There has been a huge amount in the media recently about the dangers of sugar. Is it really that bad and could you have an addiction?
Let’s take a look at what sugar really is and how it affects our bodies.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that comes in many forms. Simple sugars or monosaccharides, consist of dextrose, fructose and glucose. Simple sugars can combine to form disaccharides such as sucrose, which is made up of glucose and fructose. The main difference between the sugars is the way in which the body metabolises them.
Every cell in our body uses glucose for energy. Sugars and starches are digested in the intestines to form glucose so that it can be converted in the cells for energy. The Pancreas secretes the hormone Insulin which controls the uptake of glucose by the cells. If all of this sugar is not needed by the cells, it is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle tissue.
Fructose however is a different molecule and is absorbed mainly in the small intestine and metabolised wholly in the liver. Any excess is converted into triglycerides and whatever is left is stored in the fat cells.
Fructose is found in fruits and vegetables but most fructose comes in the form of sucrose (glucose and fructose) which is found in cakes, biscuits, sweets, soft drinks and in the form of high fructose corn syrup which is added to many foods. Most processed foods contain sugar and it is often these ‘hidden’ sugars that present the most danger. In the 1990’s the trend was to eat ‘low fat’. As a consequence, food manufacturers reduced the amount of fat in foods and increased the sugar content to maintain taste.
Australians are said to be eating around 30 teaspoons of sugar a day on average, while in the USA the total has been said to be closer to 30 – 60 teaspoons. According to the World Health Organisation, the average should be closer to 12 teaspoons!!
Although we may think that we don’t actually ‘eat’ such large amounts, many people just aren’t aware of the sugars hidden in processed foods. If you’re eating processed foods you are eating unnecessary amounts of sugar.
Did you know that sugar is also very addictive. Endocrinologist Dr Robert Lustig from the University of California and researchers from the University of Bordeaux have discovered that refined sugar is four times more addictive than cocaine! Sugar acts on our neurotransmitters, the hormones that affect how we feel, amongst other things. Constant intake of sugar affects our levels of dopamine and serotonin which play a role in reward-motivated behaviour. Most types of reward affect the levels of dopamine and serotonin and override normal self control mechanisms, thus leading to addiction.
Most experts now believe that refined sugar is also leading to a worldwide obesity epidemic, which is contributing to deaths from heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Sugar has also been shown to decrease your immune system, upset the mineral and vitamin balance in your body, increase anxiety, affect the acidity in your digestive tract and hence overall digestion, cause premature ageing and a myriad of other negative responses in our bodies.
Now, I’m not saying that we should never eat sugar or sugar-containing sweets but moderation and awareness is the key here. Eat fresh, unprocessed food as much as possible and if you do want to add something in a packet or a tin, always read the label and choose the best option. When using sugar, go for natural sweeteners such as honey or rapadura sugar which is unrefined cane sugar that still contains the vitamins.
It has been said that 10% of life is made up of what happens to you but 90% is decided by how you react. We can have a huge amount of control over our reactions and the decisions we make. So when it comes to the food we put into our mouths, we can decide to choose wisely.
References: www.thehealthscienceacademy.or/is-sugar-an-addictive-drug, www.articles.mercola.com, www.nancyappleton.com, www.bupa.com.au/health-and-wellness, Primal body, Primal mind – Nora T. Gedgaudas, 90/10 Principle – Stephen Covey
Disclaimer: Please note that all information in this article is the opinion of the author and obtained through her research and knowledge and the above references. It is not meant to replace medical advice and a medical opinion should always be obtained for any health condition.