Sugar. Is it really that bad?

Various kinds of sugar, brown, white and refined sugar

In short … Yes it is!

We hear a lot about sugar in the news lately.  Some say it is bad for us while others say it is ok … in moderation. I’ll get back to that moderation thing a bit later, but let’s first talk about sugar and what happens when we eat it.

When you eat sugar, your glucose, or blood sugar, levels rise. In response to this the pancreas excretes insulin in order to take the sugar out of the blood and use it for energy or to store it. We then feel hungry and want to eat again. This is a normal and necessary process in our bodies. The problems start to arise when we eat foods high in sugar but with little or no other nutrients.

Our bodies like to have a blood sugar level within a very narrow range.   When we eat an apple, the natural sugars in it are accompanied by fibre and other nutrients resulting in a slow release of the sugars inside. But when we eat cookies, lollies, soft drinks and fruit juices, the sugar is released into our bodies very quickly and we get a spike in our blood sugar and insulin levels. These levels then drop dramatically causing us to crave more sugar. These spikes can lead to diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression, stress, decreased ability to learn, fatigue, and headaches. And when we have more sugar than we need for energy, we store it as fat leading to weight gain.

Eating Sugar

Although exercise can help to burn off some of the calories in sugar, it still doesn’t stop the spikes from happening when we eat sugar. The sugar wreaks havoc on our bodies and also on our mental state and immune function.   And because sugar is digested so quickly, we feel hungry again very quickly so we are more likely to eat more calories.

There has been a trend to replace processed sugar with artificial sweeteners. These are actually worse for us. People who drink diet drinks are at a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease than people who drink regular soft drinks. Diet drinks also cause the hormone leptin to drop, which triggers you to feel hungry so people end up eating more than they would have. And all soft drinks and many other sugary products contain preservatives and other chemicals, which cause another list of health problems.

Back to the topic of moderation. We often hear that you can consume certain unhealthy foods ‘in moderation’ as part of a healthy lifestyle. But what is moderation? Once a day? Month? Year? There is no definition of this term giving everyone an excuse to overindulge. And there are many sugar products that I think people should just never consume.

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Next time you are at the supermarket, check out the labels on your favourite products. You may be shocked to find how much sugar is hiding there. Nutrigrain cereal is one product I have a particular problem with because it advertises itself as being healthy and for athletes, but I doubt any athlete eats 27% sugar for breakfast!  Other products to look out for are sauces.  Tomato sauce (ketchup) is 30% sugar.  Juices can be between 10 and 18% sugar – more than soft drink!!

If you have any questions about sugar, talk to your local naturopath. Try cutting down on your sugar intake and see how you (and your waistline!) feel.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about sugar here:

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The Truth about Fats

Selection of healthy fat sources

For many years a low-fat diet has been considered healthy when in fact it has been contributing to the increase in diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

The original research that indicated a high-fat diet was associated with increased heart disease was an association study. It found that countries that consumed a high-fat diet had a higher incidence of heart disease. But this is an associated NOT causation. It is like saying New Year’s Eve causes fireworks. The study also didn’t include the data from all available countries. When included there is little to no association between a high-fat diet and heart disease.

Unfortunately the marketing world responded to the idea of low-fat being healthy by creating products that are low or no fat. As a result these products are higher in sugar and salt (to improve the bland taste from the lack of fat content) and thus dramatically more unhealthy. Check out the sugar content on low-fat versus full cream dairy products next time you are at the store.

In 1977, the US dietary guidelines suggested that an increase in carbohydrates should coincide with a decrease in fat intake. The reasoning was that fats have more calories in them so this would result in a reduction of overall calories. The exact opposite is what happened. Fats help make you feel satiated (full). If you eat low-fat products you are actually more likely to eat more calories. So although fats are higher in calories, you end up eating less than if the calories came from carbohydrates.

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When people eat a low-carbohydrate diet it improves weight, lipids, diabetes, and inflammation. A low-fat diet with the same number of calories worsens all these measures. Fat intake is not associated with type 2 diabetes and there is in fact no association between percentage of dietary fat consumed and increased risk of death. Also, saturated fats do not increase cholesterol.

People have also been advised to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats. Unfortunately this has mostly resulted in people consuming more omega-6 fats found in corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed and grain fed red meat, rather than the healthy omega-3 fats found in fish, grass fed red meat, flax and chia. This switch away from saturated fats to omega-6 fats resulted in increased cancer, increased heart disease, increased LDL, decreased HDL (good cholesterol), and increased death.

The most nutritious way of eating is to consume lots of vegetables, a moderate amount of protein from some meat but also vegetarian sources and a small amount of good quality carbohydrates.

So which fats should you eat? Coconut, macadamia, pumpkin, avocado, sesame and rice bran oils as well as butter are great for cooking. If you consume dairy products always buy full cream. Only eat grass-fed and grass finished red meat. Eat salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring and cod whenever you can. Avocado, walnuts, linseeds, almonds and hemp seeds are great for snacking. Avoid trans fats and farmed fish. Limit omega-6 intake especially in the form of vegetable oils.

Don’t be afraid of consuming good quality fats. You will feel fuller faster and for longer and will end up consuming less calories, improving your health and feeling better.

For some more information about fats, check out my video for the Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge: