As you’ve been striving to get healthier, you have started exercising regularly and had a careful look at your diet. You don’t have to look far to hear that sugar is bad because it converts to fat. Carbohydrates are bad because they turn to sugar. Lots of dietary movements tend to steer clear from sugar and carbohydrates. But are they really that bad for you? Are they really toxic and is it that straight forward?

Insulin

There is an anti-sugar campaign out there that believes that the consumption of carbohydrates leads to a spike in insulin which in turn tells your body to store up fat. Unfortunately there is no study to support this carbohydrate-insulin-obesity theory. It is oversimplified to believe that eating carbohydrates and sugar will make you obese. Insulin’s job isn’t just to signal your body to store fat. It is your main agent that tells your body what your short term energy status is and what nutrients your cells need. Your insulin levels actually need to be high enough to tell your brain that you have enough fuel in your body to reproduce and activate your thyroid hormones. So insulin is really important in regulating your body function. We need to consume sugar in our diet to enable our body to function effectively. But not all sugars are the same.

Not All Sugars are the same

At a molecular level the glucose, fructose and sucrose found in table sugar or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) found as the sweetener for many packaged foods, is the same as the ones in honey, fruit and starchy vegetables high in carbohydrates. However, your body doesn’t process them in the same way. This is where the anti-sugar campaign gets unstuck. You need to keep eating your fruit and vegetables! Fructose found in fruit is a simple sugar molecule and has a specific chemical structure. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a 1:1 ratio of fructose and glucose. This is what your body finds harder to break down.

The sugars found naturally in fruits are beneficial to your health and body function. Longitudinal and population studies show that they do not promote weight gain, even in cultures where a significant percentage of calories come from fruit consumption. These cultures are lean. Studies actually find overall that the consumption of fresh fruit reduces the risk of obesity and diabetes and that limiting fruit consumption will not help you lose weight. So not all sugars are the same, but it does matter where the sugar comes from and how it is consumed.

Hidden Sugar Diet

The correlation between sugar and obesity comes when it is consumed in large, refined amounts. Unfortunately, the food industry has included sugar in so many foods that you probably don’t even realise how much you are consuming. Added sugar is hidden everywhere. It is startling that sugar consumption has tripled worldwide over the last 50 years. We are consuming sugar in such high quantities that it is too much for our bodies to process, therefore it is just stored as fat. Added sugar is in your bread, tomato sauce, yoghurt, soup, peanut butter, sausages, and worst of all it is in drinks. Liquid sugar is the worst because we can consume so much sugar without thinking about it.

“It’s [sugar] not only used as a sweetener, it’s used as a colouring for food consistency and as something to hold the ingredients together,” says Lisa Renn, RD. “Having small amounts of sugar in moderation is OK. But large amounts every day are not good. Soft drinks have become the new water.”

Moderation

The key is to enjoy refined sugar in moderation. The WHO guidelines strongly recommends people to consume less than 10% of their total energy intake as sugar. Sugar contained in fruit, vegetables and milk is not included in the count. It is the added sugars that we need to watch out for. There is strong evidence that worldwide we are consuming too much sugar and are gaining negative impacts on our health. Increase in obesity and tooth decays are increased when the intake of refined sugars is higher than 10%. So there is no need to cut out sugar completely from your diet, you just need to learn how to keep your consumption levels down. Over the years we have started to replace nutrient dense foods that also contain sugar with refined foods that contain sugar, but no nutrients. If you start to consume more nutritionally packed foods, your body will start to have a better response to sugar when you do have a little treat.

Tips to Reducing Added Sugars in Your Diet

  • Replace all drinks with water. Keep those party drinks for special occasions.
  • Drink tea and coffee without sugar.
  • Don’t add sugar to your main meals. Keep the sugar for the special desserts.
  • Replace table sugar with natural fruit/honey sugars where you can.
  • Eat as much fresh whole food as possible.
  • Read the labels of your bread, yoghurt, sauces and choose the lower option.