Published on June 25, 2014
Fact: Sugar is designed to hook us in – the colour; the smell, the texture of it – all ‘designed’ to tempt us. Sugar in itself isn’t all bad, but too much of it can lead to many health problems including weight gain, increased liver size, ‘ageing’, and potential for diabetes. It can leave us tired, over-weight and wrinkled…
The marketing behind enticing us to eat sugar is huge. It targets us from a very young age and has us hooked; then we find it difficult to make the changes later on in life. Processed sugar is now found in almost all processed foods, soft drinks, so-called ‘healthy’ products and even food specifically targeted towards children. Processed sugar doesn’t contain any health benefit. It lacks fibre, minerals, proteins and anything to help the body develop. Basically it is just empty calories. In fact, Processed sugars drag valuable nutrients out of the body; it doesn’t just serve no benefit, it actively does us harm.
Ask yourself this: When you last had a piece of cake, how did it make you feel? When you saw the cake – even before you ate it – did it bring on feelings of satisfaction, calmness, pleasure or contentment? Sugar can make us feel these emotions and that’s why it can become so addictive.
So, what happens when we eat sugar?
Our body is designed to use sugar either as a form of energy or to convert it to fat to store in our fat cells. When you eat processed sugar you will get a quick burst of energy, however, not long afterwards, you can start to lose that high and feel more tired than before.
Why does this happen? When your pancreas detects high sugar input, it releases insulin to deal with the excess sugar in the body and bloodstream; Insulin helps regulate that level of sugar in our blood, the more sugar in the bloodstream, the more insulin is released. This balancing process can be a struggle for the body to get right, so quite often too much insulin is released, resulting in our blood-sugar dropping below normal levels. The body then reacts to this by shouting – very loudly – that we need and want more sugar. So we continue the cycle of sugar spiking and sugar crashing as we cram more and more sugar in.
The relatively good news is that, as athletes, we largely use sugar for energy. This is fine before, during and after a workout as we have increased opportunity for burning the sugar/carbs as energy or having it stored as glycogen in the muscles, rather than being stored around the key problem areas as fat. But be aware of the dangers during longer rest periods of if your exercise regime has taken a dent, but your sugar intake has remained the same (or worsened!)
Our Top Tip:
Be aware of your cravings: Are you craving sugar due to boredom? Are you thirsty? Is it pure habit? You could be craving sugar for a number of reasons. Identify and address them.
Try dark chocolate if you really feel the need for something sweet(ish) or are trying to reduce a real ‘chocolate habit.’ It’s marginally better and the bitterness less likely to result in craving. Dark chocolate is also an excellent source of beneficial antioxidants.
Try and get your energy from eating complex carbohydrates, clean and lean proteins and vegetables. Complex carbs like those in whole-grain breads also add valuable fibre and vitamins.
Drink plenty of water. The body can misinterpret thirst for hunger, leading to inappropriate snacking.
Exercise regularly, burn the calories. If you stop exercising, pay particular attention to your sugar intake.
Raw fruit delivers a much better form of sugar. Aim for seasonal fruits and try to eat them with protein to slow down the speed at which the sugar hits the bloodstream.
Glutamine is an amino acid that can be taken as supplement; it helps squash sugar cravings, but as with all supplements be aware of both limits and potential side effects.
Beware of low-fat foods, reduced fat almost always equates to increased sugars.
Know your enemy: Does an ingredient end in ‘ose’? Fructose, lactose, dextrose and many more are all sugars. Not all as bad perhaps as white processed sugar, but watch out for them lurking.
Feature by Jannette Cardy
Janette Cardy is a former GB Biathle and Aquathlon competitor and in 2014 became age-group European Aquathlon Champion. She is the owner of Janette Cardy Fitness based in Oxfordshire, running fitness classes in the community, personal training for general fitness, sports coaching for running, swimming and Triathlon. She also works as a motivational speaker for schools and corporate events. Find out more about her work at janettecardyfitness.co.uk