Sugar: the rotten truth
These days, sugar is health enemy number one so we’ve examined the danger of having a sweet tooth.
Do you light up when you see the dessert menu? Find yourself reaching for chocolate to offset the 3pm slump? Or putting one too many lumps of sugar in your tea? Are you nodding your head reading this, salivating at the thought of a treat? Then you have a sweet tooth. And according to recent figures, you’re not alone.
Ireland has one of the highest rates of chocolate consumption per capita. But then, simply looking at the overly-stocked confectionary shelves in your local newsagent could tell you that. But what exactly does this national sugar addiction mean for our health? And can we combat it?
If the 1990s and early 2000s were all about lambasting red meats and pontificating on the clogging risks of butter, fats have been replaced by sugars as public enemy number one these days. Don’t let the cheery television ads or enticing packaging fool you. Sugar ought to come with a health warning. It is very bad for your health and very bad for your teeth.
We tend to associate sugar with the rolling white dunes peeking above the sugar bowl or with chocolate and desserts. Things that we can easily classify as ‘sweet’ in our minds. But sugar is also present in a whole host of unexpected foods – from granola and tomato ketchup to crisps and pasta sauce – making it even more insidious.
Here we take a look at the umpteen health risks associated with sugar, as well as some steps you can take to wean yourself off sugar and offset the damaging effects.
What sugar does to your health
1. Sugar causes weight gain
Perhaps unsurprisingly, sugar is one of the main causes of obesity. The reason being that while sugar may taste delicious, the body has very little practical use for it – except the liver cells which snap it up immediately. There it is metabolised and turned into fat, almost instantly. People have likened sugar to a sort of fat switch. Flicking it gives your body permission to store fat.
2. Sugar is linked to heart disease and diabetes
Heart disease incorporates a number of cardiac problems like angina, heart attacks and heart failure. It is caused by a build-up of plaque material on the artery walls which leads them to narrow and prevents the adequate pumping of the heart and the proper circulation of blood around the body.
Sugar causes the walls of the arteries to grow faster than normal and become rigid, which in turn puts pressure on your heart and makes it less able to withstand any circulatory problems. Excessive sugar consumption can also lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. How? Eating too much sugar can reduce insulin sensitivity in the body.
3. Sugar can adversely affect your immune system
Have you ever wondered where the recommendation to steer clear of sweet foods when you have a cold or flu comes from? Sugar curbs certain bacteria-attacking cells from carrying out their function properly, leaving you vulnerable to further infection. Sugar also prevents the absorption of nutrients your body needs, limiting the efficacy of vitamin-rich foods.
4. Sugar causes tooth decay
This is perhaps the most obvious one of the lot. And the easiest to spot. Sugar quite literally erodes the enamel on your teeth. Bacteria in the mouth uses sugar to produce an acid which wears down the hard part of the tooth. This can cause irreparable damage if left unchecked.
How to break the sugar cycle
1. Don’t start your day with something sweet
Put that sweet cereal down. And step away from the granola. Starting with sugar can trigger your craving for the rest of the day. Even if you’re likely to slip up later on (a coffee and cookie is difficult to resist) make sure you at least start right. Be strict with yourself first thing and you’ll find resisting sugar that little bit easier as the day progresses.
2. Be wary of hidden sugars
With sugar lurking in everything from tomato sauce to soup, it’s more important than ever to read the labels and create homemade versions of things where possible.
3. Swap sugary treats for healthy snacks
It’s not just processed sugar that is damaging for your health and teeth. Fructose – the naturally occurring sugar present in fruit – can also cause problems. Try and look for a healthy, non-sweet snack alternative. Celery sticks, nuts, and home-baked kale crisps are good substitutes.
4. Protect your teeth after sugar
When you do cave and tuck into that chocolate bar, remember to chew sugar-free gum to stop the erosive acid forming. And floss and brush daily using a reputable toothpaste like Sensodyne or Aquafresh.
Life is all about balance. Giving up sugar entirely would be difficult…and not very much fun. But now you know the rotten truth about sugar, you can tweak your habits accordingly.
Sensodyne Pronamel toothpaste is clinically proven to rebuild enamel strength for strong white teeth. Spitting blood and bleeding gums can be caused by the build-up of plaque bacteria. Corsodyl Ultra Clean toothpaste, is specially formulated for people who spit blood when they brush. For more information, visit www.sensodyne.ie or www.corsodyl.ie