Sugar has acquired itself a terrible reputation in recent years. With a population’s waist size ballooning out of control, scientists and dieticians are looking at all the possibilities as to why we are facing this obesity epidemic. Fifty years ago fat was seen as the main offender before being contested many times over, now we are all pointing the finger at sugar. So, what are the facts about sugar?
History of sugar
It is thought sugar originated in Polynesia and then spread to India, Emperor Darius from Persia came across sugar cane in his invasion in 510BC and dubbed it "the reed which gives honey without bees", before then being introduced to Western Europe in the 11th century. It is documented that sugar could be purchased as early as 1319AD in London for what would be equivalent to US$100 a kilo.
By the year 1700, the average person ate approximately 2kg of sugar a year, still an expensive and somewhat rare luxury it was mainly used to sweeten tea and make pastries. Even 400 years after the first documented sale, sugar was not yet a regular part of a diet.
Fast forward 300 years to today where the average Australian consumes around 53kg per year. Foods that are perceived as healthy have an alarming amount of added sugar in them with around 80% of foods in a standard grocery store containing sugar.
What is sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate which has a high glycemic index meaning the body breaks down the energy very quickly turning sugar into glucose for the body to use as energy. Any glucose which is not used for energy is stored as fat – hence the epidemic!
Is sugar good for us?
No. Sugar really isn’t doing us good in any way. It provides our bodies with zero nutritional value, it is just energy which as mentioned above is burned very quickly or stored as fat. On top of this, it decays teeth, causes insulin resistance, is highly addictive, raises cholesterol, contributes to heart disease and is the leading cause of obesity. Yikes.
It’s hidden everywhere!
The scary thing is it’s much harder to avoid sugar than you think. We expect sugar to be in chocolate, cakes and ice cream, but how about salad dressing, muesli bars and yoghurt?
“Understanding the difference between added and natural sugar (e.g. lactose in milk and fructose in fruit) is important. Added sugar can be labelled with many different names from the more common sucrose and glucose to the healthy sounding (but still just added sugar) options of agave syrup, rice malt syrup or coconut sugar.” Ali Patterson, Advanced Sports Dietitian
In fact a Yoplait Forme Peach and Mango yoghurt has 2½ teaspoons of sugar in it and a serve of Paul Newman’s Light Honey Mustard has 1 teaspoon in there. That’s just like sprinkling a teaspoon of sugar over your salad?!? Kellogg’s Just Right is over 25% sugar (11.5g per 40g serve), that’s actually more sugar than a serve of Coco Pops!! Products which are low in fat, are often high in sugar. A trick food companies have been doing for years ensuring you believe it is a healthier option and it still tastes good, so you will still buy it.
“Unfortunately, even perceived healthy foods can be high in hidden sugars, that “healthy” banana ‘bread’ should really be called banana ‘cake’ with 4-5 teaspoons of sugar (or more) in an average slice. If you’re looking to lower your sugar intake, read the ingredients on the label – the fewer listed sugars, the more nutritious the food is likely to be.” Ali Patterson, Advanced Sports Dietitian
So how much sugar should we eat?
Well, none. We don’t need added sugar in our diets at all. The World Health Organisation recommends we limit intake to 12 teaspoons a day which for the average Australian would be extremely challenging to do while still eating packaged food.
The last decade has seen the rise of the no sugar movement, with a throng of books and documentaries converting the masses to a sugar free diet. Going sugar free offers perks such as weight loss, more energy, stronger immune systems and not leaving individuals prey to diseases such as diabetes. The no sugar diet also claims that within 2 to 4 weeks, sugar cravings will be gone permanently. Check out That Sugar Film a 2014 documentary where Australian actor tries both sides of the sugar spectrum.
Is going sugar free something you could do? Share your thoughts on facebook, why or why not?