Saturday 1 October 2016

Life is... too sweet - how to cut our sugar intake

Sugar has become the new dietary baddie as experts advise us to cut our intake

Arlene Harris

Published 12/04/2016 | 02:30

Eating less sugar and more fruit and veggies will help reduce health problems
Eating less sugar and more fruit and veggies will help reduce health problems
Nutritionists Aoife Miskella and Nessa Kenny

The Easter Bunny was no doubt good to everyone but perhaps this year, his basket was a little less full of sweet treats and may even have contained a few sugar-free alternatives.

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It's a fact that sugar has become the new evil of the diet world with experts everywhere extolling the merits of cutting down on or even cutting out the white stuff altogether.

But having grown up with the ever-presence of sweet treats, cutting it out can be difficult so Ashdown Park Hotel in Gorey has devised a programme of Raw and Sugar Free demonstrations to help people make some simple changes in the kitchen which will offer long-term health benefits.

Starting on April 26 and 27, the monthly classes will be hosted by award-winning chefs (Chris Farrell and Val Murphy) and nutritional consultants (Aoife Miskella and Neasa Kenny) and will aim to teach participants how to prepare healthy everyday alternatives to the sugar-laden meals we have all become so reliant on. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says we should consume no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day but much of the Irish population derives 15pc of its daily calorie intake from sugar added to popular foods.

Neasa Kenny says it is the added sugar which causes the problem and is the reason why so many people are overweight.

"Naturally-occurring sugars found in fruit are not the problem," she says.

"But when you consider that a 50g serving of granola has three teaspoons (half your recommended daily intake) of sugar or a low-fat yoghurt can have as much as six teaspoons, it's easy to see why the majority of us - three in five Irish adults - are overweight or obese.

"Scientists are classifying sugar as one of the greatest threats to human health, labelling it as 'white poison' with studies proving sugar to be the biggest cause of fatty liver, which leads to insulin resistance. This then causes metabolic syndrome, which is now being seen as the biggest precursor to heart disease and diabetes. Not to mention, because sugar causes a large release of dopamine in the brain, it can cause addiction in a lot of people."

Dr Cliodhna Foley Nolan is the director of Safefood - she agrees that sugar is a problem we could do without.

"We have a big problem with weight issues in Ireland and sugar is very much a contributing factor," she says. "Too much weight leads to diabetes and we are seeing a lot more of this in younger people. It also causes fatty liver disease, problems with fertility and birth abnormalities - in short, too much sugar creates a myriad of problems. So I would really encourage people to make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of sugar they consume - no matter where they are starting from.

"They may want to begin by reducing the amount of fizzy drinks and sugary treats they eat, then once they have a handle on that they could cut down or ideally cut out processed food.

"There is an awful lot to be said for cooking from scratch as this is the only way you can tell exactly what is going into the food you are preparing."

This is exactly what the event in Wexford aims to help with as many people have become accustomed to buying takeaways and or ready meals.

Nutrition expert Neasa Kenny agrees with Dr Foley Nolan and says cooking your own food or eating it raw, will make a huge difference to your health.

"The most important piece of advice I could give anyone is to learn to cook," she says.

"If you prepare your own meals then you know exactly what is going into them and this is the main reason we are doing these food demos at the Ashdown Park Hotel - to educate people about food, teach them how to cook or even 'uncook' as the case may be.

"This will provide them with the tools they need to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing."

While Dr Foley Nolan says eating some raw food is beneficial, she doesn't believe an entirely raw food diet is advisable.

"The evidence of living on a completely raw diet is not great as even some vegetables (such as carrots, tomatoes and asparagus) are more beneficial when heated," says Dr Foley Nolan.

"However, I would encourage people to eat a diet rich in fruit, salad and certain raw vegetables."

Nutritional consultant Aoife Miskella agrees but also extols the virtues of uncooked foods.

"A raw food diet consists of the purest, freshest and most wholesome ingredients," she says.

"These are unprocessed, unrefined, without synthetic flavourings or preservatives and because of that they break down slowly and nourish your body with sustained energy.

Her colleague Neasa Kenny says many diseases could be eradicated if we were to pay more attention to our diets.

"There is mounting research and proof which attributes most of today's modern diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, to poor diet and lifestyle," she says.

"Our modern Western diet consists of highly processed and sugar-laden foods with synthetic ingredients that give us little or no nutritional value. Our bodies are left in a state of malnutrition, open to disease and increasing obesity. People are becoming more aware of this fact and are not just eating to satisfy hunger anymore but are now 'eating for health' also. We are going back to eating 'real foods' and the classes we will be starting this month, will teach people how to do just that."

Nutritionists are urging us to ditch sugar and load up on fruit and veg.

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