The Questions You Want To Ask About Quitting Sugar
Unless you’ve been living under a lump of sugar you’ve probably had one or two conversations around the office or during a Sunday session about ‘quitting sugar’, debating the pros and cons of a sugar-free lifestyle. Or maybe you saw that episode of The Katering Show where they quit sugar and hated themselves. Plus, the call for the Sugar Tax to be implemented in Australia is a major political issue. We take a look at why sugar is bad for our health and although it sounds like a terrible idea, what quitting sugar involves.
At first we were afraid of fats, then we were afraid of trans-fats, then sodium and carbohydrates, now, refined sugar. Figures like filmmaker Damon Gameau, famed for That Sugar Film and Sarah Wilson, author and blogger of I Quit Sugar have shed light on the fact that this isn’t a passing trend, or in fact a Fitness First conspiracy to make us work out more.
Why does quitting sugar even matter?
You know that feeling around 3pm in the afternoon when you want to slide under your desk and take a big nap? It’s the 3pm slump, and it happens to the best of us. The remedy? Ducking to the nearest coffee shop, grabbing a flat white and a chocolate brownie. The best. But you probably had a salad for lunch and need to treat yourself, so it’s harmless, right?
Firstly, sugar is made up of two molecules, glucose and fructose. Every cell in our body can metabolise glucose, and if we don’t get it from our diet, our body will make it. But fructose can only be processed by our livers – it is fructose that causes many of the health implications people talk about today.
When we eat sugar our brain goes into overdrive with all kinds of happy feelings. In fact, studies have shown our body’s response to sugar is the same chemical response we have to heroin and cocaine. Sugar addiction really is a thing. And as we know, what goes up must come down. When we don’t have sugar in our system, our mood depresses, we feel sluggish, our attention span diminishes, and it damages the repair cells that keep us looking young and feeling fresh. In addition, high fructose levels have been linked to Type II Diabetes.
Your sugar intake may be higher than you would like to admit if you feel sluggish and tired from overeating. Or if you find that one biscuit, bowl of ice cream or slab of chocolate just isn’t enough anymore. And it is a major red flag if you suffer from headaches and the shakes from not having any sugar.
I don’t eat chocolate, so am I fine?
When we talk about sugar, we’re referring to refined sugars and high-fructose sugars. The lid has already been blown off the fast food industry with films like Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me in 2004 and it is common knowledge that junk food is bad for our bodies.
Refined sugar is hidden in so many food choices that Damon Gameau’s That Sugar Film is based around his eating of ‘healthy’ options and uncovering how much sugar is in foods that claim to be healthy alternatives.
Although slowly backing away from soft drinks and cakes is always a good idea and seems to make a lot of sense, a lot of sugar hides in places we wouldn’t initially think to look. I’m talking your yoghurt, your tomato sauce, salad dressing – even your organic muesli with dried fruit. They all seem like healthy options but are laced with unwanted and unnecessary sugar.
What can I eat instead?
Switching out refined processed sugars for natural alternatives is a healthier way to go as long as you don’t overdo it. Watch out for alternatives that are packed to the brim with fructose, as too much of that stuff will have the same affect as a jam-filled-icing-powder-covered donut. Substitutes like agave syrup, honey, and coconut nectar are the worst offenders, I am sorry to say. Rice malt syrup is better for you as it is low GI, as is any natural (not dried) fruit you can get your hands on.
Fruit! Isn’t fruit meant to be healthy?
Fruit is the main point of contention in ye olde sugar debate. It is true that fruit is full of sugar by ways of fructose. But when you eat fruit and ingest it’s natural sugars, you are also eating the fibre and the nutrients in the fruit’s flesh. Stripping back fruits to only consume the sugary parts (for example, fruit juice) is literally what we mean when we say ‘refined’ sugar, and without the fibre and other nutrients, your brain doesn’t get the message as quickly that it’s full. Without fibre telling your brain it has had enough, you could probably chug a litre of fruit juice quite happily, all the while thinking it is a healthy option, when in fact, you’re consuming more sugar than what’s in Coca Cola.
Drink more water. Seriously. The best way to pre-empt the three o’clock slump is to drink lots of water throughout the day. You’ll find your cravings will subside and your hunger will be diminished. The only side affect will be that you have to pee more, which is nothing in the scheme of things.
Reducing my sugar intake sounds expensive, can I do it cheaply?
Ditching the store-bought products and making your own is a good place to start. It means you have full control over what is in your food and don’t have to stress about secret sugar working its way in to the golden temple that is your body.
Taking some extra time to make your own food may seem like unnecessary labour at first, but can become a fun part of your weekly routine if you team up with friends or housemates. Plus, the Internet has a plethora of cheap, fast recipes for making a lot of products you usually pay a premium for in packaging, meaning you can save money while taking care of what goes into your body.
Either get Googling on the best quick-and-easy sugar-free recipes or head to the library to find some sugar-free cookbook inspiration to get you revved. Don’t be daunted by the idea, it’s actually super easy to make your own hummus in under 10 minutes.
At the core of the sugar debate is the need to get back to real, fresh food that invests in our personal health. The less processed food you consume, the happier your body will feel and look.
Claire Dalgleish is a freelance writer and art curator who currently lives in Sydney. She woke up like this. You can read more on her blog art/writing/projects and follow her via @art.writing.projects.