“Sugar is 7 times more addictive than cocaine”
Dr Mary Hyman author The Blood Sugar Solution
All of our food and recipes are made without refined sugar, and people often ask about this, so I wanted to answer some of these questions here by showing what it really is and what it does.
We all know that sugar’s not that great and that we shouldn’t feed gallons of it to our kids, but do we know what it really does to our bodies and brains?
New studies from Harvard have shown just how addictive it really is, with laboratory rats choosing refined sugar over cocaine for the ‘high’ it gives them and the dopamine it triggers that we are powerless to resist.
The more we eat the more we crave, the more we need. Every time we flood our systems with sugary foods our pleasure centres are hit, but as a result they become dampened and muted and we need more the next time.
As humans we are hardwired to seek out pleasure, and sugar, so after eating high sugar foods, we are programmed to want more. Sugar has been proven to hit the nucleus accumbens in the brain – the addiction centre – that is lit up by drugs and nicotine as well. And as the dopamine is released the dopamine receptors become dulled, exacerbating the problem and creating the addiction.
Sugar is high in calories and little else, so there is no benefit to us or our children whatsoever. Moreover it fills up tiny bellies with empty calories leaving less space for the real foods that could be nourishing them instead. Most intrinsic sugars found in whole foods, like lactose in milk, fructose in fruit etc, are bound up with water, fibre and the all important vitamins and minerals, thus buffering the impact of the sugar as well as adding great benefits.
The dangers of sugar are not just its addictive properties but the very real damage it does to us and the terrifying long term effects. It’s concentrated nature leads to weight gain which can lead to obesity, pre-diabetes then type-2 diabetes, fatty liver, kidney failure and heart disease.
But how do we live with this information and what can we do when we’re barraged by different forms of sugar on all sides.
It’s almost impossible to buy any packaged foods or drinks that don’t have sugar in them today. Who knew how much there was added to most yoghurts, breads, sauces, fruit juices and even savoury meals and soups.
Going cold turkey and attempting a totally sugar-free diet for you and your family is one option, but it’s a pretty tough call and not necessarily realistic. Especially given the restraints that will inevitably then be inflicted on children - disallowing them from joining in with friends’ parties and denying them choices in restaurants may even be compounding the problem.
Keeping sugar to a minimum by avoiding fizzy drinks, packaged cakes and biscuits means we’re already making a huge start. Keeping a child’s palate low in sugar makes a difference to them long term too and the choices they make in later life. It’s often the case that children who have low amounts of sugar in their diet eat way less when confronted with it anyway.
A great idea for a first step, is to get rid of the sugary cereals and snacks in your home, and try and keep your food there to a minimum in sugar content. And focus on what you can add in as well so it’s not all about deprivation. Real, delicious, whole foods are easy to make appealing and are a great way of replacing sweet treats. By ensuring all meals have a balance of good fats, protein and carbs you can balance blood sugars, and will be filling your little ones up with the good stuff and leaving them not wanting for more.
Making snacks, cakes and treats yourself means it’s much easier to avoid sugar altogether, and there are lots of ideas and recipes on our site and Instagram page. Energy balls, smoothies and granola bars made by you can be refined sugar free, totally delicious and filled with goodness.
Sugar isn’t going away, but we can take these easy steps to make sure we keep it to a minimum for our children, when it comes to ensuring their health not just now but long term.
One of the issues with dumping the white stuff means we try replacing it with something else, for commercial food that’s usually chemical sweeteners like aspartame that need avoiding. But the ‘cleaner’ options that are increasingly coming to the healthy foodie’s awareness are still a minefield and some do similar things to the blood sugar levels anyway.
Leaving out sugar for some means going wild with a bottle of maple syrup – but this is kind of missing the point!
There’s not much good in avoiding cane sugar if you’re just replacing it weight for weight for maple syrup, honey or anything else. The palate, blood sugar levels and brain all respond to sweetness and this is one of the things we need to be realising. It’s not just about finding a simple replacement it’s about lowering the overall levels of sweetness, and this amazingly doesn’t take long, as the taste buds wake up and things seem sweeter. Try out our delicious recipes and see how much you don’t miss the tons of sugar in other foods.
When thinking about lowering sugar intake, a useful thing is to use flavours and fruit in your food as natural, health giving sweetness. Vanilla Bean, cacao, grated apple and cinnamon are great warm flavours that give a sweetness without any of the sugar at all. Use in porridge and pancakes for example to lessen the need for Maple Syrup.
Here’s a brief summary of the alternatives in a bid to demystify the madness and show what they bring (or not) to the sugar-free party:
The pure variety is a man-made sweetener from the sap of the maple tree. It has mainly sucrose as it’s sugar make-up (the others being fructose and glucose). Sucrose is a complex sugar and is broken down into the simple sugars fructose and glucose.
Beware the fake versions of maple ‘flavoured’ syrup as they bear no relation.
Verdict: Use in moderation
Is produced by bees from pollen, it is mainly made up of fructose and glucose with little sucrose. It has more vitamins than maple syrup but less minerals. Raw, local honey has benefits as it has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects as it hasn’t been pasteurised.
Verdict: Use this in moderation
Contains more fructose than any other sweetener, including High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Verdict: Avoid if you can!
Rice Malt Syrup
This is made by breaking down the starch in rice to make simple sugars. It is made up of glucose and no fructose, so it isn’t a burden on the liver, but it does spike blood sugar levels without much in the way of beneficial nutrients.
Verdict: Use very sparingly
Made from sap of the coconut palm tree (not to be confused with palm sugar), it has a caramel flavour and is rich in minerals such as zinc, iron and antioxidants. It’s make up is more than 70% sucrose and very low in fructose.
Verdict: Use in moderation
Loaded with potassium, a great aid post exercise, and fibre rich, this is a sweet addition to food with goodness too.
Verdict: Mashed in cakes and chopped on food, it’s a great natural sweetener.
Verdict: Use as needed
Dried fruit from the Peruvian Lucuma tree, this is a natural sweet flavouring that has many vitamin and mineral benefits and is not a sweetener as such. Iron, zinc, calcium and beta-carotene are all available.
Verdict: Use as needed
Fruit of the Date palm tree, they are high in fructose but also in fibre, and some minerals. Dried fruit, removes the water and concentrates the sugar, and they are over 30% fructose. With some minerals and vitamins to benefit them.
Verdict: Use sparingly in cooking, not as a snack alone!
This is made as a byproduct of the sugar cane processing, and is a dark, sticky substance that isn’t as sweet as other options, but has numerous mineral benefits, such as iron, calcium and manganese.
It is mainly sucrose with some fructose and glucose.
Verdict: Use in moderation
Robert Lustig on Sugar.
His book: Fat Chance
: The Hidden Truth about Sugar, Obesity and Disease’ is an easy read and an eye opener.
For a quick article try this:
Robert Lustig on Sugar
More books that are fascinating:
That Sugar Book
For ideas and lots of delicious recipes look through the site to feel fed, nourished and not sugar deprived.