With books like I Quit Sugar and Goodbye Sugar hitting the shelves daily, and with certain studies showing that chocolate is good for us, others saying we should stay away from the indulgent treat, it’s hard to understand whether sugar is our friend or our enemy.
We grew up as “generation sugar”, being pumped full of coloured, sugar-filled foods that were made for our convenience. A few years later and sugar has emerged as one of the most deadly ingredients in our diets, with Dutch research stating that sugar is a drug.
“Sugar is actually a form of addiction. It’s just as hard to get rid of the urge for sweet foods as of smoking,” says Paul van der Velpen, the head of Amsterdam’s health service.
“This may seem exaggerated and far-fetched, but sugar is the most dangerous drug of the times and can still be easily acquired everywhere,” he says.
It’s a well-known fact that sugar increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, but what other effects does it have?
Sugar causes a spike in energy levels, leading to the 3 o’clock slump that we’re all familiar with. Excessive sugar intake accelerates ageing by damaging and breaking down the collagen in your skin. Sugar has also been linked to cancer, depression and Alzheimer’s.
So, what do we do now? Raid the biscuit presses and fruit baskets and dump everything in the bin? Live on spinach and mince meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Realistically, the changes in your diet don’t have to be so drastic. To break it down, there are two types of sugar; naturally occurring sugar and added sugar.
Naturally occurring sugar is found in fruit in the form of fructose, and in milk in the form of lactose. These aren’t necessarily the types of sugars that we should fear. Fruit also contains fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
It is added sugars that we should be worried about. Added sugars are found in things such as sweets, diet drinks and cakes, and come in the form of maltose, sucrose and corn syrup, to name a few. Added sugar has no protein, no healthy fats and no nutrients. It’s basically empty calories.
The American Heart Association recommends women’s sugar intake should be at about 6 teaspoons per day and men’s at 9 teaspoons. Just one can of a fizzy drink can contain 7 teaspoons of sugar, to put that into perspective.
To ensure that you aren’t going over your daily limit of sugar, get familiar with the labels and ingredients in the food you’re eating. Nearly anything ending in “ose” is a form of sugar.
If a form of added sugar is in the top three ingredients listed on a packet, it’s probably best to stay away from it.
“Low fat” and “diet” foods and drinks tend to be high in sugar, as is white bread, pasta and rice. Swap these for wholefoods, such as brown bread, rice and pasta and vegetables. Try natural alternatives such as agave, maple syrup and dried fruit in place of table sugar and sweets.
The best way to know whether sugar is your friend or foe is to get educated. Know what’s truly in the food you’re eating and cook from scratch if you can, so you’re aware of what is exactly going into your meals.
Once you begin to cut down, you’ll be sure to feel the benefits.
Amy is a final year journalism student at DCU. She blogs at What She Does Now, which has been shortlisted for both the Blog Awards Ireland 2015 and the Irish Beauty Blog Awards 2015. You can also check her out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.