Rhaya's Sugar Rant

Oh sugar sugar sugar, it’s now well established as addictive, it is everywhere and it’s made heaps of us ill because the level of sugar in our food is frankly insane and hard to avoid.

So you would imagine that the “Health World” would have a more balanced and intelligent approach to sugar, be less confused etc etc.  Well we don’t think so and one of the many reasons we work together and like each other so much is because we all feel that this sugar thing has gone crazy on both sides of the fence - junk food and super health food / detox food.  If you are feeling confused anxious or paranoid about sugar we are not surprised at all.

My one simple answer fixes everything

Headline grabbing perhaps but one of the reasons people can’t work what to eat is that so many food gurus are in love with their own way of doing things.  Often they have picked one aspect of eating, raw, low carb, paleo etc and they run with it no matter how irrational it gets.  Anna and I bonded years ago over the notion of eating a raw caramel cheesecake rather than a bowl of cooked broccoli because cooking the broccoli has destroyed the enzymes and made it useless nutritionally but the raw cake is full of enzymes.  So if it is raw it is deemed good even if filled with maple syrup or coconut sugar - delicious but this is a treat food not a health food.  When you fetishise only one aspect of food you end up making nonsense decisions like this.  If you have been a junk food bunny it is easy to take all your preferences and habits and just transfer them unchanged onto your raw diet, your paleo diet, your low carb diet.  When I first got interested in low carb eating I was talking to my lovely sister and she decided that she would give this a go.  What was the first thing she did? Pulled out her ice cream maker and made low carb ice cream!  We take our patterns with us, and there is no one answer that quickly fixes everything.

So, back to sugar....

The hundreds of sugars in our diet fall into one of two categories.  There are only two so actually the whole process is very simple.  The two types of sugar that you really need to know about and make the biggest difference to your health are:

Intrinsic sugars
Added sugars

Sounds complex but it is so so simple.  Intrinsic sugars are any sugars that naturally occur in foods - the sweetness in fresh pineapple, tomatoes, sweet grapes.  Intrinsic means naturally part of the food.

Added sugars are EVERYTHING ELSE.  All of it.  Fructose corn syrup through to lovely organic raw coconut sugar and organic honey.  All of them are added sugars.  They are concentrated sweeteners that we put into our food to change the taste.  These are the sugars that are making us ill, not because they are always bad, there are some beautiful quality added sugars, but because we just eat too damn much of them.


Fruit and Diabetes

This is one of the big ones that makes me cross.  There is ample evidence that fruit does not push up your blood sugars, partly because fruit sugar (fructose) doesn’t make it straight into your blood stream.  Fructose is processed in your liver. But it’s not just about your blood sugar readings, these are really important - the big question is how long and well you live and does fruit affect your health in the long run?  

Yes it does.  

Eating fruit regularly improves your health outcomes.  Probably one of the biggest studies looking at this was published in April last year following people over 7 years and those that ate higher levels of fruit did better.

Here is a link to the full article for the nerds amongst us

And for those too busy because they are rushing out to buy some beautiful seasonal pears, let me quote the conclusion from the abstract of the paper -  

Fresh fruit consumption in relation to incident diabetes and diabetic vascular complications: A 7-y prospective study of 0.5 million Chinese adults

In this large epidemiological study in Chinese adults, higher fresh fruit consumption was associated with significantly lower risk of diabetes and, among diabetic individuals, lower risks of death and development of major vascular complications.

Yes.  500,000 followed for 7 years.  Boom.  Game over.  If someone wants to argue this is wrong they need to match the evidence and go better.  And it’s not the only paper - mango has shown itself to be useful helping to keep your blood sugar stable.

Do you need to avoid intrinsic sugars in fruit and vegetables NO.


Added Sugars

This is more complicated than a straight no.  Let’s call it “buyer beware”.  Be super careful about added sugars because it is a big big category which runs all the way from soft drinks and white sugar which do nothing for you but make you more ill, and interesting and delicious sugars that have some minerals in them perhaps, sometimes some fibre and can make your food more interesting - if you use a light hand.  But added sugars are added sugars.  If it is a powder, a syrup or a paste, and you put it into another food to sweeten it, it is an added sugar.

Is raw honey a lovely food? Yep. Can you eat it happily and regularly with diabetes?  Probably not.  Honey, yacon, maple syrup (my personal favourite) and coconut sugar are all concentrated added sugars.  Eat them in small quantities, infrequently, think of them as treats.  Can you add a teaspoon of maple syrup to a stew or soup that tastes a bit bitter? Sure!  It will probably make no difference to your long term health.  A teaspoon of honey in your tea four times a day might.  It is a matter of good quality unrefined sugars used in small amounts.  Buyer beware.


A final note on sugar addiction

OK so the science says that fruit is fine, and maybe even some added sugars are ok but there will be some amongst you shaking your head thinking "1 teaspoon of anything sweet!  I don’t do one teaspoon of ANYTHING sweet, I do 8 kilos!"  For some of us, sweet food triggers a binge.  A brain based dopamine smack down that ends with panic, regret and far too much food to feel comfortable.  For some of us sweet flavours are trigger foods that set us off, restless and unhappy searching for more and sweeter foods in turn.  If you are weaning ourselves off a big sugar addiction the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic sugars is academic, you want to keep away from all sweet things for a while.

You need to do what you need to do to get your equilibrium back.  When those brain circuits have cooled down, and they will cool down, you now know what sweetness to let back in your life - some blueberries, pomegranates, blood oranges and other lovely things before you reach for any date sweetened raw “energy balls”!

I hope this helped - watch out for added sugars, even good ones and relax about fruit.