The Truth About Sugar
There has been a lot of hype around sugar of late and rightly so! This sweet stuff makes its way into many of our supermarket shelf products, at times unbeknown to the average consumer. Why is it added you may ask? Sugar not only acts as a preservative, but it also adds sweetness and masks undesirable sour or bitter flavours in foods. This, and the fact that it is cheap to produce, makes it a desirable additive for producers to include in processed foods. Sweet foods are also something the majority of the population have a preference for and it is understandable why…did you know sugar is actually 8 times more addictive than cocaine?!
Yes…believe it! Sugar, a legal substance, is so addictive that the majority of the population are hooked and don’t even know why! With this knowledge, it is crystal clear why food companies frequently add sugar to their products, even if they are not traditionally deemed as a ‘sweet’ food item. This is because if you are addicted to sugar, you will want more, which means more sales and subsequent profit for the food companies!
Have you ever stopped eating sugar and felt dizzy, or experienced that mid-afternoon slump? This is your blood sugar levels out of whack and if you don’t satisfy that sweet craving, expect to begin to go into sugar withdrawal. Symptoms of sugar withdrawal include: cravings, headaches, aches and pains, mood swings, anger, anxiety, depression, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, weight changes and “the shakes” (1).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that adults and children reduce their sugar intake to less than 5% of their total calorie consumption and the recommendation is that the average adult consume no more than 6 teaspoons/25 grams of sugar per day (2).
However, on average most of us consume more than 20 teaspoons of sugar each day (3)!!! The average 375mL can of soft drink contains 10 teaspoons of sugar (note that 1 tsp = 4g sugar) and so too does the average 500mL of store bought orange juice!
Ultimately, it is best if you buy wholefoods as they contain only natural sugars. As a rule of thumb, look for <10g of sugar per 100g and remember to check the number of servings per pack and compare like products by using the 100g column in the nutrition panel. Also consider sugar free products; however be weary that they don’t contain sugar alcohols or unhealthy substitute sweeteners. Some sugar substitutes have been found to be linked to cancer e.g. Leukemia.
Examples of these include: artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), sugar alcohols (often found in chewing gum) e.g. xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and sucralose (Splenda). If the ingredient’s list contains numbers and chemical names you cannot pronounce, this is also a sign to steer clear. Lastly, beware that less fat often means more sugar, therefore I recommend avoiding low-fat alternatives.
Sugar, rather sneakily, can also be disguised under numerous other names. Other names for sugar include, but are not limited to: anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, lactose, liquid fructose, maltose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup.
So what are you to do with all of this information? Consider more appropriate sugar substitutes such as: cinnamon, vanilla, dried fruit e.g. dates and sultanas, coconut sugar, rice malt syrup, organic maple syrup, and honey. However, I believe that the best alternative currently available is stevia leaf extract, which comes in either a liquid or granular form. Stevia has 150 times the sweetness of sugar with a negligible effect on blood glucose. It has been used for more than 1,500 years in South America (4); therefore this is my preference when making some sweet treats at home. Always to be enjoyed in moderation of course!