Why is sugar bad for us

Why is sugar bad for you

This post will be a bit different from my usual recipe post. If you remember my first post was actually on detox. Well, now I am picking up another of the baddies that I called out in my principles…SUGAR. When I say sugar I mainly refer to the refined kind. Most people are scared of fat, but for me the biggest enemy is sugar. It’s hidden everywhere (from breakfast cereals, fruit juices, some almond milk, fat free yogurt, and even hummus).

In a report from the World Health Organisation in 2014 more than 1.9 billion people (13% of total population) were obese and almost 30% are overweight. More worryingly, a study conducted by the same organisation in 2013 concluded that 42 million children under age of 5 were obese or overweight! This is truly shocking…Being obese decreases life expectancy by 10 years in average and it is also linked with high incidence of diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer (endometrial, breast and colon). In the context of the UK, this costs our national health system over £3 billion per year. In some respects I am not at all surprised by these figures. We are over exposed to high sugar, high salt, high fat, micronutrient poor food.

Sugar is not the only reason why people are obese but it has a lot to do with it. The confectionery business is massive and it is backed up by a lot of marketing ad spend. Just go into a supermarket and look at the size of the biscuit/cake aisle. Also, the problem is that some of us tend to leave the aisle with at least a pack of something sweet…and figures are backing this up…a third of confectionery purchases are prompted by purely seeing the category….no wonder kids react so impulsively seeing chocolate.

And let me just break another myth. I will put forward the equation “calories in – calories burnt = balance”. In other words thinking that if you ate 2500 calories in a day and you do enough exercise you burn the same amount of calories might not be entirely true. Burning 2500 calories worth of high sugar, processed food is not the same with burning 2500 calories of full of nutrients food. The body does not metabolize processed food quite in the same way. Hopefully I will be able to explain part of it here.

The Science Part 

Ok, I will try to make it easy for you. I don’t want you to read through and have a headache:).

Sugar is a carbohydrate (in other words its building blocks are carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) and the simplest forms it takes are glucose and fructose. The tongue cannot distinguish between the different types of sugar and although the provide the same amount of energy the way the body uses them is quite different.

Glucose – most ingested carbohydrates are transformed into glucose which the body uses immediately for energy or it stores it in muscles or liver as glycogen (which is used as source of energy in between meals or when we are fasting). Glucose is the key behind keeping our body going.

Fructose – occurs naturally in fruit and some vegetables. So, the riper the fruit the higher the fructose. This is not seen by the body as the main type of energy. While glucose is used by every cell in the body for energy,  fructose  can only be eliminated from the body with the help of certain enzymes produced by the liver. Well, if we eat cake or high sugar foods then the liver needs to work twice as hard to help us remove fructose…on the long run overworking the liver means old, tired liver that will not help your body when you need to. Also, because the presence of fructose in the body does not trigger the release of insulin that helps regulate the energy intake and consumption and therefore fructose deposits like fat in the body. Consuming fructose in moderation through eating fresh fruit and vegetables is not a problem (as the intake would be around 15g of fructose), however the disaster is when typically a sweetened drink contains 73g of fructose. Also, fruits and vegetables contain a lot of fibre and water and typically the feeling of fullness happens pretty quick. Drinking fruit juice…even the unsweetened ones…is not a good idea. You are able to easily drink a glass of orange juice (juice given by 2-3 oranges) which means the content of fructose is higher per portion…try eating 3 oranges…not so easy is it?

Types of sugar commercially available

White refined sugar – is made from raw sugar coming from sugar cane or sugar beet which has been refined (as the name suggests) to remove the molasses. It is the most common type of sugar available commercially. It contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose (which is the bad news) and also due to the process of refining and bleaching it has 0 nutritional value. So more or less when you eat sugar you eat empty calories.

Light/dark brown sugar – is actually refined white sugar which has been then re-mixed with the molasses which will give a brown shade and a caramel flavour. The difference between light and dark brown sugar is the concentration of molasses used. As you can imagine…it is as “nutritious” as white sugar….so stay away.

Muscovado Demerara

Muscovado sugar – is partially refined to unrefined brown sugar (raw sugar) that has a high molasses content. Muscovado sugar has more nutritional value as it retains the minerals originally found in sugarcane juice; it contains phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. However, it still contains glucose and fructose in generous amounts. So while it is better than white refined sugar…it is still a sugar.

Demerara (turbinado) sugar – is made from crystallized sugar can juice (raw sugar) spun in a centrifuge to remove most of the molasses. As muscovado sugar it has minimal mineral content due to the less processed nature of it.

Sugar types

Coconut sugar – comes from the sap of the flower bud of the coconut palm tree that has been boiled and dehydrated. I absolutely love coconut. I think it’s a miracle food…it is jam packed with loads of nutrients so when I heard that there is a sugar made out of it I though..halleluja! But my bubble of joy soon burst….while coconut sugar contains antioxidants, iron, zinc in sizeable amounts…it still contains 78% sucrose (table sugar which is made of glucose and fructose in equal amounts). Unfortunately I cannot add this to the guilt-free eat until you die type of food…but rather better alternative to white refined sugar to be consumed in moderation.

Agave syrup/nectar – is the sap that traditionally Mexican people took from the agave plant and boiled down at low temperature to thick syrup which breaks down carbohydrates into sugars (by the way it’s the same plant that tequila is made from and also Aztec people used it for medicinal purposes). The main component is a complex fructose called inulin (which is also present in coconut sugar). Inulin is a starchy substance that is used medically to regulate blood cholesterol. According to research inulin acts like a prebiotic  and therefore helps with bowel regularity and general health. Studies have also shown that inulin increases the calcium absorption as well as possibly magnesium absorption. There are however, some articles that are more critical around inulin and consider it to contain a high proportion of fructose which is not great news! I must admit I would like to do a bit more research around this…however the main message is…better than white refined sugar, however consume in moderation (at least for now:) ).

Stevia – well this one my friends is actually not a carbohydrate! YAY! so this means  it does not have an effect on blood sugar and therefore making it the perfect partner for people that have diabetes or that are on a carbohydrate-controlled diet . Stevia is a sweetener that comes from a plant which grows in Paraguay and Brazil. Another good news is that it’s usually 15 times more sweet than normal sugar so that means you need to use a little of it. The downside for me is that the powdered stevia I show here has a green appearance and the it has a certain taste impact…besides being sweet I feel that it has a bit of algae taste…which is great in my energy fuelling muffins but not sure it can be used in all recipes.

Honey – while this golden liquid has been marketed as being incredibly healthy…the watch out is that it still contains 38.2% fructose. It has some minerals as well, but if you tend to buy the mainstream honey from a supermarket like most of us do you will not really get any of the benefit. The honey in the supermarket has been overly processed and exposed to heat (to kill the yeast that will create fermentation and therefore increase the shelf life). The best type of honey you can get is raw honey…ideally from a beekeeper 🙂 (but as I know this is most of the times unrealistic) or from a health shop. I remember in my days back in Romania my parents used to get the real deal raw honey and it always had traces of wax, pollen…because that it is how it is in real life! So the raw honey that you will get from a health shop will have some minimal processing so you don’t get the wax and all the pollen.

So what?

Well…I will never say never ever have cake again…however, I will say treat as a treat:). I have moved on from having refined sugar now….I have the occasional treat but I can guarantee you that after a while of not having some you will not miss it and eating cake again you will find…it’s too sweet:) your palate is changing and it’s just showing how much of an addictive ingredient it is!

As mentioned at the beginning sugar is cleverly hidden in most of the things we buy from supermarket. I recommend looking at the ingredients list rather than nutritional value. This is because unless you are a nutritional guru you might mistaken some good carbohydrates and fat for bad ones. I do not believe this is a good representation of how good is something that you eat. Easier is to just look at what it contains…you will work out in some of the cases where you have cooked something from scratch that a lot of the ingredients that are in the things we buy we will never ever add when cooking. So as a rule of thumb…if sugar or anything that ends in “ose” is in the first 3 ingredients…AVOID.

The good news is that there are loads of choices out there that will not kill out liver. It’s just about making smart choices. Also, Great British Bake-off is my favourite programme as you could already tell by one of my Instagram posts:). So a lot of treats we can easily do at home, in the comfort of our kitchens…plus it’s so simple and tones of fun!

A few of my favourite treats:

  • baked in season fruit with yogurt and vanilla
  • in season fruit oat and buckwheat crumble
  • Mum’s dates, cranberries, nuts and coconut snow balls
  • Jaime’s dairy-free chocolate mousse

Recipes for these will be available soon on the blog so keep an eye on these.

So…for tomorrow treat….fruit anyone? 🙂

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