Sugar is hard to avoid, even in small doses as it's used as an additive in a great deal of foods and drinks to improve the taste. Recently, the white stuff has become a hot topic health debate which frequently appears across news headlines detailing the adverse affects it's having on our population.
This sweet poison hides behind many names: sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, fruit juice, molasses, hydrolysed starch, syrup, honey. Sadly yes, honey and fruit juices are among the sugary culprits.
Being a sweets, cake and biscuit fiend my whole life, I've found my sugar tolerances have changed as I've got older. Once I hit my mid-twenties, it became increasingly difficult to eat my usual whole pack of biscuits in one sitting, and not feel physically ill after.
I began to see a trend in my moods and my energy levels before and after consuming sugar, and knowing the increasing health risks that can develop, I decided to do something about it. And document the journey for your reading pleasure.
First, here's a look at the effect sugar actually has on us...
Sugar and the Body
There have been numerous studies exploring the affects of sugar on our bodies.
As adults, we shouldn't consume more than 30g of "free sugars" per day. Free sugars are those which are added to foods and drinks to make them taste better. Additional sugars like these are just more calories that we don't need. By consuming more calories than we can burn off, excess sugar consumption leads to weight gain and makes us more susceptible to developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes later in life.
Sugar contributes to tooth decay, especially in children, but adults can suffer just as much. Snacking on sugary foods between meals, like biscuits and all the yummy things, leaves a sugar residue in contact with the teeth which can cause cavities.
Fruit contains a lot of natural sugars which are great. Eating them as a whole keeps these sugars contained, but when you juice the fruits for a drink, the sugars are released which is actually worse for you, and your chompers.
Sugar and the Brain
It isn't just the body that suffers from sugar abuse, but the brain suffers too.
Sugar is an addictive substance, and like all addictions, it comes with the same symptoms: cravings, binging and withdrawals. The reason it's additive is down to the rush of dopamine released in our brains when consumed. Dopamine is the "reward" hormone that's released after exercise, which makes you feel good about yourself. So it's easy to understand why it's sugar can be addictive when it makes us feel good, however brief.
The "Sugar Crash" (a.k.a Reactive Hypoglycaemia) is the most common and immediate adverse effect after eating a considerable amount of sugar. In order to process all the sugar in your system, your body releases copious amounts of insulin which reduces your blood sugar levels. This can leave you feeling tired, irritable and even anxious.
In light of my slowing metabolism, and the ever present health risks associated to sugar, I wanted to try and wean myself off the sugary poison to see how it would affect me. But where do I begin?
I knew that going cold turkey wouldn't be easy, or possible for me. I was too far gone with the biscuit and chocolate addiction for that, so I decided to take baby steps... the babiest of steps.
First stop: tea. For years I would have anywhere from 6 - 8 cups of milky tea, with 2 heaped spoons of sugar per day. That's roughly 8g of sugar per cuppa! I began by reducing this by half a teaspoon, each week until I finally grew accustomed to the taste of sugar-free tea.
Alongside the quest for sugar-free tea, I was both reducing and substituting my favourite sweet snacks for something a little more healthier. Biscuits were replaced by fresh fruit and seeds. Spongy moist lovely cake was replaced by rice cakes, and when I did allow myself to have a biscuit, I made sure it was just the ONE biscuit.
Rather than overfilling my breakfast bowl with chocolate Shreddies, I re-introduced myself to glorious porridge, and flavouring it with banana and nuts. If not porridge, then grapefruit and Greek yogurt took its place.
The first few weeks were really tough going, and it felt as though I really was kicking an addiction. The times when I would usually have a pack of sweets, I ate nuts instead, but the craving was still there. I was irritable to say the least, and my energy levels was all over the place. I felt strange (no pun intended).
However, after getting into a routine, removing the temptation from my cupboards (except for the emergency stash of biscuits), I began to see noticeable changes in my physical and mental health.
By significantly reducing Free Sugars in my diet, I felt like I had more energy, and I felt more alert. My concentration improved, and I no longer found myself looking for the next sugary hit.
Sugars had become such a natural and normal part of my diet, that I didn't realise how hooked I was, until I tried to reduce them.
I feel so much better having cut down on a majority of bad sugars in my diet. Although I'll still have the occasional biscuit, or comfort eat my period pains away, I feel a lot more alert, focused and energised since trying the relatively sugar-free lifestyle.
I surprised myself at how addicted I was to sugary foods, and how much of a negative impact it was having on my health and my moods. Being prone to acne breakouts, I'm relieved to see the quality of my skin improve also.
As a test to myself, I recently made a milky sugary tea and even with the first sip, I couldn't understand how I had been enjoying that for so many years. I'm so pleased with how far I've come with this change in my diet, and I'll be keeping it up in the future.
Try and get your sweet fix with more natural sugars such as nuts, seeds and fruits. Like most things we enjoy, suagar needs to be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Going Free-Sugar-free doesn't mean you have to give up everything tasty though!
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