Sugar – children love it, adults love it. I don’t eat THAT much, so it can’t be TOO bad for me, and it gives me a great little “pick me up” when I have that mid afternoon slump.
Sound familiar? How much sugar do we actually eat, and how bad is it really for us?
When most people think of sugar, they think of cane sugar, either white, raw, brown etc. But sugar comes in many forms. There is glucose, which is the cornerstone of most carbohydrates and found in fruit, honey, vegetables and grains. Fructose is another type of sugar and is found in honey and fruit, and sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose and found in fruits and vegetables. Then there’s lactose, the sugar found in dairy products and a very difficult sugar for most people to digest.
Data varies, but the average Australian eats around 1kg of sugar per week, that’s around 50kg per year. It’s hidden in all types of food so it is very difficult to gauge exactly how much each of us actually eats, but let’s have a go!
If you eat processed cereals for breakfast, you are probably eating anything from 3 – 5 teaspoons of sugar per 50 gram serve (Although the serving size on the packet is 30 grams, research has shown that the average person eats a 50 gram serve). Add the milk to your cereal and add another 2 – 3 teaspoons of sugar. Add the teaspoon of sugar in your coffee, maybe a small tub of low fat yogurt (most of the popular brands of flavoured, low fat yogurt contain more than 28 grams or 7 teaspoons of sugar per 200 gram serving – more than ice cream!) and you have started the day off on a sugar high. You have just consumed between 13 and 16 teaspoons of sugar!!
Your blood sugar levels have just skyrocketed and your pancreas is working overtime to secrete the insulin required to transport the glucose to your cells. Then, your pancreas can become hypersensitive to sugar and overreact, flooding your body with insulin and causing your blood sugar levels to plummet.
By mid morning, you have that slump in energy because of the plummeting blood sugar levels and you go for a piece of cake (another 40 grams, or 8 teaspoons of sugar) and coffee with one sugar. Congratulations, you have just consumed another staggering 9 teaspoons of sugar!
Any need to continue counting sugar consumption? I guess you get the picture. Most people are consuming a staggering amount of sugar and don’t even realise it. Like some barbeque sauce on your meat or hamburger? You would be better off using chocolate topping, because there’s less sugar in the topping. Give your children Nutella on their toast because the advertisements say it is good for them? You have just given your children another 2 teaspoons of sugar (the same as jam). How about a glass of apple juice? A 375 ml glass contains a ridiculous 10 teaspoons! That is the same as a can of coke. Muesli bar for a snack? They can have more sugar than a block of chocolate.
So, now we know how much sugar we are consuming without even realising it, let’s have a look at what it can do to your body.
- Ever wondered why it is so hard to kick the sugar habit? Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans have shown that when we consume sugar, it triggers the same reward centres in the brain as cocaine, alcohol and nicotine. It won’t be in the too distant future when sugar will be scientifically recognised as an addictive substance.
- Sugar has been linked to a myriad of diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, macular degeneration and cataracts.
- It suppresses your immune system. Consuming 6 teaspoons of sugar can decrease your immune function by 25% for 12 hours and consuming 25 teaspoons of sugar by 95% for 12 hours.
- It can cause anxiety, hyper excitability and inability to concentrate, particularly in children.
- It also produces a significant rise in triglycerides, linked to heart disease and fatty liver. Fatty liver disease used to be the sole domain of alcoholics, but now there are children as young as ten years of age presenting with fatty liver disease from over consumption of sugar. The worse sugar culprit for developing fatty liver disease is actually excessive consumption of fructose, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup, used in America to sweeten soft drinks, but that is another article!
- Sugar reduces your HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and increases your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol).
- It can cause fatigue, moodiness and depression and creates inflammation throughout the body.
- It can raise your systolic blood pressure.
- Sugar causes a decline in tissue elasticity – the more sugar you eat, the more wrinkles you are likely to get.
- It decreases your absorption of calcium and magnesium and can contribute to osteoporosis. It can also lead to a chromium and copper deficiency.
- Sugar increases the risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It can lead to varicose veins, arthritis, kidney disease and has been linked to Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
These are just a small number of the detrimental health problems associated with sugar. Coming soon will be an article that will focus on how to finally lick that sugar habit.
By Andrea Southern, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Herbalist at Stafford and The Gap in Brisbane. For an appointment phone 0412 791 705