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Don't let yourself become a sugar monster

IT CAN be addictive and half the time you don't even know you're consuming it. this is how you break the sugar habit.

 

It's a white, powdery substance which gives you guaranteed pleasure. You can't get it off your mind, and you keep coming back for more. The more you have, the more you want. Even when you try to stay away from it, it finds ways to sneak back into your life almost daily.

You'd be forgiven for thinking we're talking about some dangerous or illegal drug here, but no, we're talking about sugar. It seems harmless in comparison, but, it does have similar addictive qualities and also has the power to wreak havoc on your health. We all know that too much sugar is bad for us, but, nowadays, we're swamped with the stuff and as a result, we're hooked.

Over the last few decades, sugar has crept into all areas of our daily diet, from the sweet treats we award ourselves to family essentials such as yogurt and bread.

At least half of the nation's sugar consumption comes from soft drinks, fruit drinks, and sports drinks.

The rest sneaks into our diet in the form of cereals, tomato soups, condiments and of course the obvious sweets, such as biscuits, cakes and ice cream. However, a lot of the sugar we consume is done unknowingly with every day 'healthy foods' which are surprisingly high in sugar. For example, the average small pot of fruit yogurt contains four teaspoons of sugar.

Hidden sugars

When it comes to reading food labels, it pays to be savvy, because sugar comes in all shapes and sizes and in many guises. It can be listed under the following names (as a rule, most end in 'ose'): sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose and maltose.

Sugar can occur naturally in fruit and milk, which is not a concern, but when sugar is added to everyday staples, it can become a problem when consumed in large quantities.

Overconsumption

Current health guidelines recommend that we limit our daily sugar intake to 7pc or less of our daily calorie intake – that's about six teaspoons (100 calories) for women and nine teaspoons (150 calories) for men.

This includes all sugar sources, including fruit juices, honey, jam, soft drinks, processed foods and table sugar.

This may sound like a generous allowance, but, remember, just one can of soft drink contains approximately nine teaspoons of sugar. An average bowl of cereal or tin of tomato soup contain around four teaspoons of sugar each. So, you can see how easy it is to go over recommended limits.

Primed for addiction

Can't resist your cravings for the sweet stuff? Well, you're certainly not alone and there's a good reason why. When you eat something sugary, it stimulates the release of dopamine in your brain, which makes you feel pleasure. The brain recognises and likes this feeling and begins to crave more.

In fact, it may surprise you to learn that heroin, morphine and sugar all stimulate the same receptors in your brain.

Sugar monster

The high of a sugar rush is temporary, though. Unfortunately, a sudden rise in blood sugar level triggers an increase in insulin as the body strives to bring blood glucose levels back to normal.

This has the knock-on effect of causing a 'sugar crash' and leaves you feeling, tired, lethargic and craving yet more sugar. And, the more sugar you eat, the higher your tolerance becomes, so, you need more to get the same effect – it's a vicious cycle which can turn you into a veritable sugar monster.

Easy Prey

Food manufacturers know of our weakness for sugar and take full advantage by adding as much sugar as possible to titillate our taste buds.

In fact, there's a crucial tipping point food companies look for when adding sugar to food, called the "bliss point".

This is the precise amount of sugar they will need to add that will give the consumer a sugar high without going overboard. They use similar tricks with tantalising food advertisements as well, which can stimulate the brain's appetite control centre and result in an increased desire for food.

Health effects

But, then again, why should you care? Is sugar really that bad for you? Well, in a word, yes. Particularly when consumed in large amounts.

Aside from the fact that overconsumption of sugar is directly fuelling our current obesity epidemic, diets high in sugar, are strongly linked to an increased risk for type two diabetes, elevated triglycerides, heart disease and even certain forms of cancer.

A high sugar intake has also been linked to anxiety, low mood, migraines, poor eyesight, autoimmune diseases, gout and osteoporosis so it pays to keep your sweet tooth in check.

Take back control

While the occasional sweet treat won't make or break your weight or health, many people have trouble stopping after a moderate portion or saying no to sugar when it's available.

If you feel out of control around sugar, then a sugar 'detox' is a great way to break the cycle and will dramatically reduce your cravings in just a matter of weeks.

Fortunately, once you have decreased your threshold, something that tasted beautifully sweet a few weeks ago, will begin to taste sickeningly sweet, which will naturally decrease your desire and put sugar back where it belongs. In other words, as an occasional treat that you consciously choose to eat in a moderate manner, not a daily necessity that controls you.

Elsa Jones is a qualified nutritionist. She offers consultations in clinics around Dublin – www.elsajonesnutrition.ie


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