I know there has been a bit of discussion around sugar on my social media pages, so I thought I’d throw in my personal (and professional) observations about the sweet stuff.
I’ll start by saying that ‘unrefined’, ‘natural’, ‘nutritional’ or ‘fructose-free’ sugar is still sugar and needs to be consumed mindfully. ALL forms of sugar have to be metabolised by the body and we simply have not evolved to consume any where near the amount of sugar many people consume these days. I believe most people would be surprised by the amount of sugar they ate in a day if they took the time to honestly assess their or their kids intake.
Firstly, a basic understanding of what sugar is and how it effects us
It is worth having a basic understanding of the basic make-up of sugar and the way it is metabolised by the body. Sucrose (found in regular cane sugar, fruit, dried fruit, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, rapadura) is the most common form of sugar consumed. Sucrose is made up of two types of sugar, about 50% glucose and 50% fructose and the way our body metabolises (uses) them is quite different.
Glucose is metabolised by every cell in your body and is an essential nutrient. However just as too little glucose is problematic, too much is also. As with any essential nutrient, the most nutrient dense glucose containing foods are the best choice for a healthy body. So complex carbohydrates like vegetables are the very best source of glucose because they also contain fibre (which steadies the absorption of glucose) and an abundance of vitamins, minerals and other essential plant based nutrients. Whole grains and legumes are also great sources.
The average healthy adult eating a balanced diet does NOT need simple refined carbohydrates (sweet treats) to ensure an adequate glucose intake, ever. Even after exercising, it is not going to benefit you (or your kids) to refuel with simple sugars.
Our bodies pancreas regulates the amount of glucose in our blood by secreting insulin (which helps remove excess glucose from our bloodstream). Glucose also triggers the production of a hormone called leptin, which helps us to feel satisfied and for our brain to register that we should stop eating (very important that we are able to do this from a weight management perspective).
Is metabolised solely by the liver and is NOT required for ‘energy’. When our livers are burdened with too much fructose, they won’t have the capacity to efficiently fulfil other important roles (like detoxification of chemicals). When there is excess fructose that can’t be broken down, it is converted to and stored as fat or triglycerides (often around the liver). This can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and insulin resistance.
Unlike glucose, fructose doesn’t stimulate leptin (so it never fills us up) and to make matters worse, fructose actually raises the levels of the hormone ghrelin, which makes us even more hungry! So we are simply not satisfied with a little sweetness, we look for more and more to feel satisfied. For this reason, sugar (well the fructose part) is gaining quite a reputation as an addictive substance that makes our waistlines expand! Fructose can also adversely effect the flora in our guts which has so many health implications both mentally and physically.
My personal observation
I recognised many years ago that eating sugar left me feeling below par, wreaked havoc with my hormones, zapped me of energy and adversely effected my mood and ability to concentrate. Like most health conscious people, I avoided refined ‘cane sugar’ but in an effort to satisfy my sweet tooth, I substituted it with dried fruit, honey, maple syrup and the so called ‘nutritional’ sugars like rapadura and coconut sugar.
It really wasn’t until I focussed on reducing the fructose content of my diet that I reached my full potential. Around the same time, I noticed a significant swing with my kids level of satisfaction when I baked low fructose treats; they ate one, were satisfied and stopped badgering me that they were still hungry or wanted more.
Another observation is that dried fruit, particularly dates, really set off sugar cravings and energy/concentration slumps in all of us. That’s why you won’t find date loaded sweet recipes on my site. I do very occasionally include a tiny amount of raw honey (only if not being heated), maple syrup and rapadura/coconut sugar in my diet. As long as I don’t over do it, I feel fine with this. Mostly I choose fructose-free sweeteners like rice malt syrup and stevia, but generally we just don’t eat a whole lot of sweet stuff.
One thing largely avoiding fructose has done for me and my family, is that it is glaringly obvious when we have overdone the sweet stuff (even ‘natural’ sweeteners). We get an awful taste in our mouth and the fog that engulfs our brain and body is instantly obvious (though it used to feel sort of normal, but until you have boundless energy, you realise that ‘normal’ isn’t the same as ‘optimal’). My family and friends that have reduced fructose feel the same, so I know it is not unique to me and my family.
I have also realised that my kids have so much more desire for vegetables and even bitter tasting greens when they aren’t consuming too much fructose. The minute they have overdone it, they begin to fuss and it really disrupts the harmony in our family. So looking at fructose consumption is certainly one of my main tips when consulting with families of food fussy kids.
I hope this post has helped you to understand the basic metabolic consequences of sucrose and its basic parts. A little sweetness in life is lovely but only when mindfully and honestly enjoyed. G x
I really love the Facebook page That Sugar Film for loads of great and current info on sugar.
So that’s about it – questions, I’m sure you have many. If you can post them below so others can learn from them, that would be wonderful.