Sugar – the demon? Well not really…
by Kate Taylor, Associate registered nutritionist and fitness coach.
“I’m off sugar” – my bestie said to me one day on the phone. I sarcastically rolled my eyes and thought here we go……So she’s only living off meat, fish, water and not much else. And here lies the problem.
It’s currently fashionable not to consume sugar. Apparently everyone is doing it, yet not understanding that it’s physically impossible for us, as humans, to live without. While most people are aware of the dangers of the “white stuff” (coined media term), headlines such as it being as addictive as cocaine aren’t doing us any favours (see the link there, white stuff, cocaine, addiction…….sigh)
Let’s get the sciency bit done and dusted first shall we. I’ll make it as simple as possible. The human body uses the food and beverages we consume as energy for us to live. The food we eat is made up of three macro nutrients known as carbohydrates, fats and protein, (there is also alcohol but let’s leave that to the side for now) and the body uses them as energy in that order. Carbs are energy source number one. Carbs come in two forms – starches and sugars and the body is only able to store a very small amount of them in the form of glycogen, so they are used up straight away. Unlike fat and protein, sugars can readily be used as energy, almost as soon as we consume them. During intense exercise like running, we usually have enough sugar to keep us going for about 90 minutes before we need to re-fuel, or our body will start trying to convert stored fat into energy.
It’s kind of complicated, as sugar has many different forms and therefore many different names – sucrose (table sugar), fructose (found in fruit), lactose (found in dairy). There is also glucose, which is sugar in its simplest form and all of the aforementioned sugars break down into it. Starches are also broken down into glucose to be used immediately, or if they are to be stored they will be converted into glycogen. Once the body has used up all its glucose, and converted the small amount of glycogen back into glucose to be used, it will then start using fat as an energy source. This usually happens at very low intensity and over long periods of time. Once that’s been used, it will then do the same thing with protein, although this is a very last resort. I’m hoping by now you are all still with me? Point in question, we need sugar, fact!
Let’s be frank here, too much “white stuff” is likely to rot your teeth, the statistics on childhood teeth removal is telling us that. Just like too many cigarettes may impact your breathing capacity and too much sitting on your arse will impact your mobility. But teetotal isn’t the answer. In fact it’s physically impossible and will result in far more health problems than teeth removal alone. So how about we remember that treats (which to be honest usually contain sugar, a lot of it, things like cakes, chocolate, cookies, wine), are actually consumed as treats? To quote the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of a treat is “an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure”. Therefore we should savour and enjoy them, as we should everything else we consume, accepting that some things will give us greater enjoyment than others.
And the natural sugar (which is still sugar) is found in foods which also contain many other beneficial nutrients – think fruit (raw or dried), some veg and milk as examples – let’s go easy on giving that too much bad press.
And back to my bestie. What she really means is, she trying to adopt a more nutritious lifestyle and educate herself about food. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it though, shame.