Sugar is now thought to be the greatest threat to human health, bar none!
And it seriously messes with your hormones. When you eat sugar and refined carbohydrates, it causes your blood sugar to spike, then fall a few hours later. This blood sugar roller coaster can be exhausting! Not only does it crash your energy levels and mood, but all that insulin production to control your blood sugar can have a serious impact on your thyroid, cortisol and oestrogen levels – those Feisty 4 hormones that are already playing up when you hit your peri-menopausal years!
Too much insulin is not only a risk factor for obesity and diabetes, but it’s also linked with heart disease, cancer, dementia and Alzheimers.
So it’s even more important as you get older to reduce your sugar intake. There are 3 main types to be aware of;
- Refined sugar you might add to drinks (tea, coffee), or cereals
- Hidden sugars in many processed foods – look for sugar in the ingredients list in sauces, dressings, cereals, ready meals, fruit juices, soft drinks etc.
- Natural sugars in fruit, honey, dried fruits.
You obviously want to reduce any sugar that you’re adding to your food or drink, but it’s the hidden sugar in processed foods (and drinks) that many of us are unaware of.
David Gillespie, author of ‘Sweet Poison’ states “Very few of us are making conscious decisions about the sugar we eat,” he says. “The average Briton is consuming more than a kilo – 238 teaspoonfuls – a week, but I bet they’d be flummoxed accounting for more than a few teaspoons of that. Sugar is deeply and thoroughly embedded in our food supply.”
And it racks up on a daily basis when you are eating ready meals, baked goods, fruit yoghurts, cereal bars, sauces, fruit smoothies, juices and many LOW FAT products – these are the things that account for most of our sugar intake. Start reading labels. If sugar or one of it’s many guises (see below) is listed in the first 3 ingredients, you really want to be avoiding it.
The only sugar you should be including in your diet is the sugar that is derived from natural sources – in moderation and as long as it hasn’t been too processed (for instance, choose raw honey over processed honey, fresh fruit over fruit juice). Sugar is sugar after all, but at least natural foods usually come with fibre and other nutrients that help the body process the sugars.
And don’t be tempted to swap to DIET (or No Added Sugar) products – these contain artificial sweeteners that can affect hormones (especially in the brain).
Is there a healthy alternative?
There are lots of different types of sugar out there jumping on the anti-sugar bandwagon and claiming to be a healthier alternative. At the end of the day, sugar is sugar! But there are some sugars that are preferable to refined sugars, and there are some that you need to avoid. Here’s my guide:
- White and brown sugar – refined, processed.
- Fructose – initially thought to be healthier due to its low GI index, but fructose goes straight to the liver and deposits as fat.
- Honey – processed honey may seem a better option, but all the goodness has gone and what you’ve got left is pure sugar.
- Agave syrup – don’t be fooled by the ‘healthy’ label often attributed to agave. It’s pure fructose and highly processed.
- Evaporated cane juice – often included in packaged foods, this is just sugar cane syrup in disguise.
PREFERABLE (in moderation)
- Raw honey – in its raw form, honey retains lots of nutrients and antioxidants.
- Organic maple syrup – a good alternative to other sugar products, as it doesn’t go through much processing and it has a good nutrient profile. Try to buy organic and the darker versions are more nutrient dense.
- Coconut sugar (or palm sugar) – also in the form of coconut syrup or nectar, it’s rich in nutrients (just like the coconut) and is low GL. Still contains fructose, so use sparingly. Tastes similar to brown sugar.
- Stevia – in its natural form (a green powder), stevia is an excellent sweetener (if you can take the bitter aftertaste), but AVOID the processed white versions that the food industry has created.
- Xylitol (also erythritol and sorbitol) – these are sugar alcohols which are not digested by the body, and don’t generally raise blood sugar levels. However, they can be highly processed and can cause digestive issues, so use with caution. (Highly toxic to dogs by the way!).
- Dates (or date syrup) – a good alternative, especially in baking. Make pastes by soaking the fruits in water and blending.
- Blackstrap molasses – made by boiling sugar cane to remove much of the sugar and leave the remaining nutrient-rich syrup. A good alternative to golden syrup.
- Brown rice syrup – made by fermenting brown rice, it is lower GL than sugar and good for baking. Buy organic and gluten free.
- Yacon syrup – made without chemicals (so far!), yacon syrup is low GL and rich in probiotics – it might actually help with weight loss and diabetes!
The Many Names for Sugar
Sugar is often in disguise! If any of these are named in the first 3 ingredients of a product, it’s best to avoid.
Barley malt, Beet sugar, Brown sugar, Buttered syrup, Cane juice crystals, Cane sugar, Caramel, Carob syrup, Castor sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Date sugar, Demerara sugar, Dextran, Dextrose, Diastatic malt. Diatase, Ethyl maltol, Fructose, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Galactose, Glucose, Glucose solids, Golden sugar, Golden syrup, Grape sugar, High-fructose corn syrup, Honey, Icing sugar, Invert sugar, Lactose, Malt syrup, Maltodextrin, Maltose, Maple syrup, Molasses, Muscovado sugar, Panocha, Raw sugar, Refiner’s syrup, Rice syrup, Sorbitol, Sorghum syrup, Sucrose, Sugar, Treacle, Turbinado sugar, Yellow sugar.
The Many Names for Artificial Sweeteners
And these are the artificial sweeteners to look out for;
Acesulfame potassium, Alitame, Aminosweet, Aspartame, Aspartame- acesulfame salt, Cyclamate, Isomalt, Neohesperidin dihydrochalcone, NutraSweet, Saccharin, Splenda, Sucralose