This week is Sugar Awareness Week and, believe me, it is an enemy to be truly feared! I like to compare it to fire because although it gives us quick and efficient energy, it is equally dangerous and can wreak absolute havoc in the body.
Sugar triggers the brain’s pleasure and reward centres – areas in the emotional core of the brain responsible for the release of the “feel good” neurotransmitter called dopamine. The same brain areas are stimulated by cocaine, nicotine, opiates like heroin and morphine, and alcohol – sugar is in fact Nature’s ultimate stimulant.
We all know that we should consume less sugar than we do, but what is quite shocking is that 21st century children in the West are eating their body weight in sugar each year – that’s 75 g per day, the equivalent of 19 teaspoons!!! So it is small wonder that sugar has been singled out as the biggest contributing factor in the international obesity crisis. In 1900, we consumed an average of 2.25 kg of sugar per person annually and most of that came from fruit, which was our main source of sweetness and was available seasonally. By 2010, the annual sugar consumption had soared to 86 kg, mostly in the form of refined sugar, and sugar has in many ways become the foundation of the typical Western diet, particularly because of its presence in the majority of processed foods which so many people rely on. This treacherous white stuff is truly ubiquitous. You will obviously find it in sweets, cakes and biscuits but you will also come across it in practically every type of processed food, which is why you are unaware that you are eating so much of it. It is even added to flavoured crisps! Isn’t that frightening???
These are just a few of the effects which a high consumption of refined sugar can have on your health:-
· It damages the skin's collagen and it is collagen which keeps your skin elastic and resistant to wrinkles
· It depresses the immune system
· It places huge stress on the liver
· It creates imbalances in energy which can contribute to erratic behaviour and mood changes
· It paves the way towards type 2 diabetes
· It damages lipids, proteins and even DNA
· It hugely increases our risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
· It causes inflammation and free radicals throughout the body, both of which accelerate the ageing process
Is there an alternative? One of the things I am asked so often as a nutritional therapist and health coach is what are the best sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners are man-made products which are no better for us than real sugar. Some – notably aspartame and acesulfame-K – have been linked to cancer while sugar alcohols like sorbitol are poorly broken down by the body and just end up feeding the bad bacteria in the large intestine.
Although the ideal scenario would be to wean ourselves off sweet things generally, this can be tough going – at least at first. Natural sweeteners like apple sauce, dates or mashed banana can be helpful and they crop up in lots of healthy recipes. And amazingly, adding a pinch of salt (unadulterated salt like sea salt or pink Himalayan salt crystals) can bring out the natural sweetness in food so you may find you don’t need the sugar anyway.
I will be running a “Sugar-free Challenge” in my new Facebook group later this month so do join me and start learning how to do away with the white poison in your diet. In fact, the best way to detox yourself from sugar addiction is to eat a healthy, natural diet because you will find that your desire for sweet food wanes and disappears almost magically.