Sugar, Sugar, Sugar Everywhere – But it is reeaaallllyy so bad???

Yes.  THE END!!  Well I’m joking obviously but it really is that simple!!  Let me explain…

First, a couple of stats to get your cogs turning:

Diabetes UK estimates that 17 new people an hour (yes, an hour, not a day!!) will be diagnosed with diabetes between now and 2025 to reach the expected 5m.

Obesity rates in 1993 were 13.2% (men) and 16.4% (women), but had risen to 26% and 23.8% by 2013.  Plus 9.5% of children aged 4-5.  (From

You’ve probably heard stuff like this before and not really paid too much attention, it might not really relate to you, so why would you?  Well the thing to note is, this is a problem that is not going away – it’s getting worse every year and it’s getting out of control.  Our bodies can’t cope, our health systems can’t cope.  As a nation we are spending millions of pounds trying to cure diseases, yet we are creating a whole variety of epidemics because we are making poor choices about the food we eat.  It’s putting a huge strain on an already strained health service and creating a dire situation where children are growing up to be less healthy than their parents.  Unfortunately many of us are eating what we want in childhood and then spending our adulthood trying to rectify it – maybe even being consigned to a life of illness, medication and restriction and ultimately early death.  It’s a really sorry state of affairs.  Diabetes and Obesity alone are enough, but what about the other associated problems that come along with them – increased cholesterol, heart disease, sight loss, ulcerated legs, limb loss……..  I don’t imagine many people really would chose this for themselves, but unwittingly that is what many people around the world are creating.  We need to start to think about what we are getting so wrong and how we can change the situation for the better: for our future and that of our children.

So, let me get back to sugar…  In my experience people don’t really understand what’s so bad about sugar and I frequently hear things like “everything in moderation” and “a little bit of what you enjoy does you good”.  I was exactly the same a few years ago.  I knew that TOO MUCH sugar was bad but, probably much like many other people I didn’t think that I was having anywhere near TOO MUCH!!  Probably, much like me, they were brought up being told that a little bit of sugar was good.  After all, it’a a natural product and it gives you energy right??  Fat was the real killer wasn’t it?

Well look, it is true that sugar isn’t the only bad guy at play – it is also the high intake of saturated and trans fats, the general over-eating of nutritionally devoid foods and sedentary lifestyles…  BUT sugar is a major contender.  The problem is, it’s in so much of what we eat and it’s hidden.  Of course it’s in the obvious (cakes, sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks), but it’s also in the less obvious (salad dressings, yoghurts, fruit juices, breakfast cereals, wine, pasta sauces….) and it’s in them in abundance.  It also comes well disguised – fructose, sucrose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, cane juice, mannitol, lactose, maltodextrin, brown rice syrup, sorbitol, fruit juice concentrate – so it’s difficult to know how much you’re actually getting.  What’s more (sorry folks), when we eat a carbohydrate such as bread, rice, pasta, fruit and vegetables they are all converted into a form of sugar in the body.  So whilst you might think that “a little bit of sugar won’t kill you” the reality is you are probably consuming a hell of a lot more than you think you are.  Many of us are locked onto a sugar rollercoaster without even knowing it.  See it for yourself – take a day to read the contents of the food you eat and see how much sugar you’re really getting.  Whilst we do need some glucose to make energy, we don’t need vast quantities.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a rather generous recommendation of 6tsp per day for an adult (less for a child).  1 tsp sugar being equal to 4g.  The likelihood is that many of us are getting this before we’ve even left the house.

So, why is it so bad? 

  • our bodies are designed to allow about 1-2 tsps of sugar into the bloodstream at any one time.  If we eat more, insulin is produced to transport it out of the bloodstream.  This sugar is used for energy or gets converted to fat (mainly around the waist but also around our organs).  If large amounts of sugar are consumed regularly, our cells become resistant to the presence of insulin which can lead to things such as Type 2 Diabetes.
  • it is addictive, both physically and emotionally (studies have shown it to be 8 times more addictive than cocaine!)
  • refined sugar promotes inflammation in the body (which can lead to many other problems e.g. arthritis)
  • it increases our risk of heart disease (even if we are not fat), cancer and diabetes
  • it can suppress the immune system
  • it contributes towards premature ageing – from wrinkles to Alzheimers
  • it is the main culprit for feeding unfriendly yeast and bacteria in the gut
  • it makes us fat, especially around the middle and around our organs – both of which are highly detrimental
  • there is now an established link between blood sugar levels and brain health (The New England Journal of Medicine)

Not only is it bad for you – it’s also completely irrelevant to life: “There is not one biochemical reaction in your body, not one, that requires dietary fructose, not one that requires sugar.” (Dr Robert Lustig, paediatric endocrinologist.  Taken form ‘I Quit Sugar For Life’, Sarah Wilson.) 

The good news is, it is possible to break the addiction roller coaster once you know how.  There are countless people who’ve given up sugar and are counting immeasurable benefits – think Gwyneth Paltrow, Ella Woodward, Sarah Wilson, Davina McCall, me, my kids….!  The best advice I can give is to do it at your own pace.  If you want to go cold turkey, great do it and good luck, but if you are a sugar-monkey you may find this hard.  If it works better for you to take it one step at a time then that’s great too.  Maybe start one meal at a time, maybe start by swapping one sugary snack or drink at a time for a better alternative.  Whatever way you do it, you won’t regret doing it!

Finally, you might like to know, I don’t avoid sugar altogether.  I use small amounts of natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, agave nectar and occasionally, very occasionally I might even have a little bite of something containing refined sugar (usually something the kids have commandeered!), but it does make my brain squeak and my teeth itch!!!  Once you’ve disembarked from the sugar rollercoaster, it is possible to “have a little bit of what you enjoy” without causing yourself too much damage and falling back off the waggon!