What's the deal with sugar?
When we talk about sugar let's clear up which sugars we’re talking about, because not all sugar is equal.
Firstly, naturally occurring sugars in foods are those found in fruits, vegetables and raw sugars (such as maple syrup, agave etc). These sugars are essentially unprocessed, which means they’ve not been meddled with. They're fine for us to consume, but not in large quantities. Like all the six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent) we should have sweet in low to moderate amounts.
Processed sugars are usually the ones we find in packaged goods, these are highly processed and are often included to make foods more palatable and to encourage us to eat more of them. There are hundreds of different names for these from the obvious ones like fructose, glucose to the not so obvious ones like rice syrup, sorghum, evaporate cane juice!
That said, we shouldn’t be avoiding sweet altogether, but simply bringing awareness to where you are finding sugar in your foods and considering whether it is too much and how it’s affecting your health.
Sugar and body types
Some of us can take more sugar than others, yes, it's true some of us can take more sugar than others. For example according to Ayurvedic principles those with a Kapha (earth & water) based constitution should be more mindful of their sugar intake compared to the other constitutions as they are most prone to weight gain. Someone who is Vata (air and space/ether) can take the most amount of sugar but having said that, none of us should be relying on our body type to dictate how much sugar to consume. And, more importantly the majority of modern convenience foods contain way too much sugar so basically we're all starting from sugar overload meaning we could all do with reducing it.
Why is sugar bad for our health?
Well, sugar as well as frequent eating, affects insulin a key hormone realised whenever we eat. Insulin helps our cells take up energy in the form of sugar from our blood stream into our cells. However, sustained exposure to sugar results in too much insulin being released which over time causes insulin resistance. If unresolved, it’s insulin resistance that results in weight gain and in the long-term can result in diabetes.
How much is too much?
According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey published by Public Health England, using figures collated between 2014-2016 most of us consume 3 times more than the national recommended daily amount of approximately 25g or 7 sugar cubes. But, whilst nutrition guidelines can be helpful in understanding whats happening at a national level, as individuals the best thing we can do it to really get to grips with what sugar does to you and how you respond to it.
So, how can we reduce the amount of sugar we consume? Here are my top 5 tips.
1. Home cooking – now, I’m not talking about using a jar of sauce and chucking it in to a pan with some veggies. There are hidden sugars even in many pre-made sauces. I mean cook simply, with as few fresh ingredients so you know exactly what you’re cooking with. Home cooking, doesn’t need to be extravagant nor complicated. My favourite picks are Jaime Oliver’s 5 Ingredient Cookbook. Simple, basic ingredients with a few to no processed foods included. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly great cook, but I’ve learnt to enjoy cooking and find great pleasure in making something from scratch with is both wholesome and tasty.
2. Include plant-based or (if you prefer, meat-based protein) with your meals – I love grains and lentils and let me tell you, I didn’t always like them. But, understanding that grains can provide you with lots of the vitamins and minerals that meat often can’t, was a game changer for me. Always keep some good quality tinned or dried grains in the store cupboard.
*TIP: keep an eye out for the offers on tinned goods when browsing the supermarket*
Grains or lentils can be chucked into soups, stews and even traybakes helping make them easy to cook with and making for a more varied meal!
3. Think of veggies first! – Sounds obvious, but when thinking about what to cook or even purchase, think of veggies first. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a veggie lover, start with a colour! Yes, I said colour, perhaps it’s orange think sweet potatoes, swede, orange peppers. If you look for the colour first then plan your meal around that, then the protein whether plantbased or meat is the last thing you’ll include in your meal. It’s a great way of helping to increase your vegetable intake and all those other flavours (sour, bitter, astringent & pungent) which are crucial to feeling satiated when eating.
4. Keep a check on your fluid intake – Water, is super important when it comes to renewing our cells and removing toxins from our bodies. So, ensuring that you’re including enough fluid intake in your day is crucial. Aim to drink warm water throughout your day, and if you really can’t stand warm water aim to drink it at room temperature. You could try adding some lemon and cucumber or even a mild herbal tea to your water to mix it up.
5. Observe your sugar cravings – this is critical, so many of us never look at why we crave certain foods. We never analyse what our emotional state is when we crave them nor do we want to understand them. If you’re to change your relationship to sugar this is a step you cannot ignore. Ask yourself, what time of day do you crave sugar the most, what is your emotional state at that time, what other foods did you eat that day which may be contributing to your craving? Just taking 2-3 days to observe this will give you huge insight into your own behaviours around sugar consumption. Armed with this knowledge you can begin to change the routine and begin experimenting with other foods and lifestyle choices which will help relieve the underlying cause.
If you liked these tips then share them with your friends and family. Let’s get everybody thinking about how much sugar is featuring in the foods they consume!