FITNESS | Too sweet to be true? The low down on sugar myths

When it comes to sugar, what you don’t know can really hurt you. Kill you in fact. And in my opinion - we are consuming it at unknowingly harmful and alarming rates similar to the way in which our parents’ and grandparents’ generations consumed tobacco products. There is an obesity epidemic across the Western World, and here in Europe (especially in the UK & Ireland) we are only slightly better offthan in the world sugar capital country of the USA, where 2 out of every 3 people are overweight or obese. That is bonkers, really bonkers! But sugar isn’t just killing overweight people, a recent crunching of government health statistics found that 1 in 5 American adults of normal weight were pre-diabetic, that is, had elevated blood sugar. That’s the classic “skinny fat” syndrome.

With the food lobbies working together to hide much of the information on sugar levels in our food, it is easy to ‘stick it to the man’ and blame the food companies for proffering all those sweet and fatty foods that we eat. And we are right to do that - why on earth should we allow companies to strip original food ingredients of all nutrients and process it beyond belief in the name of shelf life (AKA profit)? But people, don’t exclusively blame others - please exert some self-control - and arm yourselves with information! Knowledge = power. And greater knowledge helps willpower!

Here are some myths often associated with sugar - and some views from Dr Frank Lipman (with the odd one of my own thrown in for good measure) on the realities. I am passionate about sugar and try as much as possible to eliminate it from my daily food intake - but with my chocolate addiction I know my 3pm daily bar is way more than I need. And I am quite a healthy person - when I see what my friends, colleagues and family eat in terms of sugar, it makes me realise even more that I need to work to sustain a manageable level for my body’s health, and that of my daughter.

No doubt this will not be my last blog on sugar - there is so much to say!

MYTH #1: To avoid sugar, just read the label.

THE REALITY: Labels benefit the manufacturer, not you.

By law, most foods (with the exception of fruits, veggies, and prepared foods) come with a label that lists their ingredients and nutritional stats. In theory, the labels should make sugar pretty easy to find, but in reality, much of the sweet stuff is “hidden” sugar, buried in the ingredients list and hidden in a pile of technical terms no layman could easily identify. One way of identifying some sugars (but not all) is to look for words ending in -ose. They are usually sugars.

Confused by the ingredients list, your next stop may be the nutrition “facts” list. There you’ll find a very rough estimate of how much sugar is contained in a portion. Where it gets tricky, though, is with portion size: By listing abnormally small portion sizes, the manufacturers can make the sugar counts appear less fearsome, fooling you into thinking you’re eating less sugar. So, that quarter-cup of tomato sauce (who has ever eaten a quarter-cup of tomato sauce?) with 8g of sugar will more likely wind up being closer to 20g by meal’s end. Look out for the per 100g measurement and use that all the time (checking the size of the food pack and/or how much you’re actually using to give you the full multiplier effect). It gets even worse when the sauce is poured over pasta, which is a simple starch that quickly breaks down to glucose in the blood—in short, even more sugar.

BOTTOM LINE: Take every label with a huge grain of salt, (metaphorically of course!) and know what your average portion size looks like on the plate—chances are, yours will be considerably larger than the manufacturer’s. But the absolute best way to avoid hidden sugar? Stick to a whole-foods-based diet and kick processed foods—aka, anything with a nutrition label—to the curb.

MYTH #2: Artificial sweeteners in moderation are fine.

THE REALITY: Artificial sweeteners make cravings worse!

When patients are overly attached to their artificial sweeteners, it’s often a challenge getting them to part with those sweet little packets. They think it cruel and unusual punishment, and in the early stages of a sweet stuff breakup, it can be challenging. Trouble is, sweet begets sweets. Artificial sweeteners can make you feel hungry and actually eat more—and they dull our taste for naturally sweet foods. It’s the definition of the vicious circle. Add to that, the fact that they don’t help with weight loss and don’t taste good either. So dumping the stuff once and for all seems like the sanest route, difficult as it may be in the short term. Cold turkey, people! 

THE BOTTOM LINE: The less sweetness the better. If you eliminate all types of artificial sweeteners from your life, you’ll help liberate your body from the tyranny of sugar in its many forms. In their place, swap in naturally sweet-tasting spices like cinnamon, vanilla, allspice, cardamom, caraway, and nutmeg to support health with tasty, medicinal effects. Get used to drinking your coffee and tea without added sweeteners. If you’re going to indulge, try whole leaf, raw stevia — a small amount packs a big punch.

MYTH #3: Managing diabetes is all about going on a low-fat diet.

THE REALITY: It’s really about sugar and carbs – particularly the processed ones.

The US government is still peddling the low-fat diet as the best defence against high blood sugar and diabetes. Boy, are they out to lunch! The real culprits are carbs, in particular the ones that come in the concentrated form of added sugar or in grain-based processed foods, like bread and pasta, that readily break down to sugar in the system. While losing weight is an excellent way to fight back against high blood sugar, being normal weight doesn’t mean you have a blank check to consume as much sugar and as many carb-rich foods as you like. Even though these adults aren’t eating too many calories, their systems can’t handle the amount of sugar and carbs hiding in plain sight on their plates. They are candidates for the ‘skinny fat’ phenomenon.

BOTTOM LINE: To keep blood sugar in check, cut carbs to the bone (especially the fast-digesting ones), and lose the added sugar. Get moving, keep moving, and drop the excess weight to keep metabolism humming and protect against Type 2 diabetes. And if you’ve crossed the diabetes line, know that you can cross back to the healthy side by following the same low carb diet.