There has been a lot of talk about refined sugar in the media recently and I am so happy to see we are becoming more aware of the effect it has on our bodies. I thought I would talk a little about these effects, and why they can be so detrimental to our health.
Refined sugar is essentially sugar that has been processed so much that it is depleted of its naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. This leaves a pure, refined carbohydrate which the body cannot easily use. Some examples include white sugar, powdered (caster) sugar, and in some cases brown sugar, which is often white sugar with some molasses added.
Here is how eating excess refined sugar may affect your body:
The liver stores excess sugar as glycogen (storage friendly version of glucose). If you eat refined sugar daily (above the natural sugar requirement), it may overload the limited storage space of the liver and cause it to expand. When your liver reaches its maximum capacity, the excess glycogen can be converted into fatty acids and deposited in the inactive parts of the body. This can include your thighs, bottom, stomach and breasts. Some fat can remain in the liver and if this is allowed to build up over time, it may lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
There has been some research which has found a link between refined sugar and unhealthy levels of blood fats, also called “dyslipidemia”. Eating large amounts of refined sugar may be responsible for higher triglycerides and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. As HDL cholesterol helps to transport cholesterol from the body’s cells back to the liver, low levels may result in an increased risk of heart disease.
For most people, refined sugar can be quite addictive. You know those times where you feel like you simply need a block of chocolate? There is more than just having good willpower at play here! When you eat refined sugar (hello chocolate and cake!), it can cause a huge release of dopamine (a brain chemical that helps us feel happiness or pleasure) in the reward centre of the brain. Unfortunately, nutrient-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables may not contain, or cause the brain to release, large amounts of dopamine. This is why people who eat lots of refined sugar continually seek out foods that will produce these positive feelings again and again. It is also important to understand that the “happy feeling” you get from eating refined sugar can override the “I’ve had enough to eat” mechanism from other digestive hormones. This means that you can be at greater risk of eating more than what your body actually needs. See there is a reason you keep craving sweets!
Due to the effects refined sugar has on our brains, there is a greater chance of becoming overweight or obese if it is consumed in excess on a regular basis. As I mentioned previously, eating refined sugar can override feelings of fullness, meaning you don’t always feel as satisfied as what you would be if you were to eat a plate full of veggies and some lean protein, for example. This is because it is filled with empty calories and also lacks important food components, such as fibre, which also help us to feel satisfied.
Another reason that sugar may be a contributing cause to obesity is because it is in SO many products these days. Manufacturers have found clever ways to disguise the word “sugar” in their products, which can make it very hard to identify in the ingredients list! Unfortunately, refined sugars are found in foods which appear to be healthy, such as breakfast cereals, muesli bars and slices, low-fat (flavoured) yoghurts and milks, and sauces — just to name a few.
This can be especially difficult for parents whose children rely on these foods as a part of their everyday diet. It is a lot harder to tell a 5 year old that refined sugar is addictive and that is the reason they want it so bad! If you are trying to eat a healthy diet, but are having trouble kicking the cravings for chocolate and other sweet things, hang in there! Whilst it is addictive, you can wean yourself off from it. Slowly reduce the amount that you eat, and over time you may find that the less you eat, the less you crave! I personally love eating fresh fruit when I’m needing something sweet. And if I am really craving chocolate, I will choose dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate. If you love eating cakes and sweets, then do some research and play around with some alternatives! If you would like some refined sugar substitutes, then you can find some here.
So what about the sugars in fruit?
You may be wondering about the sugars in fruit, and whether these are good for your body. Many people have read all about the negative effects of refined sugars, so they also stay away from fruit with a fear these will cause the same issues. While fruits still do contain sugar, this is often much less than what you would find in your typical chocolate bar. Keep in mind that fresh fruit can also contain other essential nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants), which our bodies need to function day to day. On top of this, they are also loaded with fibre, which can help our bodies to recognise when we’ve eaten enough. I believe that a few servings of fruit every day is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Just remember that fruits are best consumed fresh and whole. If you decide to juice them, you are potentially removing some of their nutrients and fibre.
Whilst the effects of sugar are very real, I am also not trying to scare you girls! The majority of the health issues that I have mentioned can occur over time and come about as a result of excessive sugar consumption. If you have the occasional treat here and there, that’s okay! Food is meant to be enjoyed, so a small square of your favourite cake every once in awhile is not going to do your body any serious amount of harm long-term. This is why I recommend consuming as many whole foods as possible within your day-to-day diet. And if a recipe calls on a sauce, I like to try making my own before reaching for a pre-packaged version. This way I can know exactly what I’m eating and how much. At the end of the day, food is fuel, so it is important that we are aware of what we are putting in our bodies and the effects it can have.
Love, Kayla xx