Sugar. The new(ish) taboo with many realising that they suffer from a sugar addiction. Back in the day, we all believed saturated fats to be the devil-food-incarnate, but according to the latest research, it’s actually refined sugars that cause the most dietary of health problems. Refined sugar is high in calories, has zero nutritional value, and just wreaks havoc with our bodies. Obesity, diabetes, liver disease, and rotten teeth are just a few of the infamous health predicaments related to indulging in our sugar cravings.
Sugar has craftily found its way into many, if not most, of the foods we eat. The average slice of bread contains as much as 3g of sugar; a small serving of tinned peaches includes as much as 18g; in a supposedly-healthy granola cereal bar, up to 15g; and around 12g in a serving of bottled spaghetti tomato sauce.
Why is it that so many foods are jam-packed with sugar? Has it always been this way? Let's break it down:
Sugar was a rare commodity in Europe until the late 17th century. Its consumption significantly increased from then onwards, helped out by the slave trade and the expanding sugar plantations in the West Indies. Yet even at the turn of the 20th century, the average Briton consumed only 450g of sugar per week. By the 1960s this had increased to 900g. Today, the figure is a massive 2.7kg a week. This is equivalent to the average person’s annual consumption of sugar in 1700!
In the 1960s the British nutrition expert John Yudkin carried out a series of experiments showing the effects of high amounts of sugar in the diet. His results were strikingly clear – excess sugar led to high levels of fat and insulin in the blood, risk factors for both diabetes and heart disease. Yet no one paid Yudkin any attention. His message was drowned out by a tide wave of other, predominantly American scientists blaming the rising rates of heart disease and obesity on cholesterol triggered by a surplus of saturated fat in the diet. Consequently, America went on a fat-reducing drive – fat now constitutes a far smaller part of the American diet than it did in the 1960s. However obesity rates have only increased since then. The primary reason? You guessed it – sugar!
The sugar problem has steadily worsened since the American invention of high-fructose corn syrup in the 1950s. It is cheaper than cane and beet sugar, which made it a highly desirable substitute in a world recovering from the Second World War, and in which sugar rationing was still widespread. High-fructose corn syrup has now replaced beet and cane sugar in most processed foods, and is used by the majority of American beverage manufacturers. Fun fact – if you ever wondered why Coca-Cola and Pepsi taste a bit different in the US, it’s because the American versions use high-fructose corn syrup as opposed to sugar used everywhere else in the world!
Resident Good Zing expert and nutritionist Zoe Stirling says, "The food industry has mainly added sugar to many products because it is addictive. By adding sugar into food products, those items become more addictive too, resulting in repeat customer purchases! Sugar is also a cheaper product to add into food so I’d assume that manufacturers can benefit from greater margins on products. Health wise – there are obvious links with diabetes onset but more research is showing up that links sugar with cardiovascular issues, hormone related problems, digestive issues and fatigue for example."
What Can I Do To Lower My Sugar Intake?
If you want to live a healthier lifestyle and minimize the risk of illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, the solution is crystal clear. Cut. Back. On. Sugar! It’s not easy to avoid sugar in today’s world, but if you are attentive about what you eat, avoid processed foods and do your research, you may make many of the ill effects disappear with time. Here are a couple of extra health tips to get you going:
Beware Of 'Fat-Free' Labels
Don’t be fooled by the elusive 'fat-free' label on many foods, as these are often laden with sugar to keep the good taste when fat is removed. A 150g (5oz) serving of some 0% fat yoghurts contain as much as 20g (0.7oz) of sugar – the equivalent of five teaspoons! This counts for half the recommended daily sugar intake for women, which is 50g (1.07oz).
A good way to lower your sugar intake and control your sugar cravings is to cook for yourself. This way you know exactly what is going in your dinner and will prevent you from indulging in processed foods.
Most importantly, look at the whole picture – be mindful of the foods you buy and remember, a little sugar therapy is ok but a lot can't make the pains go away!
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