Sugar is not toxic

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The anti-sugar brigade is out in force again with the new “Sugar” documentary film about to go to the big screen. It’s no surprise that every one is “up in arms” again about sugar killing us all.

Toxic definition

 

Let me be frank with you from the start sugar is not killing us, sugar is not toxic. Sugar is not the cause of any chronic disease. No, it doesn’t solely cause diabetes, cancer or obesity. We need to realise that there is not one single cause to any of the above. These disease conditions have many associated risks, but not causes.

Logic pause: If sugar caused cancer or diabetes, then why aren’t you sick? Why aren’t I sick? I eat sugar every day, my guess is you probably do too.

 

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At this point for those reading this article in isolation and don’t know my history, there is no conflict of interest with my reasoning. I don’t work for any company that sells sugar and I have no affiliations with big food. To be honest I don’t really care what you personally choose to eat, unless of course you are asking for my advice. You diet is your business. I am merely presenting and informed view about how this anti-sugar movement is a load of bollocks.

I do recognise that some people do need to reduce their excessive sugar intake because of an unhealthy relationship with food. However I often find, that its not only a sugar desire people have a problem with, they generally over eat and don’t know when to stop. This is not exclusive to sugar, but an issue with food in general.

 What is an excessive amount of sugar?

If you have a problem with the word excessive, in this content I am referring to people who consume sugar in sweets, soft drinks, takeaway foods on a daily basis. Excessive would be upward of to 40g of sugar per day.

As a population we probably should decrease our sugar consumption further. After all anything in excess is not good for us. I think a lot of people make the assumption that as a population people are consuming sugar more than ever before. As in, sugar intakes are increasing, but this is a fallacy.

Across the globe health organisations and industry have done a great job of reducing sugar in our food supply. World sugar consumption has actually decreased, despite obesity rates continuing to rise.

“It found 29 per cent – or 5.2 million – Australian adults are now obese according to their body mass index, a measure of the relationship between height and weight, compared to 16 per cent in 1980”

Here are a few links to sugar consumption documents from USA, AUS and Uk, that show sugar consumption has decreased:

The worst part is this misguided witch-hunt with sugar will do little to improve the health of the nation. This is because people end up finding an easy way around things. Meaning, that people simply replace sugar with another version of sugar or increase fats in the diet to ‘cheat’ the system.

Bottom line is address the issue head on. The problem isn’t sugar, carbs or fats. It’s your relationship with food, and inability to listen to what your body is telling you. No fad diet is going to rewire the psychology around food, unless you work at it.

A classic example of this “cheating the system” is the Clean Eating movement. Followers of this diet ditch the normal white sugar for “natural, clean and organic” sugars. Typical ingredient swaps you will see is: raw honey, sucanant, date sugar, coconut sugar, organic evaporated cane juice and agave syrup. All of which are just fancy names for sugar.

Yes you can argue that all of the above is less refined than white sugar and you’re getting more nutrients. But lets face it, if you where after extra nutrients you wouldn’t be turning to sugar, you would go and eat a nutrient dense vegetable. The above sugar examples are all similar in calories and the body does not discriminate is something is “natural” or “organic”. All type of sugar get broken down the same way and the body utilises it the same way as refined sugar. (Recognising here that there is different transporter systems used to break down sugar between fructose and glucose. However there is no difference between refined or organic processing).

My personal favourite is from the I Quit Sugar movement. This diet replaces fructose, which is supposed to be “bad”, with rice malt syrup. Rice malt syrup is a highly processed and refined sugar made from rice. It’s still sugar! And if that didn’t annoy you enough, it’s a lot pricier than your normal white cane sugar.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am no “pro sugar”. I just don’t want people to kid themselves and get lead down the garden path. There are better ways to tackle this sugar issue, body weight and chronic disease. But an over emphasis on one ingredient is very short sighted.

What is sugar?

People usually don’t realise that sugar is a carbohydrates, which is found in a wide variety of foods, both added and naturally occurring. As such, sugars are an integral part of our diet.

What I mean by integral part is that fruit, milk, yogurt, bread and cereal as just a few food examples that all contain sugar. All of these food items are healthy foods.

Of course there are exceptions to the rules for example 45g of coco pops is a cereal that contains 15g of sugar, For obvious reasons coco pops uses refined grain and added sugars, it’s not advised you eat this all the time. Whereas 45g of Lowan’s fruit and nut muesli is a high fibre whole grain cereal containing fruit and has 7g of sugar. It still has sugar but is by far a better choice. Context is key and considering other variables other than sugar is very important when considering different types of food.

The body uses sugar (we also call it glucose) as a preferred fuel source. The body physiologically is set up to burn glucose as fuel, the brain utilises glucose first for fuel if glucose is present, not fats and proteins. Fat burning for exercise and movement is secondary to glucose if both are present in the system and you often don’t see protein used as fuel unless there is a serve carbohydrate restriction.

Where is the sugar coming from in Australia?

“Within carbohydrates, starch contributed 24% and sugars contributed 20% of energy. The major source of total sugars (natural and added) in the diets were: Fruit (providing 16% of sugars), Soft drinks and flavoured mineral waters (9.7%), Dairy milk (8.1%), Fruit and vegetable juices and drinks (7.5%), Sugar, honey and syrups (6.5%), Cakes, muffins, scones, cake-type desserts (5.8%)”

As you can see that although soft drinks and sweets do feature in this count, so do food items contain fruit and dairy. It is very difficult to have a serious argument about the impact of sugar when you see the intake is so widely varied. Coming from natural sources. Obviously added sugar in sweets and soft drinks are not a good thing to eat all the time, but excluding fruit and dairy out of the diet is just non sense. There is well documented health benefits of including dairy and fruit in the diet.

What are the types of sugar?

White table sugar: Refined cane sugar. It can come in different size granules regular, extra fine (castor) commonly used in baking and it tea and coffee.

Brown: Raw cane sugar is the same type of sugar as white sugar, however still has some of the surface molasses present. Molasses is the dark sweet syrup made during the extraction of sugars from sugar cane.

Sucanat: Is cane sugar with all the molasses still present, this is the closest thing to pure cane sugar. Often sold as an organic sugar.

Honey normal: This is a liquid sugar made from bees. Bees collect nectar from flowers to produce a yellow-brown liquid.

Agave syrup: made from a plant called agave, native to Mexico and South Africa. It is very high in fructose. This is by far the most expensive sugar on the market.

Rice malt: The name speaks for itself, this sweet liquid is made from processing rice. Its made from glucose and maltose.

Date sugar: Made from dehydrated dried dates. Contains both fructose and glucose.

Coconut sugar: Made from the coconut palm. It the liquid sap from the palm itself. For commercial reasons it is dried and sold as a powder

Fructose sugar: Slightly larger particle size, derived from fruit. Known as a low GI sugar. This is not the same as high fructose corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup: Has people petrified, it is a sugar derived from corn. There has been a few studies that suggest HFCS has contributed to the obesity crisis in USA because it’s used in soft drinks and takeaway food. However this sugar is not used in Australia as we use cheaper cane sugar and our obesity problem is just as bad.

Sugar content

I put all the above in myfitnesspal.com calorie counter under 1tsp amounts = (4g) now you can see for yourself, the calories between types are virtually the same and so is the sugar content.

What sugar targets should you look out for? 

The World health organisation has made a recommendation that people should consume less than 25g of free sugar per day. This means free sugar coming from added sugar, not natural sugar occurring in dairy and whole fruit. Fruit juice, syrups and honey is counted as free sugars, in the same group as added sugars.

I like to take a more pragmatic approach to things like this. My rule is be mindful of added sugars. The general rule of thumb is look for products with <10g/100g of sugar, but fudge this idea if it’s a fruit or diary based product, because they will be higher than this. If you are looking at a product containing fruit or dairy, for example yogurt, then I look at the ingredients list.

The ingredient list by law has to list every single ingredient used in the production of that item. They are listed in descending order of the weight of each ingredient, the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first. It is also listed using common terms for example if fruit is used to sweeten the product it is listed as the type of fruit used not as “fructose sugar”.

 

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This is very handy because if sugar is listed in the first few lines of the ingredients list then you have detected added sugar. Note that products containing fruit will list the fruit used as an ingredient. If fruit is one of the first 5 ingredients listed and the sugar content in that item is more than the recommended 10g/100g, then you know it’s probably because of the fruit or dairy itself.

The most obvious recommendation would also be to stay away from soft drinks and sweets unless it’s a special occasion and in moderation. Eating chocolate every day, is probably not a good idea, however some people can get away with this.

I know this sounds vague, because it is! No two people eat the same way and food products themselves are so variable too. If you feel like sugar may be an issue for you then see a dietitian to help you nut out something individualised that is going to target your particular issues. Now you can dream of the sugar grim reaper no more, a little sugar in moderation on special occasions, is an easy message that works.

*If you see a fact you’d like to check, all of the facts are referenced.  Run your mouse over the words, if it highlights click on it to be redirected to the link 🙂  

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