We all know sugar is not great for us but why? Below we discuss what sugar does within our body and some tips to reduce our sugar consumption daily.
In the 90's, we were all told that fat is bad and that for optimal health we need to adopt a low fat diet. However, to increase the flavours of low fat products, sugar was added. This is still the case in many low fat products in your supermarket and you can check for yourself - compare the sugar content in the nutrition panel of the full fat and low fat version. When this diet was incorporated into our daily routine, we began to develop a taste for sugar.
In our gut we have 90% of our serotonin receptors, our "feel good" receptors. When sugar is consumed our receptors feel content which is why our bodies crave sugar again and again. However this is something that we can alter.
What does sugar do in our bodies?
1. Obesity - it has now become common knowledge that excess sugar consumption causes weight gain as fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or produce leptin (the hormone that tells you that you are full).
2. Cancer feeding - it has been shown that tumour cells prefer to feed off glucose (aerobic glycolysis) rather than oxygen (respiration) when glucose is available. This is known as the Warburg effect and is the case for many cancers.
3. Type 2 Diabetes - when sugar is absorbed into the blood stream, the liver cells uptake it and the metabolism of fructose leads to decreased insulin sensitivity. Continued decreased insulin sensitivity leads to insulin resistance predisposing an individual to Type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that eliminating sugar from the diet can lower risk factors for Type 2 Diabetes.
4. Alzheimers - recently there have been links between Type 2 Diabetes and Alzheimers and both disorders share similar demographic profiles, risk factors and biochemical features (such as insulin resistance). Reducing sugar consumption can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
5. Microbiome - sugar reduces the diversity of our gut microbiome (the bacteria in our gut). A whole food diet supports diversity of the microbiome and can support a reduction in weight and improve digestive function.
How to reduce sugar from your diet?
- substitute 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon for your sugar in your tea or coffee
- substitute low fat products for full fat as the fat will make you feel fuller faster
- eliminate soft drink and juices - instead consume smoothies as there is added fibre or unflavoured soda water or herbal tea. Try not to substitute for low sugar products as include sugar alternatives which cause another range of health concerns
- restrict fruit to 2 serves per day
- increase vegetable intake to 5 serves per day. Vegetables contain fibre that will make you feel fuller for longer and discourage the need for high sugar snacks
- reduce pre-packed foods as these are high in sugar. Even sauces, condiments, cereals and muesli bars contain high amounts of sugar
- consume a whole food diet as these foods are generally lower in sugar
- avoid cakes and other baked goods as these are very high in sugar. If cannot eliminate, make your own baked goods and reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe
- ensure you are consuming enough water, dehydration can make us feel hungry even when we are not
You can alter your cravings for sugar by reducing or ideally eliminating sugar consumption for 3 weeks - give it a try and see the benefits!
Moreira P.I., 2013, 'High-sugar diets, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease', Curr Open Clinical Nutrition Metabolic Care, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 440-445
Stanhope, K.L., 2016, 'Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: the state of the controversy', Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci, vol 53, no. 1, pp. 52-67.
Xiao, S., Zhao L. 2014, 'Gut microbiota-based translational biomarkers to prevent metabolic syndrome via nutritional modulation', FEMS Microbial Ecol., vol. 87, no. 2, pp. 303-314.