The problem lies in the fact that most of us are not even aware of how much sugar we are consuming. Whilst we know the obvious culprits (although even they can surprise us), there are also the sugar sources we don’t know about. Sugar is added to hamburgers to reduce shrinkage and add juiciness, to breading in deep fried foods or to give frozen fish a sheen. It is added to canned and frozen vegetables to maintain colour and juiciness; to bread to give it that golden crust; to soups and sauces to lend glossiness and flavour.
In fact, by some estimates, as much as 75% of the food available in supermarkets contains some form of added sugar.
Sugar, in all forms, is a simple carbohydrate that the body converts into glucose and uses for energy. But the effect on the body depends on the type of sugar you’re eating, and what you are eating it with.
Natural sugars are found in fruit and vegetables as fructose and in dairy products as lactose. Foods with natural sugar provide essential nutrients and come packaged up with vitamins, fats and fibre that assist the body in metabolising them appropriately.
Refined sugar (the white and brown crystals we think of when we say ‘sugar’) comes from sugarcane or sugar beets, which are industrially farmed (using all sorts of pesticides and fertilisers and even, in the States, GMO plants) and then highly processed to create the sugar crystals, leaving any nutrients or goodness behind. This granulated sugar, is typically found as sucrose. Food manufacturers use chemically produced sugar – aka high-fructose corn syrup – to get maximum sweetness with minimum cost.
Refined Carbohydrates as found in white bread, white rice, spaghetti and baked goods are ‘read’ by your body as sugars. As far as it is concerned, even if you are eating a hamburger, or a pizza, your body will deal with the bread in exactly the same way as it deals with refined sugar, which is to metabolise it very quickly.
Because refined sugar is digested quickly, you don’t feel full after you’re done eating, no matter how many calories of it you have consumed. On the other hand, the fibre and insoluble starches in fruit and vegetables slow down the metabolisation of the sugars they contain. That’s why it is easy to munch through an entire packet of biscuits, but an equivalent number of calories in apples? Not so much. It’s almost like nature put a handy brake on the amount of sugar we can take in one go. A brake that we humans were quick to dismantle, in the form of refined sugars and processed foods.
What determines how your body uses the sugar you have consumed is the amount of sugar already in your blood. Therefore even if what you’re munching on is a fresh apple, when you’ve just eaten your body-weight in donuts (or pizza) your body will still store the additional sugar from the apple as fat.
The important thing, in addition to eating less sugar and refined carbohydrates generally, is to switch to unrefined, natural sugar. Use apples, bananas, carrots and dates to sweeten your baking.
The trick is to choose your sugars carefully.