Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Sarah Keogh at our Unislim Summit in the fabulous Carton House. As it was January and the Sugar Crash documentary had just aired, we naturally had many questions about the devil incarnate that is SUGAR. We had heard much panic among our members, and that panic had trickled down to us leaders too. How had we not known that sugar was everywhere, hiding behind every available surface, ready at any moment to leap out and inject us with type 2 diabetes?
Thankfully, Sarah is a sensible pragmatist and an extremely educated lady in her area. She has a degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from Trinity College and a Masters in European Food Regulation. She runs a food and nutrition consultancy giving one-to-one advice on nutrition and diet as well as working with some of Ireland’s leading food companies. So needless to say, she knows her stuff. And what was her advice? Basically – stop panicking, arm yourself with practical and real information, and based on that make informed choices.
With this in mind, I would like to look at some of the top “sugar myths” that have appeared online and elsewhere over the past months and give the real scoop on the sugar war:
- All sugars are the same, and our bodies process them in the same way:
That’s not true – sugars occur naturally in lots of different food groups – fruit, vegetables, dairy… and more. For example, the sugars in natural, unflavoured yoghurt come from the lactose in the dairy. If fruit is then added to the yoghurt, sugars come from the fructose in the fruit. There may be some added sugar but not the amount that is shown by reading the “Carbohydrates: of which sugars” label.
- Sugar in any form is bad for you, not just junk food
The truth is, the sugar consumption epidemic is mainly caused by junk food – in particular, fizzy drinks. Sugar in beverages is a problem for several reasons:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages are the greatest source of added sugars in the diet.
- They’re completely empty calories.
- They’re very heavily promoted.
- The body doesn’t seem to recognize calories very well when they’re delivered in liquids; you don’t feel as full.
- It’s possible that sugar triggers an addictive process in the brain.
- I need to follow a sugar-free diet
This is not true. Although sugar is not an essential nutrient (and therefore does not have an RDA), it does not need to be totally eradicated. What we need to do is ensure that the foods we eat have nutritional benefit – and this comes from eating healthy foods in our main meals and healthy snacks each day. Of course, these can be yoghurt, fruit, stewed fruit, some dark chocolate (all of which contain sugar) or they can be nuts, seeds, bread and butter (all of which contain some fats). As long as your diet is balanced and nutritious you should not see detrimental effects.
- Fruit juices are the devil and will make your teeth fall out
Again, this is not true. Anything is excess is of course not recommended. But if you drink a glass of fresh, unconcentrated fruit juice every morning for your breakfast, then you will not suffer chronic tooth loss. If, however, you only drink fruit juices all day long, and never give your teeth a few hours break to recover, then this will cause problems.
- Processed meat is pretty much meat-flavoured sugar water
Bear in mind that there’s a difference between mysterious “lunch meat” and high-quality prosciutto or salami, or ham. Like anything, try to see if you understand at least most of the ingredients on the packaging. For example, I usually buy ham and turkey, and I always check the ingredients. The list is normally 3 or 4 ingredients long – with the main ingredient being “ham” or “turkey” at around 98%. The same applies to sausages – try to go for the products with the higher pork content.
- Alcohol contains a lot of sugar
The production of alcohol is interesting. Although it takes a lot of sugar at the outset to produce alcohol, the process of actually creating alcohol “combusts” the sugar and turns it into……… can you guess? That’s right, alcohol! And as proof – diabetics are more at risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) when they drink alcohol. So the biggest problem ingredient in alcohol is actually the alcohol. Of course, if you drink many, many vodkas with bottles of coke as the mixer on a night out, then sugar becomes part of the equation. But alcohol alone is not a sugar culprit.
- Sugar causes cancer
There are no scientific studies that can prove that sugar causes cancer. What does cause cancer, however, is fat cells – in particular, very high levels of fat cells around the abdominal area. So if you are overweight or obese then you can be more at risk of cancer. This is because people who are obese have more fat tissue that can produce hormones, such as insulin or estrogen, which may cause cancer cells to grow. And this cancer risk is regardless of whether obesity was caused by consumption of sugar, fat, protein, alcohol or anything else.
So I hope you find this article interesting and useful, and use it to cast a rational eye over the mania surrounding the sugar debate. And if at the end you still decide that you want your diet to be sugar free, you will have done so with proper information and a decision based on knowledge rather than hysteria. For more, check reputable sources online – there are lots out there. And also check out eatwell.ie to find out more about Dr. Sarah Keogh and her work.