In the Western world refined sugar has become an obsession. What was once considered a luxury, a delicacy or a treat for very special occasions has become almost impossible to avoid. I’m not talking about sugar that naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables, but refined sugar, an addictive substance that wreaks havoc on the body.
The World Health Organization report http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/guidelines/sugars_intake/en/ advises that the amount of free sugar consumed (that is all sugar that is not a natural part of fruit and vegetables) be less than 10% of total calories consumed with a recommendation that less than 5% of calories from sugar would lead to further health benefits.
The NHS http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1139.aspx?categoryid=51 recommends no more than 30g of sugar per day which equals approximately 7.5 teaspoons per day.
According to Dr. Mark Harman our hunter gatherer ancestors ate the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar per year. This certainly wouldn’t have been the refined sugar that we eat today and I can only imagine this would have been in the form of honey gathered from wild bee hives or possibly wild sugar cane. Today, according to the European Association of Sugar Manufacturers , the average annual UK sugar consumption is 35kg per person . . . that’s 96 grams per day!
Refined sugar is a long way removed from it’s origins of beet or cane. From a nutritional point it upsets the mineral relationships in the body and can lead to a deficiency in the minerals: chromium, copper calcium and magnesium. It can also lower the amount of Vitamin E in the blood and can interfere with the absorption of protein. It can also cause food allergies.
From a general health point of view sugar can suppress the immune system and contributes to a reduction in the body’s defense against bacterial infection, which is probably the reason that it can be a contributory factory in so many illnesses. The list below is not exhaustive highlights some of the major illnesses that can be caused or aggravated by a high consumption of refined sugar:
- Hypoglycemia and ultimately diabetes
- An acidic digestive tract causing indigestion
- Atherosclerosis (build up of plaque on the artery walls)
- Tooth decay
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Varicose Veins
- Premature ageing both internally and it can make our skin age by changing the structure of collagen.
- Damage to the pancreas
- Fluid retention
- Tendons are more brittle
- Hormonal imbalance
- Formation of kidney stones
- Can increase cholesterol
- Can increase the risk of Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis
- Can contribute to eczema in children
Sugar slows food’s travel time through the gastrointestinal tract, and hence, bowel movements. And at a cellular level sugar can impair the structure of DNA. Sugar also alters your metabolism and brain chemistry.
The reason that sugar causes all of these problems in the body is because it promotes inflammation in the body and it is the inflammation that eventually leads to the illnesses mentioned above.
Now that you are aware of the problems that sugar can cause, you will hopefully want to eliminate or at the very least massively reduce your sugar intake. This is where the challenge begins. As mentioned before sugar affects your brain chemistry and in doing this causes intense cravings. As well as dealing with the addictive aspect of sugar, you will also need to become a super sleuth to track down all of the places where sugar is lurking in the modern diet.
Depending on how much sugar you consume you may just want to quit all refined sugar. If you do this it will take 10 days for you to notice a change both metabolically and neurologically.
If you are currently consuming a large amount of sugar and feel that quitting would be too difficult here are some suggestions of ways that you can reduce your sugar intake or swap to more natural sweeteners to help you on your journey.
- Eat home-made whole food instead of packaged processed food and take away food. There are many delicious recipes that you can make from scratch in 20-30 minutes. Stews, casseroles, curries etc. can even be made in larger quantities so that you only need to cook every other day. You will be amazed at how much more taste there is in homemade foods too. To start on this journey, find one really healthy recipe that you will enjoy making from scratch and swap the unhealthiest meal that you have for this new recipe.
- If you add sugar to tea or coffee reduce the amount you add by one quarter of a teaspoon and then carry on drinking as normal for a week. After a week reduce by another quarter teaspoon and keep drinking your same amount of tea or coffee until you get used to this lower level of sugar.
- If you don’t like the taste of tea or coffee without sugar then consider swapping to a different type of drink such as herbal tea or water.
- Swap brands – if you love baked beans, for example, check the labels and swap to a brand with a lower amount of sugar.
- Swap biscuits or cakes for healthy desserts – many of them are very easy to make and taste divine. My Healthy Desserts Workshop can help with this.
- Swap processed cereals for home-made muesli or porridge. If you need your porridge sweetened, add a handful of dried fruit, or a fresh sliced banana, or spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.