‘Full of sugar’ or ‘Full of fear?’

What do we know about ‘sugar?’

So, if you’ve met me you know how I feel about the ‘sugar’ thing. The simple fact is, we are not the innocent victims in the great sugar-poisoning. We choose what we put in our mouth, and so we have a certain responsibility to know and understand what is in it.

So, let me enlighten and empower you so that you can avoid the things that are truly ‘full of sugar’ and to enjoy the rest guiltlessly.

Let’s start here: WHAT IS A CARBOHYDRATE?

Simply, a carbohydrate is a chain of small molecules (glucose, for example) that are strung together like a necklace. If the chains are long they are called starches, and could be found in things like bread, rice, pasta, potato, corn, legumes and lentils. If the chain is short, we call it a sugar, such as fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk and yoghurt sugar), as well as table sugar and sweeteners (glucose, dextrose).

The chains are broken apart in the stomach, and only single sugars are released into the blood. I often liken this to bread breaking down to breadcrumbs. So, the body doesn’t really know the difference between a sugar and a starch.

GOOD CARBS AND BAD CABRS

Although the cells of the body don’t really know the difference between a sugar and a starch, or different sugars or different starches, it is sensitive to how quickly some carbohydrate chains release their individual molecules. For example, some chains break apart quickly in the stomach and the blood levels of these rise rapidly, a bit like a tsunami. These foods can really jolt the blood glucose levels, and require more insulin to break down, which increases the likelihood of them turning into fat. Foods that have this effect include rice (even brown rice), potato, white bread, dates and watermelon and rice crackers. These foods are called High Glycaemic Index (high GI).

Low GI carbohydrates kind of trickle into the system, slow and steady. This gives the body more time to utilise them effectively, and without the urgency. In the human body, slow release carb’s are the way to go – they keep us fuller for longer, even out our energy levels, and decrease the chance of storing your carb’s as fat. Low GI Carb’s include Burgen bread, pasta, corn, milk, yoghurt, Vita Weat’s, oats, apples, pears and bananas.

SUGAR AND SWEETNESS

If you understand nothing else, understand this: Our brain cells use carbohydrates as a fuel. So when you eat them, the brain celebrates. When you don’t eat enough, the brain will nag you to have them.

The problem is, everything is getting sweeter – which means the brain is continuously raising the bar. We used to think an apple was sweet. With the invention of soft drink, we had the sweetness of four apples in one mouthful. The brain had a party – and now it is continually chasing the sweeter thing. Food manufacturer’s understand this very very well, and have upped the sweetness in our food to keep our brain desiring their product.

ADDED SUGAR

Nutrient information panels are certainly not easy to navigate. By looking at the word sugar, we assume this means added sugar, but really it is a sum of all the carbohydrates of short chain lengths, and can include lactose (natural milk sugar) and fructose (natural fruit sugar), and in some foods these just can’t (and shouldn’t) be avoided.

For example, if a fresh green apple had a nutrition information panel, it would look like this:
Apple w panel

What we need to be mindful of is UNNECESSARY ADDED sugar; but how on earth do we know how to find it?

Well, look at the ingredient’s list (below). Does the word ‘sugar’ appear? In the case of milk, it doesn’t. So you can be certain that there is no added sugar. The sugar listed on the Nutrient Information Panel therefore must be natural sugar, lactose in this case.
MILK

Similarly, 100% fruit juice contains sugar, which is the natural fruit sugar fructose. There is no sugar added to this product.
OJ

Whereas soft drink clearly contains sugar:

Soft drink

Oats. A La Naturale – no added anything.

Oats

Some cereals, sugar is actually the third ingredient – This means that sugar is in this product in the third highest volume of anything in the product – behind grains and sultanas.
JUST RIGHT

Even some non-sweet, relatively unsuspecting cereals:
CORNFLAKES

Now, look at this label – Sugar is the main ingredient in this product. This means that there is more sugar in this food than any other ingredient.
SUGAR1

And the great Yoghurt Comparison –
No added sugar:
CHOBANI
And sugar added:
YOGHURT sweetened

IS ALL ADDED SUGAR BAD FOR US?

Of course not. Sugar may be added sweetness, flavour, or crunch, A little is fine. It is recommended that we consume less than six teaspoons of sugar each day, which does however mean we need to be aware of what we are consuming.

OTHER WORDS FOR SUGAR

This article is about education, and awareness. We have been whipped into a sugar-fear frenzy that is entirely unnecessary. What is required is for us to open our eyes and to be able to make good decisions for our own health.
Understanding other names for sugars is important, so keep your eyes peeled for these words: corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, invert sugar, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar syrup, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup solids, malt syrup.

For example: Nuts 39% (Peanuts, Cashews, Almonds), Seeds 11% (Pepitas, Sunflower Seeds), Glucose, Yoghurt Compound 10% (Sugar, Vegetable Oil, Yoghurt Powder 10%, Natural Greek Yoghurt Flavour, Milk Solids, Emulsifier [Soy Lecithin], Food Acid [330]), Blueberries 6% (Blueberries, Sugar, Sunflower Oil), Honey, Rice Syrup (Rice Syrup, Water), Currants (Currants, Sunflower Oil), Puffed Rice (Rice Flour, Rice Bran), Psyllium Husks, Cinnamon, Natural Vanilla Flavour, Sea Salt.

And the golden rule: If sugar or any sneaky word for sugar appears in the first five ingredients, it is in fact ‘full of sugar.’

EMILY HENRY

Sports Dietitian

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