Turns out not all calories are equal after all. Last week, I wrote about Sarah Wilson’s 8-week program aimed at reducing and then eliminating sugar from your diet. This post is intended to provide more information on why ridding yourself of the white poison is so vital to your health as well as some of the science behind it.
There is now compelling scientific evidence that sugar makes us fat. This week, a study released by the journal PLoS One linked increased consumption of sugar with increased rates of diabetes by examining the data on sugar availability and the rate of diabetes in 175 countries over the past decade. The result? Increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates. What does this mean? Obesity doesn’t cause diabetes, sugar does. This study is the closest of its kind linking sugar to weight to when cigarettes were originally linked to lung cancer. See Mark Bittman’s article in the New York Times for more information on the study at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/27/its-the-sugar-folks/
A great place to start for those wanting more thorough background information about the dangers of sugar is David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat. In a nutshell, David was an overweight lawyer who, tired of trying every diet and exercise plan in the book, took the bulls by the horn and gave up sugar. During his no-sugar experiment, every other aspect of his diet and exercise habits stayed the same, so getting rid of the sweet stuff was his one and only change. David not only dropped a whole lot of weight but also learned some fascinating lessons along the way.
Lesson 1: Sugar is sugar is sugar, whether it is ‘natural’ or not
This seems to be a huge misconception for people trying to reduce sugar in their diets. They may not be eating chocolate bars and drinking Coke, but they gulp down 5 pieces of fruit per day, a couple of glasses of juice and soak their steak in barbeque sauce (which, by the way, has more sugar per serving than a slice of chocolate cake. I will write a post on this at a later date).
Just because sugar is ‘natural’, does not mean it is good. The science behind this is that it is fructose, an element found in the chemical composition of sugar (other elements include glucose, lactose [milk sugar], dextrose – basically any word ending in –ose) that the brain has trouble with. When it comes to glucose, this element is vital to our bodies and is an integral part of our metabolism. Every cell in the body can use glucose for energy. Fructose however is extremely different. Fructose is not naturally produced in the body and is not part of our metabolism. Very few cells in the body have a function for fructose and as a result, when we consume sugar, most of the fructose gets metabolised by the liver and is turned directly into fat.
We humans are designed to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. This mechanism however fails dismally when it comes to fructose and this is all to do with a hormone called leptin. When we consume food that isn’t sugar, our brain senses increased leptin levels and tells us to stop eating, as we are full. Fructose however, inhibits the production of leptin, thereby masking feelings of fullness. As a result, the brain cannot recognise when the body has consumed enough fructose, hence we eat more and more and cannot stop. We never feel full and satisfied.
But back to the natural argument. Fructose is found in high levels in fruit (in even higher levels in dried fruit), honey, maple syrup, juice (even fresh juice) and other sweet foods considered ‘natural’. It is also, and more obviously, found in our junk food, in foods such as lollies, cakes, biscuits and all other gooey goods. When people say fruit sugar is natural, so is arsenic, petrol and lead. Just because something is natural does not mean it is good for you.
Lesson 2: Fat does not make you fat
Ever tried eating a whole plate of cheese without feeling disgustingly stuffed full? Ever tried the same with a bag of lollies or a jumbo fruit juice? Not quite the same, hey. Again, this is due to the fructose factor. The mind and body cannot register feelings of fullness after consumption of sugar (and more specifically, fructose).
Ramping up your consumption of fat will not make you fat. (To clarify, when I refer to fat, I am talking about good fats found in olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, full fat dairy and even the fat on certain cuts of meat. I am not referring to burgers, fries, pizzas etc). So what will eating more fat do to you? What it is supposed to – fill you up. By eating foods with a higher fat value, you are providing your body with nourishment from foods that will satiate you for hours. Unlike sugar, the brain registers when you have consumed enough fat. So you stop eating. Simple as that. Due to this amazing inbuilt mechanism in our body, you will not overeat on fats. Increased fat consumption also means you will stay fuller for longer and not experience the rollercoaster of highs followed by the inevitable crash and burn when the afternoon energy slump hits.
Lesson 3: Low fat, light, ‘light’ and skim foods are a waste of time
Low fat products are the invention of the crafty marketing men in the food industry. These foods look and feel healthier, have bright clean labels and have tricked consumers into thinking they are making healthy choices for themselves when they purchase these products. Have you ever looked at the ingredients list on low fat products though? I guarantee you it will be longer than the full fat version. Take dairy for example – not only does “low fat” strawberry yoghurt contain way more sugar than its full fat counter part, but it contains a host of other nasties to keep the flavour smooth and consistent, a feature that is lost when the fat is removed. You will find thickeners, preservatives, flavours and colouring in place of the natural product – fat.
The general rule of thumb – when the fat is removed from a food, it has to be replaced with something else to make up for the loss of flavour, consistency and appearance. Hello sugar.
Lesson 4: Eating sugar makes us addicted to more sugar
Countless studies have illustrated that sugar is as addictive as illicit drugs. The two addictions work in the same way – consuming the sweet stuff gives us pleasure and releases opiates and dopamine in the reward system of the brain. This in turn activates powerful reward-seeking behaviour that promotes more sugar consumption and overeating.
If these reasons aren’t enough on their own to encourage you to give up or at least cut back on sugar, check out David Gillespie’s books and blog for more information. Quitting sugar has seriously changed my attitude towards food, my hunger patterns, my skin, my sleep quality and my levels of calm and peace. If you do one diet-related thing for yourself this year, give this a go and see if it changes you for the better too.