We are instinctively drawn to sweet tasting foods. Sweet foods let us know that they contain a quick energy source. But in nature sugar is rare, and is always accompanied by a higher proportion of fiber to slow it’s release. Think of sugar cane. It obviously contains a lot of sugar, but it has so much fiber that you would need a machete to cut through it! This is how nature intended it to be. Now think of refined table sugar. No fiber. Nothing to slow it’s release. This is bad news for our health, and our waistlines!
Why Is Sugar So Bad For Our Health?
A high-sugar, low-fiber diet, which basically describes all processed foods, is not healthy. When you are constantly taking in high levels of sugar your pancreas, which is responsible for regulating insulin, becomes exhausted and starts to produce less and less insulin. This can lead to Type II diabetes.
Bad bacteria also thrive on sugar, leading to fungal overgrowth like candida.
Other negative health issues linked to high sugar consumption include:
- Increased abdominal fat (there goes your six pack)
- Premature aging and increased wrinkles!
- Fatigue/muscle weakness
- Mood swings
The last four look like a list of symptoms caused by a hangover, which isn’t too surprising as sugar actually effects your body the same way alcohol does, just without the slurred speech and inflated sense of self importance
In The Beginning…
For our ancestors, sweet foods were generally only available as fruits, berries, and possibly the occasional bit of honey, for those willing to risk bee-ing (sorry ) stung.
In fact sugar remained scarce throughout history. Only the wealthy could afford it, but even they could not over indulge as there just wasn’t a whole lot of sugar available.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and sugar was slowly becoming more common. By common I mean more available, but not necessarily consumed on a regular basis. Sugar was used for baking cakes or pies for special occasions and other than these infrequent events the average diet still consisted of mostly home grown, definitely home made, wholesome and unprocessed foods.
Enter The Food Industry
Unfortunately over the years this traditional way of life gave way to pre-made or “convenience” food, which allowed people to spend less time growing and preparing their own food and more time working and stressing about modern life. Great trade off don’t you think?
It wasn’t long before “food” manufactures saw the money making potential in people’s fondness for sweet tasting foods and began adding sugar to everything. And because of sugars ability to interfere with our blood sugar balance, we keep reaching for more to give us more energy after the previous “sugar-buzz” has worn off , setting up an unending blood sugar roller coaster.
Today, according to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) the average American eats 165lbs of sugar per year!
This is shocking! But it isn’t just Americans who are eating this insane amount of sugar. You only have to look at the rapidly increasing rates of obesity across the globe to see that it is happening on your own doorstep.
Why Are We Consuming So Much Sugar?
Sweets used to be a treat. Think of when you were growing up. A slice of birthday cake, a couple of ice cream cones over the summer holidays, a bag of sweets on a Sunday, that you had to share with your brothers and sisters. This amount of sugar wasn’t a problem. Sure given the chance you would have eaten the entire birthday cake, or at least attempted to, but you never would have been allowed.
This has all changed now, everyday is a treat day. Children and adults are eating desserts, chocolate bars and cookies everyday of the week. Why? Because we can. We don’t have to make the effort to prepare and cook this stuff, it’s already made, wrapped-up sitting on the shelf in well researched packaging designed to draw your attention and encourage you to buy it.
Another significant source of the massive consumption of sugar in the typical diet comes from soft drinks (aka soda, fizzy drinks). A can of your favourite soft drink is like drinking a bag of sugar. What’s worse is the type of sugar used is fructose, which is sweeter than sugar. You would think manufactures would used less of it, not a chance.
In nature fructose, or fruit sugar, is always combined with fiber. When you remove the fiber, leaving only the fructose, the body doesn’t register that it has taken in food and so does not release insulin. Since canned and bottled soft drinks contain zero fiber you can keep guzzling these things without you brain signalling you to stop. Sounds like a liscence to print money if you ask me.
So desserts and soft drinks are the obvious places we are getting sugar from, but it turns out that a lot of the sugar in our diet is actually coming from foods that we would never associate with sugar.
Crackers, breads, some tinned fish (check the ingredients, unless in brine or spring water) peanut butter, baked beans, wraps, yogurt, pre-made meals, frozen foods, tomato sauce and just about everything labelled “low-fat” (where sugar is added to replace the fat).
Why is sugar being added to these foods? Because people like the taste. Plus sugar is addictive, the more you eat it, the more you crave it. Which is pretty scary since we are giving sugar laden foods to children at younger and younger ages, setting them up as the next generation of sugar junkies!
This constant supply of sugar is making kids lazy and much more likely to sit in front of the tv all day or on the computer, while they try and get through their “sugar hangover”. Think about it, there was always one fat kid you knew when you were growing up, the one who was allowed to eat too much junk, but they were usually the only fat kid you knew. Now they’re all fat kids, and they might know a kid who isn’t fat.
Sugar’s Effect On Weight And Leanness
Processed sugar causes a rapid spike in blood sugar, when this happens insulin floods the body in an effort to prevent the sugar damaging our organs. It is because of this “emergency” action that the liver doesn’t have time to properly process the sugar and most of it ends up being stored as fat.
Sugar also effects how lean and defined you look. It seems to be down to sugar having a similar effect to alcohol on the body. This effect can be seen particularly in the abdominal area. It makes the abs look soft and “puffy”, even when you’re slim, giving you a “skinny-fat” look.
Having a high-sugar diet also dehydrates your muscles impairing their ability to fully contract and preventing you from getting the most out of your training/workouts.
How You Can Cut Sugar
The good news is that we can all take measures to reverse and prevent the damaging effects of sugar.
- Avoid processed foods:
Avoid anything with more than one ingredient, so if it comes in a packet, box, can (canned fish in brine or water is okay), carton or wrapper with a list of ingredients the length of your arm, you should avoid it.
- Instead, eat:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Lean meats (fresh fish, organic free range chicken, beef)
Organic free range eggs
Small amount of whole grains like oats, quinoa, buckwheat
Extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil
- Avoid all soft drinks and store bought fruit juices:
Soft drinks are pure sugar, which hopefully I’ve convinced you is not healthy, but cartons of fruit juice aren’t much better. Again this is due to the lack of fiber, and that fructose without fiber is really bad for our health.
- Drink more water:
This is something we hear all the time, but don’t necessarily do. I make sure I sip water throughout the day but I don’t drink huge quantities all at once, which just doesn’t seem natural to me.
I also drink coconut water after exercising to rehydrate.
- Avoid sitting all day:
Sitting at a desk all day in front of a computer, sitting in a car, bus or train commuting to and from work, and then sitting in front of the tv for hours when you get home will leave you feeling sluggish, plus you are more likely to reach for a sugary snack when you are bored and tired.
- Be more active:
Cycle to work if possible.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Walk or cycle to the shops instead of driving.
Go to the gym, do a class or go for a walk instead of watching tv in the evenings.
This sounds obvious, but if you commit to doing it you will really notice a change in the way you feel, look and think.
My Experience Without Sugar
In my experience, when I decided to cut sugar out of my diet to be healthier and to balance my blood sugar (I’m not diabetic) I noticed I lost weight and started to look leaner within a few days. I wasn’t overweight at all but I really noticed a difference. I also felt great when I woke up in the mornings and I didn’t get tired during the day. This might sound strange, but I also started to feel more confident.
Overall I think cutting way back, or ideally giving up sugar, is definitely worth doing if you want to lose excess weight, see more definition in your abs, have more energy, feel more positive and generally improve your physical and mental health.