The majority of the UK eat too much sugar. NHS state this can be as much as 700g per week, averaging 140 teaspoons per person. That’s 20 teaspoons of sugar a day. New Government ‘Reference Intakes’ have replaced our ‘Recommended Daily Allowance’ and reduced sugar intake to 90 grams.
What can too much sugar do?
Public Health England states there are two clear reasons we need to be concerned about our sugar intake, obesity and tooth decay. 64% of adults in the UK are classed as being overweight or obese. Obesity caused through a high sugar intake and excess calories can lead to further health issues such as type two diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. It can also lead to psychological issues such as bullying, low self-esteem and even depression.
What happens when we ingest sugar?
Put in very simple terms, when we ingest anything high in artificial sugars we experience a sugar rush. Insulin is then released to control blood sugar levels. The temporary spike in energy experienced is then usually promptly followed by a sugar crash, which is where cravings develop and the ‘just one more’ temptations defeat us.
Whilst we are working towards satisfying these overwhelming cravings, excess sugar is being stored in the liver, too much can cause the liver to be overloaded and forced to expand to try and compensate. Once it has reached its maximum capacity the liver then sends out any excess sugar to be converted into fatty acids, which are stored as fat in less active parts of the body.
Is sugar rush as addictive as drugs?
Meanwhile, our brains going havoc. Sugar causes Dopamine to be released into the brain’s reward system. Our bodies are designed to regulate Dopamine released through feeding and, after a time of eating a particular food, in order to persuade us into a more varied diet the Dopamine hit we once experienced should level out and so we seek an alternative food source. However, our good friend sugar never fails to let us down. Sugar’s Dopamine hit remains no matter how much we consume. This is why it is so easy to overindulge. The dopamine released from sugar is the same highly addictive reward chemical which is released whenever we experience any form of pleasure, hence why we get claims of cookies being ‘as addictive as cocaine’ and other highly addictive substances.
How can we slim our sugar intake?
Now we’ve been put off our next Doughnut nicely, is that enough? The answer is, unfortunately, no. The problem is with sugar is that it’s sneaky. It’s finding ways into places we wouldn’t expect it and even supposedly ‘healthier’ foods like Granola can be pumped full of refined sugar. The safest way to cut back is before eating anything READ THE LABEL. All food is required by the government to have a nutritional label. If you haven’t been using these in the past, it's time to give them some attention, not only will they help you reduce your sugar intake but they will also give you an insight into what exactly you're about to ingest. The labels break down the food Macronutrient profile. So for example here we have Tomato Soup:
Being a savoury and low-calorie meal, we wouldn’t expect there to be lots of sugar in soup. However here we can see 11.1g per serving. That's 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar. Whilst actually that's only just over 1/9th of our daily intake, it's a sly serving and can still add up if we’re not careful. Always consider your portion. Labels detail per 100g as well as individual servings. If you're eating more than the packet says, don’t cheat yourself, add up the total sugar content for the amount you’ve eaten. This is where it's easy for your grams to shoot up, food which may have started with a reasonably tame sugar content once doubled or even tripled for multiple servings, can become far more aggressive. By government standards, a high sugar content contains more than 22.5g per 100g, whilst low sugar levels sit under 5g per 100g.
Running alongside its partner on the back of the label, most foods will also contain a red, amber, green colour code to the front of the packet for those who are in a rush, educated food choices can be made at a glance. If a food label reads code red, it’s probably best to give it a miss, it means the content is dangerously high, so if you are going to eat this food make sure it in moderation. Amber foods then, of course, suggest the food is reasonably neutral and a good selection. Green is what we’re aiming for, the greener the better, this should be the go to colour. However bear in mind green foods still contain calories, the calories you eat need to be equal to the amount of energy you use. That’s all a calorie really is at its simplest, energy. So if you eat it, you need to use it.
If it comes out of the ground, off a tree, plant or animal and doesn’t have a label; chances are it's in its most organic state, sugar levels will be natural and low if at all. This is the best kind of food to eat to avoid unwanted sugars and keep healthy. Another way to keep watch is to make the food yourself, homemade is always going to beat shop-bought food because you can monitor exactly what's gone into each bite. Weigh your ingredients and use natural whole produce to create exciting flavours which are nourishing and delicious.
Why not try low sugar brownies? Make the swap from shop-bought and you won't be disappointed by this quick and easy recipe:
I grew up with Mary Poppins telling me, “ A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down” but, in fact, Mary, it could be too much sugar that’s making me ill in the first place.