Reports from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO)¹ reveal that Australians’ consumption of sugar (50kg per capita per year) exceeds that of the USA and European countries. Leading Sydney-based naturopath Victoria O’Sullivan warns that sugar is not only damaging to our health, it also contains addictive properties that make it difficult to consume even in small amounts.
“In large amounts, sugar is known to trigger weight gain, destroy the health of our teeth and gums, cause energy slumps, affect our immune system and indirectly lead to diabetes,” says Victoria O’Sullivan.
“Our excessive intake might be linked to our leading obesity and diabetes statistics. Understanding the damaging effects of sugar will help demystify why we, as Australians, are vulnerable to lifestyle-related diseases, particularly the growing ‘fat phenomenon’.”
Complex carbohydrates are converted into slow-releasing sugars that provide sustained energy. This type of carbohydrate should supply about half the calories in our diets and can be found in high-fibre foods such as vegetables, and starchy foods like bread and rice.
Refined sugars such as table sugar and honey provide only empty calories lacking in both nutrients and minerals. Refined sugar is an instant energy hit, which causes spikes in our insulin levels, making us hungry or low in energy within 1-2 hours.
How to Avoid Sugar at the Supermarket
To avoid refined sugar, shop on the perimeter of your supermarket and stay away from all the packaged foods in the middle.
“If you fall off the wagon, don’t despair,” says Victoria. “Guide your food choices with the 90/10 rule, where 90 per cent of the diet is focused on high quality nutritionally dense foods and 10 per cent is reserved for treats. This is important, because deprivation and fanatical food rules often lead to binge eating the very foods we are trying to avoid.”
Top Five Health Damaging Effects of Sugar
1. Causes weight gain & increases risk of risk of diabetes – Sugar consumption stimulates the release of the fat-storing hormone insulin. Most body fat results from excessive amounts of sugar and starch – a form of complex sugar – in our diets, that isn’t burned off as daily energy output.
2. Cardiovascular disease – Excess sugar consumption is also likely to lower our HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and increase LDL cholesterol (the bad type), creating the ideal environment for plaque to build up on arterial walls. Clogged arteries not only increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, but also diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
3. Sugar causes premature ageing – Constantly raising our blood sugar through the use of sugary foods and drinks can cause a reaction in the body that triggers the production of molecules called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGE). It is becoming more commonly understood in the naturopathic industry that elevated levels of AGEs in the body can lead to accelerated aging of your skin as well as vital organs².
4. Can cause a yeast overgrowth – A diet high in sugar and carbohydrates can expose us to an unhealthy yeast overgrowth in our bowels, known as Candida Albicans. A yeast overgrowth can cause bloating, unexplained fatigue and cravings for sugar or carbohydrates. In many cases, a yeast overgrowth causes the liver to work harder to remove its toxic by-products, straining the organ excessively.
5. Weakened immune function – A sugary intake is likely to suppress our white blood cells (which fight bacteria and viruses), potentially weakening our protection against viruses. Vitamin C strengthens the immune system, but did you know that sugar can disrupt the body’s absorption of this important nutrient?
Five Major Sugar Types
1. Glucose: Found in carbohydrates. Is quickly absorbed in the bloodstream, releasing insulin; a fat-storing hormone.
2. Dextrose: A form of glucose, often used by producers instead of glucose, as this has a bad ring to many people.
3. Fructose: Natural sugar found in fruit. Is processed by the liver, but if had in big doses the liver can’t keep up.
4. Sucrose: Refined sugar known as table sugar. It’s high in calories but has no nutritional value.
5. HFCS: High-fructose corn syrup is made from a chemical enzymatic process and is often found in packaged foods such as sodas and fruit-flavoured drinks.
HOW MUCH SUGAR IS ENOUGH?
Victoria O’Sullivan recommends we stick to the following servings daily for a healthy, average-weight person.
“This level of sugar consumption – as well as a healthy breakfast – will stop or reduce those energy drops in the afternoon.”
• 1-2 serves of carbohydrates (bread, cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes) a day.
• 1-2 pieces of fruit a day
• 6-7 serves of vegetables a day
1. Proceedings of the Fiji/FAO 1997 Asia Pacific Sugar Conference… http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/005/X0513E/x0513e04.htm
2. Advanced glycation end products and nutrition www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12234125