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How Bad (Really) Is Sugar?

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Let me start by addressing diets in the 21st century.

You've got Pete "Paleo" Evans in one corner telling you can only eat food you've foraged, hunted and killed yourself...good luck running after, catching and killing a cow, by the way. 

Then you've got people like David "Avocado" Wolfe, who have decided gluten, dairy and sugar can kill you. The combination of the three is made out to be more poisonous than Arsenic.

*insert eye roll*

We're realists around here. I know. Boring. But after 30-odd years on this earth (and a degree in Food Science and Nutrition), I've come to know what works for my body and what doesn't. Real life.

I can eat gluten, in fact, I can eat a s*** load of it and feel fabulous. I can eat meat, most veggies and fruit. I get massive crashes from coffee or sugar, and when I overindulge in either I don't sleep properly.

My favourite thing in the whole world is a fresh croissant, and for 2 weeks in France I ate one (sometimes 2) every day and I didn't put on weight. It also helped that I didn't stress over it which would have sent my cortisol into a spin telling my body to hold on for dear (fat) life.

What I can't eat? Bread and meat at the same time or I feel full, heavy, and sleepy. And zucchini's. I love them. I make a killer chicken and zucchini soup...but I go from zero to 38 weeks pregnant in 20 minutes - something I've had A LOT of fun with (my boyfriend would disagree). 

The point is, you know your body better than anyone, try different things and see what works. 

I always recommend trying an elimination method, this is where you go back to basics. Eat a super clean diet for 2-3 weeks. Then start re-introducing one thing at a time and note the changes in your body. You'll know straight away if you need to cut out the dairy or the gluten or the sugar.


With that said, I'm handing it over to another science nerd (babe) to talk you through sugar. 


Kirsty, from Another Bloody Health Blog

Sugar Lips


" Ahhhh sugar. If gluten doesn't kill you, sugar definitely will. But seriously, how harmful is this sweet deliciousness? 

Let's start at the start. That seems like the obvious place to begin. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, and is classed as a monosaccharide (one sugar) or disaccharide (two sugars) if we're talking biochemistry. Examples of sugars include glucose, sucrose, fructose, and lactose. Sugar is a naturally occurring molecule, and the one or two chain sugars above are easily digested and absorbed, thus released almost instantly into the bloodstream. This give you a quick burst of energy. "That's cool though isn't it, Kirsty" you may be thinking. Well, it's ok occasionally, but the way we digest sugars can actually put a of huge of pressure on your hormones and liver. Ouch!


Ok, let's talk sugar absorption. So, it's Friday, and you're passing Doughnut Time after a long day at work. Friday is new flavour day! Maybe I'll treat myself? I have revealed WAY too much about myself just there... Anywho, you take a bite of that delicious, sugary delicacy, and before you know it, it's all gone (lucky you bought two!). First up, the enzymes in your mouth start digesting these sugars as you chew, and then your belly gets to mulch up the rest. The sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream, through your intestinal walls and this triggers an increased production of the hormone insulin.


Here's how this works. Think of sugar as you and your mates ready for a night out. The insulin is like your Uber driver taking you to the bar (which is your cell). Instead of running around all over the place, falling down on the street, passing out in someone's garden, you (the sugar) are delivered straight to the bar (into your cells) by your kind Uber driver (the insulin). If anyone can show me a more relevant example to use in 2017, I welcome it.... 


Now, you're probably thinking "Why can't I run around on the street all night, I don't even want to go to a bar and pay $16 or a glass of rosé?". Kudos to you friend, but in my story, there are pretty harsh realities of having high blood sugar levels. The circulating sugar causes inflammation, think how scratchy it is rubbing around on the walls of your blood vessels. Not ideal. It can make you feel tired and thirsty, and long term consequences include damage to your blood vessels, especially around your vital organs, eyes, hands and feet. This also leads to diabetes, which is not fun at all.


Wow, I'm glad that's out of the way. We all know I'm a massive believer in a balanced diet, and I don't have a problem with anyone enjoying a treat now and then. Unfortunately though, treats and party foods, are not the problem in most of our diets. We know cakes, donuts, soft drinks and ice cream are not the best choices to have daily. The problem is with hidden sugars, and the added crap in products you wouldn't expect them be in. Some very popular breakfast cereals are around 40% sugar - gross, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is now making its way into a lot of products on Australian supermarket shelves.


High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener derived from corn, because corn is bloody cheap to grow, and food producers are far from stupid. HFCS is awful for us because fructose, or fruit sugar, needs the liver to be metabolised. In normal amounts, our body is amazing at digesting fructose. Whole fruits and juices are a mix of fructose and glucose, so the sugars are digested without a worry. Times that by 1000, and we're seeing an incline of people suffering from fatty liver disease caused by a poor diet. The horrifying part of this is that when I was studying nutrition just over 10 years ago, fatty liver disease was only really seen in alcoholics. In 2015, it was quoted that up to 3% of the world population suffer from the disease. Look at the damage we have done to our health in such a short time frame.


As easy as it would be to point the finger at sugar, a combination of processed foods, lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, and minimal to no exercise, have all played a part in our declining health. Rather than get caught up in the I Quit Sugar hype, stick to being sensible and remember the following:

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH A BIT OF SUGAR! Seriously. I actually had 3 salted caramel Messina Tim Tams with my cup of tea before, and I'm not even dead yet. Just remember, it's a sometimes food, and no, sometimes shouldn't be daily. 

Fruit is not going to make you fat. I have never seen an overweight client who is overweight because they eat too much fruit. Check out the skinny vegans all over Instagram eating 95 bananas a day. 2-3 serves of fruit a day is super beneficial to your health, and is full of vitamins and antioxidants. Fruit in fresh juice or smoothies is also fine, but I would always recommend adding some vegetables to your mix. I do, however, avoid dried fruit, as the dehydration process takes all the water, whilst leaving all the sugar.

Get to know your food labels. Look at the ingredients listed on your products. If sugar is in the first 3 ingredients, it needs to go in the bin. I'm cautious of giving out guidelines for sugar, as all products are a bit different. Dairy, for example, contains lactose. A full fat yoghurt, with no added sugar, might be about 8g sugar per 100g (8%). A lot of popular sugar quitting resources say to avoid foods with over 5% sugar... but I would never tell someone to avoid natural yoghurt. Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend aiming for no more than 10% sugar, but our nasty frienemy Coca Cola is about 10% sugar. That doesn't mean it's ok to consume. Apart from when you're at the movies in a 4 litre bucket.

Remember that 4g of sugar is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon. The World Health Organisation says to aim for no more than 7.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day. This does not include sugar from fruit, vegetables, or dairy. Since we're eating about 3 times this as a nation, it's probably a good idea to be aware of this recommendation and start looking at where the sugar in your diet might be hiding.


So... fruit is ok, doughnuts are ok, coke is ok, and we're all going to be ok with a little bit of sugar in our lives."


And Kirsty is ok too. More than ok in fact, her blog is pretty informative and certainly an entertaining, educational read. Learn stuff.

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