The Truth about Sugar

by | May 4, 2023 | Food Facts

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People are fed by the food industry,

which pays no attention to health

and are healed by the health industry

who pay no attention to food.

Wendell Berry, Sex Economy, Freedom & Community

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, we don’t need sugar in our lives.

But while It’s a substance we can do without, strawberry ice cream is good, French Fancies are good, a frosty glass of beer on a warm day is good.

However, new research is uncovering not just how much it contributes to things like tooth decay and the worsening obesity crisis, but how it creates insulin resistance, leading to Type 2 Diabetes and, according to Dr. Mark Hyman,

“…turns on many mechanisms of disease and death, including inflammation. It drives hormonal change, it slows down metabolism and it literally shuts down the body’s ability to burn fat.

As if that wasn’t enough, it also wreaks havoc on your skin. Skincare guru Caroline Hirons’ advice is to avoid the 3 S’s for better skin: Sun, Smoking & Sugar. Sugar is aging, reader.

It’s a sobering thought. Literally.

For me, the sugar issue falls into 3 camps:

  1. The surprising: bread and pastry, white rice, potatoes, white flour, cereals
  2. The less obvious: yoghurts, fruit juices, cereals, “breakfast” bars, pretty much all packaged snack bars
  3. The obvious: sweets, cakes and chocolate, fizzy drinks

The truth is, sugar is so addictive it’s pretty hard to give up. And who wants to deny themselves the occasional bar of Dairy Milk or slice of Lemon Meringue Pie? And what of hot buttered toast? Of creamy mash, or steaming bowls of comforting pasta?

To strip it back, what we’re essentially trying to do is stop the blood sugar spikes caused by eating easily digested, processed food. The harder something is to digest, the slower the sugars from the refined carbohydrates hit the bloodstream. (Which is why eating whole fruit is so much better than downing juices).

So here are TWELVE hacks that work for me, to do just that:

  1. The Surprising (bread, pastry, white rice, white flour, cereals etc)
  • the wholegrain option is the best, particularly if you eat a lot of it (pasta, bread, rice) and keep the potato skins on whenever possible.

  • If you have a plate of vegetable, protein and carbohydrate in front of you, go for the veggies first, then the protein followed by the carbs, to keep the blood sugar levels low.

  • Try to eat carbs with veggies, proteins and fats; bread with butter and an egg, pasta with cream or oil with veg

  • Offer crudités and hummus or yoghurt to the kids before dinner- it gets them eating more veg at the start of the meal too.

  1. The Less obvious: yoghurts, fruit juices, cereals, “breakfast” bars, pretty much all packaged snack bars
  • Buy natural yoghurt in large pots (also saving on plastic use) and invest in a lunchbox with reusable yoghurt pot. Add chopped fruit and a drizzle of honey.

  • Mix up your own cereal using the kids’ fave brands, but add in oats, seeds, nuts and fruit. Mine actually really like this.

  • Only give fruit juices with breakfast (this is better for teeth too) and not as a stand-alone drink, ditto smoothies. Adding in a scoop of yoghurt or milk helps. (Incidentally, low-fat milk has a higher sugar to fat ratio than full fat, ergo not great for blood sugar)

  • Don’t buy breakfast bars/healthy snack bars unless you’re using them as you would a bar of chocolate. They are just as sugar-laden.

  1. The obvious: sweets, cakes and chocolate, fizzy drinks
  • Cakes: you can often use up to 50% less sugar than the recipe states, same with custards, sponges, pastry, but it doesn’t work with cookies or biscuits (I’ve tried and failed). I love adding grated parsnip, beetroot and courgette to cakes for moistness and texture. Use 50% wholemeal flour too, with a little more liquid.

  • Chocolate: I LOVE chocolate. But I have a serious addiction, it can’t be in the house. For a delicious, lower sugar treat, try melting a big bar of dark chocolate and mixing in an interesting bag of fruit and nuts. Pour into a lined loaf tin and sprinkle with salt flakes. Leave to cool and eat it before anyone else sees it.

  • Fizzy drinks. With food if poss. In moderation (mine get it once a week). I never intentionally buy low sugar- it horrifies me. I do not trust the food industry. Weirdly, as I was writing, this popped up on my feed.. Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer Risk findings of a new study released today. Everyone has their own views on this one.

  • Sweets. That’s a toughie. Popcorn and peanuts are often accepted in lieu of sweet things and we make ice lollies out of smoothies. Peanut M + Ms are a less-lethal treat than regular ones and there is at least a bit of protein there. If we have choc/sweets at home, portion size is always monitored.

My theory is thus: if we remove the non-treat sugars from the week as above, we’ll (hopefully) break the vicious cycle of the kids (and grown-ups) craving sweet treats quite as much as we do.. but I might leave it until after Easter…