So the word is definitely out, sugar is no good for us!
But the only problem is if we don’t eat sugar any more we’re going to miss out on loads of food we enjoy, right? Well not quite. There are loads of recipes that don’t require any thing sweet adding and even if they do maybe there are some alternatives to sugar that don’t have the same damaging effects?
Firstly, let’s look at what those damaging effects are. Sugar is a refined carbohydrate, which means that when we eat it, it only takes 30 to 60 minutes to be absorbed into our bloodstream and reach our liver. When it reaches our liver, the majority of it will be used to top up our blood glucose levels. The problem is, it tops these up too much causing a blood glucose spike and lots of insulin has to be released by the pancreas to bring blood glucose levels down to prevent it damaging our tissues and organs. (If it hangs around in the blood it binds to proteins and forms something called Advanced Glycation Endproducts, more simply known as AGEs. These cause inflammation, cell damage and essentially disease). Some of the glucose will be used for energy but the rest of it is stored, either as glycogen needed for energy later or as fat. This is fat that we see around our middles and also more dangerously, the fat we don’t see around our organs, called visceral fat. The more visceral fat we have the more at risk we are from heart disease, diabetes and other serious health conditions.
When we have a blood glucose spike and a lot of insulin is released to bring glucose levels down, they tend to come down too much and we end up with too little blood glucose. This causes a dip in our energy and symptoms such as fatigue, poor concentration, shakiness and irritability; we become ‘hangry’. To bring blood glucose levels back up we tend to reach for more sugar, causing the same thing to happen all over again and again and again…If this keeps happening over time our cells become less sensitive to insulin signalling and we can develop ‘insulin resistance’ and diabetes, meaning that glucose hangs around in our blood for long periods of time increasing our risk of disease.
The other thing that happens when our blood glucose drops is it causes our stress hormones to be released. Their job is to release glycogen (remember, we mentioned this earlier) to get blood glucose levels back up again. Only, they release enough to enable us to fight or flee from whatever the stressor is and as it’s generally not a huge stressor like a lion, too much glucose is released and we end up in the same situation. Incidentally, caffeine does the same thing, as it’s a stimulant so stimulates stress hormone release.
These spikes and dips in blood sugar and stress hormones, not to mention the spikes in insulin, can also have an impact on our long term ability to deal with stress, our thyroid health, our sex hormone balance, our liver health, storage of certain nutrients like magnesium and calcium so bone health, and the list goes on. Add on to that the damage sugar does to our teeth we think it should be enough to put you off!
Ok, so now the sugar in your cupboard has been transferred to the bin, does this mean you should never let another sweet treat pass your lips? How likely is this? You’ve still got to enjoy life, right, and a big part of this is food. Food is not just something we eat to get by; it’s something we use to enjoy ourselves, to socialise, to comfort us sometimes. And whilst we only recommend sweet treats in moderation, the odd one is fine if we’re eating a good diet, exercising and managing stress well.
So are there ways to sweeten our food that aren’t unhealthy?
Well sort of, and we’ll be looking at these in more depth in our next blog!