Sugar may be the newest and deadliest of modern-day killers. Current research shows that obesity is one of the five risk factors of early death. The rate of obesity in South Africa is growing rapidly with almost 70% of women and 40% of men overweight or obese.
Diabetes in South Africa is also on the increase. High blood sugar levels have been linked to an estimated three million deaths worldwide on a yearly basis directly due to diabetes. In South Africa, it’s reported that around 5000 deaths were caused by gun shots in 2012, while 58 people died from diabetes every day in the same year – that adds up to over 21 000!
Sweet yet deadly
The three main parts of sugar (fructose, glucose and sucrose) come from sugar canes and sugar beets. The metabolic pathways in our body receive these sugars differently. Fructose is the “bad guy” as it’s simply excess sugar that the brain and muscles don’t necessarily need. This can also turn into fat in the body.
The human liver has a limited storage capacity for sugar; this means that the leftovers return into the bloodstream as fatty acids. These acids then store themselves in different parts of the body namely thighs, breasts and the belly. Thanks to this unfortunate side-effect, you then put yourself at risk Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, obesity, high cholesterol, gout, hypertension and liver disease.
Why so addictive?
Think of sugar as little gremlins that lurk around causing upheaval. The metabolic pathways in our bodies are tampered with by sugar; causing changes in the brain and the dopamine receptors (these influence body movement and emotional states through the brain). Sugar becomes addictive because of the overstimulation in the reward centres of the brain; the area of the brain that primarily processes “desire” and “want” caused by stimulants. Too much sugar causes an imbalance in our brain biochemistry, blood glucose and gut health, reducing our “feelgood” brain chemicals. This, in turn, makes us crave more sugar to feel better.
Hop off the sugar train
Sugar cravings are very real and withdrawing from sugar can leave you feeling cranky and tired.
- The best approach is to stay away completely. Replace sugar with good fats and protein foods. As soon as you let your blood glucose levels drop you’ll start craving sugar.
- Read food labels and look out for “hidden” sugars that might be lurking under names like maize syrup, glucose syrup, fructose syrup, fruit fructose and crystalline fructose.
- Limit your fruit juices and energy drinks, and stay away from artificial sweeteners if possible.
- Many kinds of bread (both white and wholewheat) contain sugar. Some breads contain as much as a teaspoon of sugar per slice.
- Sugar is often added to tomato products to counter the acidity, and tomato sauce is one of the worst culprits when it comes to hidden sugar. Up to one-third of the content of tomato sauce can be sugar. Keep in mind that a tablespoon of tomato sauce equals one teaspoon of sugar.
Decoding the labels:
- Sugar-free: less than 0.5 grams of sugar.
- Reduced sugar: at least 25% less sugar for each serving than the original product.
- No added sugar: no sugar in any form has been added as an ingredient.