananas, raspberries, cacao powder and maca powder - really scrumptious, nutritious and wholesome.
Sugary Coffee/Tea – I used to be a coffee addict. I drank at least 3 cups of sugary, sometimes syrup sweetened, coffee each day. I’d get the dreaded coffee slump and have to ‘refuel’! I couldn’t even focus without having a coffee each morning. I tried a few times to stop this habit, but after a few days always gave up as I ‘needed’ my coffee fix. I finally did it and I’ve not drank coffee for almost two years. I feel way better and naturally energised each morning instead of relying on a caffeine filled drink. I now drink mainly green tea if I fancy a warm drink which is full of antioxidants and energises without the slump. I’ve got used to the taste and look forward to it without the need for any sweetening. I also have other herbal teas occasionally with no sugar!
This blog post was actually just going to be a few bullet points of substitute ideas, but I’ve got totally carried away. I really could discuss this topic all day and if you’re interested in learning more, there’s so much more information on the internet and videos on YouTube. One of my favourite food websites is Authority Nutrition which is well worth a browse and you can sign up to their newsletter to be alerted of all new articles.
My best advice if you’re starting to eat more health foods is to stick it out. If you’re used to processed sugary foods then your taste buds may need to alter. When I first tried green tea I thought it was disgusting, but now it’s one of my favourite drinks and I can drink several cups per day!
If you’re on a healthier path I wish you all the best and I’m sure you’ll feel amazing and it will be totally worth it. Hopefully everyone will start avoiding added sugar as much as possible and food companies will start going down a more natural route which doesn’t include artificial sweeteners either!
Are you a sugar addict?