It's a very concentrated form of calories, especially high-fructose corn syrup. Time to cut down?
Sugar sounds so harmless, so innocent, but research suggests it may be addictive: a 2008 Princeton University study of rats showed that when they ingested large quantities of sugar, the changes to their brains were similar to those seen with drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
‘I think we are all getting hooked on refined sugar,’ says Shaw Somers, a specialist surgeon and doctor on Channel 4's Food Hospital. ‘It is so immediately gratifying – an energy boost. There's no recommended daily limit in terms of calories but if sugar makes up a disproportionate amount of your diet, you will gain weight – it’s a very concentrated form of calories.’
In Britain, we consume an average of 58lbs of sugar each per year – the equivalent of nearly 27 bags. Much of that doesn’t even come from the sugars we’re fully aware of; 75% is hidden in common foods such as bread, soup and salad dressings.
As concerns about the health effects of our sugar consumption grow – it contributes to around 35million deaths worldwide every year – and shoppers become increasingly savvy, manufacturers have started using concentrated apple juice as an ingredient instead of sugar, because it sounds healthy.
It's not. 'To the ordinary person, it looks like one of their five-a-day – but it’s mostly sugar,’ says Dr David Levy, a consultant diabetologist at Whipps Cross University Hospital.
Sugar, he explains, comes in a number of forms including sucrose (common sugar), glucose and what he calls ‘the big daddy of them all’ – high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which appears on ingredients lists as glucose-fructose syrup and is mostly found in soft drinks.
Fructose is fruit sugar but its concentration in most fruits is actually fairly low. However, it’s much sweeter and cheaper than sucrose, and is increasingly added to savoury dishes in the form of HFCS to bulk them out.
‘As foodstuffs, they’re considered to be safe, but in what quantities? HFCS is not dangerous but it is incredibly sweet and calorific.’
Dr Levy calls fructose a ‘metabolic bandit’ because your body metabolises it differently from glucose. ‘It’s not absorbed as readily because [as a species] we didn't consume it in large quantities until relatively recently. It goes straight to your liver where it can create fat.’
We are as yet unaware of all the effects of eating HFCS because it’s been around for less than 30 years and, in that time, people have become much healthier in other ways.
‘We don't yet know its full effect on muscles and the heart – but I suspect people will find adverse effects,’ he warns. Recent studies suggest a strong link between fructose intake and high blood pressure, while skincare companies claim sugar speeds up ageing.
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So the evidence points to cutting down on the amount of sugary products you consume - and avoiding HFCS entirely if you can. If ditching sugar sounds too hard, try reducing your consumption gradually.
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Dr Levy advises, ‘You have to start cutting back on a planned basis. We also have to look at food labels more closely – if sugar’s in the top three ingredients, stop buying the item.’
When faced with a sugar craving or that afternoon slump, Dr Somers recommends drinking a glass of milk and eating a banana. It may not give the sugary thrill of a Mars bar or a can of cola but your body will thank you for it.
How to spot sugar in the ingredientsDon't be fooled, sugar is often listed on food labels as: concentrated fruit juice; corn sugar; corn syrup; dextrose; dextrin; evaporated cane juice; fructose; galactose; glucose; glucose syrup; honey; high-fructose glucose syrup; hydrolysed starch; invert sugar syrup; isoglucose; lactose; levulose; maltose; maltodextrin; molasses; sucrose/sucrose syrup; treacle.
Posted: 03/10/2012 at 13:00
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