The devil which is sugar

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Most of us will have this sight thrust upon us on a daily basis. Worse still than half of every corner shop looking like this is the fact most of us are also horrifyingly familiar with the supermarket version which will be covered in offers to get you to buy more or buy bigger, most of them boiling down to us being able to purchase around a weeks worth of sugar for about a pound. This may not cost our wallets much but it will cost us in the health department as it is an unfortunate fact of the nature of most humans, apart from a saintly few, that if we buy in bulk we tend to eat in bulk.

This is in part due to the crafty nature sugar has of tricking you into consuming as much of it as possible. For those of you who have long since forgotten GCSE biology, when we consume good sturdy foods like whole grains there is a lot of fibre involved and the body takes a while to go through breaking it all down meaning that energy is released slowly. When we guzzle down a can of coke or hoover up a piece of cake the simple sugars present in these items are absorbed at the speed of a bullet, your blood sugar level goes wild and your body produces a lot of insulin (the hormone responsible for promoting glucose to be absorbed from the blood and either taken up by muscles or stored as fat) to bring your blood sugar back down to what it should be. When the sugar levels of your blood rise slowly your body can see what it’s dealing with, steadily release appropriate quantities of insulin and keep everything relatively stable. When the blood is suddenly bombarded with far too much sugar all at once the body pretty much feels like it is under attack, it goes into panic mode, it throws out insulin at a vast rate to try and regain some sort of order but because it has had to act so dramatically it typically overshoots the mark. In its attempt to restore the body to harmony it has produced too much insulin, therefore meaning the levels of sugar in the blood are reduced too far as too much has been put into storage. This leaves us with our blood sugar too low, and lo and behold the trick is in motion – we now have low blood sugar, we believe we are hungry and need to top up that sugar, we reach for the next piece of cake, twentieth biscuit of the day etc and the cycle of sugar cravings continues its sly destruction.

To be clear on the issue of fruit here the whole fruit is our friend and is not to be shunned. Whole fruits obviously do contain natural sugars but these sugars are bound up with lots of fibre. If you look at nature anywhere sugar is provided it comes with this fibre dose which makes it all ok. The problem arose when we started messing with it, removing the sugars to be used separately and ditching the main body of the plants they came from. Sadly this means that if you still think you are doing yourself a good turn by downing pints of fruit juice or other drinks sweetened with concentrated grape/apple etc extract you are mostly incorrect, fruit juice has lost the fibre so although you are getting the vitamins you would be much better off eating a piece of the fruit whole and saving your body the horror of boarding the sugar rollercoaster. There are also separate issues in the type of sugars in fruit juice, namely fructose, which I will go into at a later date.

The main point I would like you to take on at this stage is to just familiarize yourself with guideline amounts and take a look at your own consumption to see how you are doing. Government guidelines currently advise no more than 50g of sugar a day but many health care professionals would tell you this should definitely be halved and 25g a day is more than enough. When you consider that a standard 330ml can of coke will give you 35g of sugar it really puts these figures into perspective and could be a wake up call to some of you (me) out there.