Sugar and weight loss

Sugar has a huge role to play in weight loss. In this article I talk about some of the clinical reasons to cut down on sugar. But there's also a psychological element to think about. We are quite caught up in treat culture. Sweet foods in particular can be part of our food reward mechanism which we have either created for ourselves or we were given in our childhood. Of course, satisfying emotions with something sweet and lovely is sometimes what we really need, but if we turn to it too often it can become a problem for weight gain and can. If sugary food plays too high a role in our daily diet we are missing out on other nutrients and perpetuating a cycle of blood sugar spikes (see below). There are only so many calories we can consume in a day, so we should look to eat as healthy a balance of food as possible.

Sugar consumption

The consumption of added or ‘free’ sugar (rather a misnoma) has increased in the UK steadily over the past few decades. It is present in many foods we would not expect, such as bottled sauces and ready meals, as well as the foods like obvious cakes, confectionary and drinks. In Britain on average we buy almost a pound of packet white sugar per person, per week. And we eat twice as much as that when you count all the sugars added to processed foods.

Empty calories

Added sugar gives you ‘empty calories’ - that is calories with little nutritional value apart from calories for immediate energy: no vitamins, no minerals, no fibre, no protein.

The problem with sugar

Firstly, free sugar promotes obesity. Adding sugar to foods makes it easier for us to eat too much - partly because our tastebuds have been trained to crave sugary foods and sweet foods are usually low in fibre so they don’t fill you up very much. It has a very high GI (glycaemic index) which means it immediately impacts blood sugar levels making us feel good, but stimulating production of fat attracting insulin, only to drop away again very quickly, making us hungry and lethargic. See my sugar cycle graphic below.

Secondly, sugar promotes tooth decay, especially when you have sugary snacks and drinks frequently throughout the day. This is certainly worth remembering in an holistic approach to health.

Is natural sugar better than refined sugar?

Whatever sugar we consume it has calories which potentially impact your weight. It can also have a significant effect on your blood sugar level, white sugar or honey (and any other ‘sugar’) also has an same impact. it doesn't really make much difference. However, sugar from fruit contains fibre which means the sugar is absorbed more slowly and less likely to spike the blood sugar level. It is still calorific though, so focus mostly on lower sugar fruits if you can, like berries and limit the high sugar varieties like pineapple and mangoes and balance 1/3 fruit with 2/3 vegetables each day - a little harder but worth the effort for your nutritional health.

Sugar and long-term health

It's easy to eat whatever we want when we're young, we're less prone to gaining weight and we can be carefree about our health. But as we get older, the impact of a high sugar diet can become a painful reality. With diabetes is on the increase healthcare professionals are promoting greater education at a younger age to stop the tide of medical complications in later age. If you have children, one the best things you can do it to ensure that have the best nutrition possible and they learn to enjoy fruits and vegetables as snacks, rather than chocolate.

A first step to lose weight and be more healthy

Cutting back on sugar is the easiest way to cut calories without losing any nutrients. In packaged food sugar will be labelled: sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose and maltose – these are all forms of sugar. You’ll sometimes find them in savoury foods like soups and sauces, bread and cheesy biscuits. Honey, syrup, raw sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar and muscovado are other names you might see.

The sugar cycle

Apart from affecting your calorie intake, sugar also creates spikes and dips and encourages an eating pattern which is not intuitively linked to physical hunger. (See Am I really hungry? for the other hungers.)

My graphic explains it rather nicely:

How to cut down on sugar

With any behavioural change the trick is to take it one step at a time. Here are a few tips for you:

  • try drinking your tea or coffee without sugar. You might find it easier to cut down a little at a time

  • choose low calorie soft drinks or un-sweetened fruit juices, diluted with water. c

  • choose lower GI fruits such as berries rather than grapes, mangoes etc.

  • try halving the sugar in your recipes (except jam and meringues) or using a plant substitute

  • avoid breakfast cereals with added sugar.

  • for snacks try raw vegetables, natural yoghurt, roasted chick peas or unsalted nuts.

  • avoid cakes, confectionary and biscuits - they contain lots of sugar.

So make some tweaks to your sugar and you'll really reap the rewards. Lori xx

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