Sugar: the reality

This pictures shows a giant gummy bear among smaller gummy bears, to illustrate the amount of sugar we eat each day.

According to scientific studies, we eat too much sugar. It’s bad for you, we know that. Yet somehow we’re all still eating too much of the stuff.  Sugar is common in our everyday lives, ubiquitous and often hidden. From  sugar-laden breakfast cereals and cooking sauces to yogurts and apparently healthy snacks, almost everything has a hidden sugar content. This is worrying because excess sugar is linked to many diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The current abundance of sugar in our every day diets has managed to creep up to this level because it’s been on the increase for years; and if we raise our children this way, as we seem to be, the trend is only set to continue.

The amount of sugar in our diets began to increase dramatically following the second world war, and in the 70s when research suggested that excess fat was linked to obesity and heart disease and thus, was our number one enemy.  In turn began the craze for  “low fat” and “fat free” products, which were laced with sugar to balance the taste. It was around this time too that liquid sugar was created -high fructose corn syrup.

This high fructose syrup fools the hormones that are responsible for regulating your appetite. Hormones are little biological messengers, involved in every single thing our bodies do. Thus, hunger hormones make us want to eat, and likewise, satiety hormones tell us when we are full.

The problem is that we have now evolved to be without this “off-switch” system for fructose. Compared to the amount of sugar in our ancestors diets, ours are incredibly high. This is partially due to the prevalence of sugar in our diets, but also due to the fact that now, our hormones won’t actually tell us to stop eating sugar. This is problematic, as scientists now believe that the link between heart disease and our diets, is to with excess sugar, as opposed to excess fat.

That all said, not all sugar is bad for us. We actually need glucose to live. Our body metabolises it to give us energy. When carbohydrates and sugar are consumed, they are digested and the simple sugars released by digestion are absorbed into the bloodstream. Then, the pancreas produces the “insulin” hormone  to manage the level of sugar in blood, which is essential for good health.

If we consume too much sugar there are two issues. Firstly, the body’s managing system can be overloaded, and our pancreas will produce more and more insulin, until we become ‘insulin resistant. This is known as the first stage of Type 2 Diabetes. However this is a treatable disease.

The second issue stems from the fact that any excess sugar is turned into fat, causing weight gain and fatty liver diseases, cancer, hypertension and so on. Currently, in the developed world, 10% of children are suffering from fatty liver disease, due to unhealthy diet and sedentary living.

Okay, so why do we love sugar so much?

It’s partially down to dopamine. Our bodies  produce dopamine when good things happen, it’s associated with with happy emotions, like receiving a nice text or getting some good news. Similarly,  dopamine is also released when we eat sugary foods, giving us a hit of pleasure, the same way we would feel if we took drugs. The presence of dopamine is temporary however, and there is inevitably a slump after a sugar rush. If someone continually has this rush and needs it, becomes reliant on it, they will suffer from fatigue, sleep problems, mood swings, anxiety, apathy, memory loss and inability to concentrate.

So, how much sugar should we be consuming? According to the World Health Organisation in 2015, no more than 5% of daily calories should come from added or free sugar. This is equivalent to 19g for 4-6 year old children, to 24g for 7-10 year old children and 30g for those over 11 years old. The issue is that we regularly consume twice as much…

What’s the bottom line? Sugar represents a real danger for our health, and we must open our eyes. It is very possible to reduce sugar intake despite it’s addictive quality. Alternatives do exist, and not all forms of sugar were created equal, refined white sugar is believed to be the worst offender. Cooking homemade meals, and avoiding refined, processed or ‘low fat’ products will all help yo on your request to reduce your sugar intake.