SUGAR ADDICT? YOU’RE NOT ALONE
Last week’s Sunrise special on sugar and the pros and cons of including it as part of a “healthy diet” generated much interest across social media sites.
Various health professionals and consumer advocates expressed strong feelings both for and against the rather unassuming white crystals many of us use without a second thought.
So, is a little sugar really that bad for us?
From a biochemical perspective, there is nothing evil about sugar itself. White table sugar is simply the linking of two molecules (glucose and fructose) to form sucrose. We consume numerous simple sugars in natural unprocessed foods including fruit, dairy foods and even vegetables on a daily basis and have done so for hundreds of years without any significant consequences.
All this would suggest that a little sugar from natural sources poses no issue in the diet long term.
The truth is though, that when it comes to discussing sugar and the potential issues associated with it, we are not talking about fruit. We are talking about far more concentrated doses of sugar found in processed foods, often in conjunction with refined white flour and/or fat.
Eating these foods sends the brain into a drug-like frenzy, likened in some ways to that of a hit of cocaine.
And, as is the case with regular drug use, the more of this intensely sweet food that we include in our diet – whether it be in cake, biscuits, ice cream or chocolate – the more we want.
These behaviours routinely cause frustration, stress and food-related anxiety for those who are feeling completely out of control with their eating.
Unfortunately, as food processing techniques have advanced and more and more of our favourite cereals, snacks, sauces and yoghurts have sugar added, so too have our palates developed quite a taste for the white stuff.
In fact, it is not unusual to assess a diet that contains nothing but refined white carbs for the most part of the day.
A refined breakfast cereal – oats with added sugar or fruit muesli – kick-start the day, followed by sweetened tea and coffee, a couple of biscuits and large slices of white breads and wraps prior to the extreme sweet craving which usually kicks in at about 3 or 4pm.
On the surface the diet appears healthy, but a closer look reveals that every single source of carbohydrate is refined and contains added sugars, which leave blood sugar levels unstable and prone to dipping late in the afternoon.
The good news is that if you are one of the many for whom this sounds familiar, it is a dietary pattern that is actually very easy to shift.
The first step is to eliminate as much added sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet as possible. This includes the white breads, added sugar to tea and coffee, cakes, biscuits and chocolates as well as sweet sauces, bars and fruit snacks and juices (fresh fruit is in a different category as it also contains the fibre and bulk missing from refined fruit products).
If you have been consuming large quantities of added sugar, you are likely to have a few withdrawal symptoms but nothing you won’t be able to handle.
At worst you may get a headache and find yourself a little grumpy, but after just two or three days without any added sugar in your diet you will find yourself feeling more energised and free from the cravings to which you have been a slave for so long.
The other good thing to know is that once you have eliminated these sugars you will also need far less in order to get your “hit”.
Sweetened drinks and soft drinks will simply be too “sweet”, you will be more than satisfied after just a few spoonfuls of dessert and a row of dark chocolate will be more than enough. Imagine how freeing that would be?
The sugar swap
Fruit Muesli Plain oats
Fruit yoghurt Natural yoghurt
Sugar Cinnamon, or vanilla
Milk chocolate 70% dark chocolate
Dried fruit Fresh fruit
Muesli bars Nut based snack bars
Rice crackers Roasted chic peas
Wraps Rye Crackers
Sweet chilli sauce Chili sauce
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*Susie Burrell is one of Australia’s leading dietitians with degrees in both nutrition and psychology. Susie regularly appears on Channel 7’s Today Tonight and Sunrise and is a regular contributor to Woman’s Day and SHAPE magazines. Susie released her first book, Losing the last 5kg last year and has a nutrition practice in Sydney. For more information go to www.susieburrell.com.au.