In an effort to understand sugar better, I’ve been doing a bit of research. I think I should have posted this sooner to explain why I’m trying to quit it, but this is what I’ve learned so far.
Here comes the science bit…
Thanks, Jennifer. Ordinary cane sugar (or sucrose), the stuff you add to your tea and use for cakes, is made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose (aka fruit sugar). Glucose is broken down and used for energy, fructose is broken down and stored as fat.
The fat it produces tends to be abdominal fat, which has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. If there’s an excess of fat in our bloodstream, the hormones that tell us we’re full (insulin, CCK and leptin), stop working properly. We’re then left with that familiar not-quite-full-not-quite-hungry feeling that allows us to keep eating, even when we’ve had enough.
The more we eat, the more carbs get converted to sugar. The more sugar in our blood, the more insulin we need to lower it back down…except that repeated over-consumption usually means we can’t produce enough insulin to counter the sugar spike. This is known as ‘insulin-resistance’ and is the first stage of type-2 diabetes.
The fact that there’s fructose in fruit doesn’t make it healthy. In amongst the effect fructose has on minerals (it depletes them) and uric acid (it elevates it), it also causes a spike in our stress hormone, cortisol. Cutting out sugar, therefore, should mean you feel less stressed. To be honest, I haven’t yet fully felt that benefit, but I am sleeping better, and getting up in the morning is much, much easier, which has marginally reduced the ‘daily stress’ of dragging myself out of bed.
Fructose is in almost every food we buy. Not only do manufacturers know we’re predisposed to favour sweet flavours and so ladle it into their products, but for years we’ve been told that high fructose (e.g. fruit juice, dried fruit, low fat) goods are better for us. It’s only recently, really, that we’ve been told to lower our guard against fat and can finally worship at the alter of the avocado.
Naturally-occurring fructose in fruit is balanced out by the fibre (provided mainly by the skin) and water content. Some fruits are better than others though with pears, kiwis and berries having a more favourable fructose:fibre ratio to grapes, apples and bananas.
The word ‘chocoholic’ is real…sugar’s addictive
In the book, The Quit Sweet Poison Plan, author David Gillespie asks the following questions to check if you’re addicted to sugar:
- Do you struggle to walk past a sugary treat without taking ‘just one’?
- Do you have routines around sugar consumption – for example, always having dessert, or needing a piece of chocolate to relax in front of the TV, or treating yourself to a sweet treat or chocolate after a session at the gym?
- Are there times when you feel you cannot go on without a sugar hit?
- If you are forced to go without sugar for twenty-four hours, do you develop headaches and mood swings?
Gillespie believes that if you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you’re addicted . He also cites a study about the effects high sugar consumption had on rats, from which researchers concluded that sugar can be as addictive as heroin or crack cocaine.
Yet despite all of this evidence I just don’t want to believe that sugar is a ‘poison’ I should give up for life because I can’t bear the thought that I’ll never eat cake again.
During this experiment, I’ve tried to cut out all food with high amounts of added sugar and limit my fruit intake. I’ve upped the quantities of protein and fats I eat and drastically reduced processed carbs. I’ve found it really hard not to use condiments (especially ketchup which is 18%-27% sugar), and to eat food that someone else has prepared for me. No-sugar is something I’ve chosen to do and don’t want to force that imposition on others.
I haven’t yet made peace with the notion of being entirely sugar-free so I feel self-conscious about it. What’s more, I just want to ‘let loose’ when I’m out because sugar still feels like a treat. I think that’s the thing that’s going to be hardest for me to change. My body can handle the separation, but my mind is something else entirely.