Well, I don’t think anybody would ever have seen this coming! Once known for my constant supply of Nerds and the occasional kilo of Sour Worms, I’ve finally made a decision: I’m changing this for good.
It really began on Saturday morning. Through my sugar hangover (born of a rather shameful late-night jelly bean binge), I discovered an article by journalist Sarah Wilson. A former self-confessed sugar addict, Wilson describes an experimental sugar ban that led her to a complete lifestyle change. I won’t pretend to agree with all of Wilson’s views. For one thing, she endorses coconut oil, the so-called ‘superfood’ whose supposed weight-loss benefits I have previously debunked. However, her article did make me think, and as I did it became clearer than ever to me that continuing this sweet cycle was not only unhealthy, but also totally contradictory. How could I endlessly rant about the importance of healthy eating and the perils of poor food choices, all the while making a ridiculous exception for my sweet tooth? Though admittedly my decision to ditch the sweet stuff makes my heart sink a little, I’m excited to see where the change takes me.
Perhaps I’ll start with a little background info.
Lollies are my downfall. I’ve proudly worn this penchant for as long as I can remember and have rarely been without a little stash to satisfy my cravings when need be. While my ultimate sugar high (or low) saw me googling recipes containing condensed milk purely so I could eat it from the can, in recent times it’s not been the added sugar concerning me. I quit adding sugar to my coffee years ago, replaced cane sugar in baking with stevia (a controversial but natural substitute 300 times sweeter than sugar with no kilojoules), and am the first to protest when muesli contains too much saccharine soaked-dried fruit. No, sadly for me, my weakness is simply lollies, and the gummier the better. Not that I’m fussy; I’ll take sherbet bombs, jelly beans, zombie chews or sour straps, and I’ll eat them all too.
The day before my epiphany, my curiosity was sparked by an episode of the UK ‘documentary’ series Supersize vs Superskinny. While I’ve long been sceptical of the show’s format (which involves swapping the diets of two individuals, one morbidly obese and one extremely underweight), recent episodes have taken a more in-depth focus on the importance of healthy foods and the dangers of nasties like soft drinks and lollies. For whatever reason, this particular episode’s scare tactics really hit me hard.
Although I’ve never disputed that my beloved gummy lollies contain everything from gelatine (an animal by-product; think pig skin and beef bones), to five different artificial colours (all of which either been previously banned, or at least raised health concerns such as behavioural and cognitive issues), I quite happily ignored it. In reality, this is not so different to a savvy smoker knowing the negative side effects of nicotine, which coincidentally has been suggested by a team of University of California researchers to be as dangerous and addictive as the seemingly innocent sugar.
I won’t pretend for a minute to take such a strong viewpoint; to my mind, blaming sugar for all evils is a highly simplistic view. However, I can see some merit in the general message of the article, which suggests regulating sugar use, possibly by applying a tax similar to that on alcohol.
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, and can be found naturally in foods such as dairy (in the form of lactose), and fruits (in the form of fructose). This may be surprising for some to hear, especially if sugar is a concern in one’s diet. And this is where my scepticism for hardcore sugar opponents such as David Gillespie lies – author of the controversial book Sweet Poison: Why Sugar is Making Us Fat. By regarding sugar in isolation, we might infer that nutritious foods such as yoghurt, cheese and fruits are unhealthy while ignoring their essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. The National Nutrition Survey, carried out in 1995, indicates that the majority of sugar is consumed through processed foods with added sugar, and it’s fair to assume the results would not be dramatically different today. Soft drinks, cakes, muffins, ice cream and chocolate – all these things are far more likely to give your body trouble than an overdose of sugar from too much fruit.
Currently there are no specific recommendations for sugar consumption in Australia, however the Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults advise us to “consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars”, treating confections such as ice cream, chocolate, soft drinks and pastries as a ‘sometimes’ food.
Generally speaking, sugar is a high energy, low nutrient food. If a higher proportion of sugary foods are being consumed in place of a healthy, balanced diet, it’s fair to say this could contribute to an array of health issues, including tooth decay and obesity. I’m never going to give up the dates in my porridge or the strawberries in my smoothie. However, being conscious of limiting the proportion of highly processed foods in your diet, like me with my lollies, could be a beneficial and simple way to reduce your sugar and energy consumption.
My suggestions for those wanting to lower sugar content:
- Skip the soft drinks! And for that matter, other flavoured drinks such as vitamin waters and iced tea. These can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a standard serve.
- Choose whole fruit over juice when possible. If you’ve ever made your own juice, you’ll know that it takes at least 4, maybe more oranges to make one glass of juice. Therefore, you’re consuming the equivalent of 4 pieces of fruit – would you normally eat that in one sitting?
- It’s confusing trying to track down all the hidden sugar in foods, but it’s easy to reduce the amount you add into your diet. Cut down on adding sugar to foods like coffee and cereal; after a while, you won’t even miss it.
- Replace highly processed foods such as chips, lollies, cakes and biscuits with proper nutritious foods from the five food groups – fruit, vegetables and legumes, dairy, lean meat, poultry and eggs, as well as wholegrain breads, pasta and rice.
For more information on this subject, try:
- Dietitians Association of Australia: Sugar – Not so ‘toxic’
- Nutrition Australia: Frequently Asked Questions – Fructose