Sugar: the not so sweet truth
Published Monday, 24 February, 2014 by Beth Bradshaw
Here is one drug addiction that is very much under the radar, but so common in the average student diet. Sugar. Very few of us really understand the damage that excessive consumption can do to our bodies, and the part they play in weight gain. Now we are at University we have the freedom to eat what we want, we could easily fall victim to one of the most highly addictive drugs.
We do need some sugar in our diet, as it provides a ready supply of energy that helps keep our brain and bodies active. However, these are what we call ‘empty calories’ as sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever, so should be kept to a minimum.
Our guided daily amount (GDA) of all sugars is around 90g a day – to put it into perspective, one can of Coca Cola contains 33g of sugar. That’s 36% of your GDA in one measly can, never mind everything else you eat that day. And if you thought that was bad, a 380ml bottle of Lucozade contains 64g! One University study found that nearly 50% of students consume more than one sugar sweetened drink every day- highlighting thatsugar consumption in student diets is definitely cause for concern.
What makes sugar so addictive?
When you’re feeling tired, which is common after those late nights of partying or studying, most of us grab a sugary energy drink, chocolate bar or packet of sweets for that sugar rush which gives us that instant lift and improves our mood. But once our blood sugar levels return back to normal, we tend to get a sugar crash, where we end up craving more sugar, become irritable and the vicious cycle continues.
Scientific research has found sugar stimulates the reward receptors to the brain, and releases dopamine – which is where we get the feeling of pleasure, and the thought ‘should I eat that again?’ even when we know they are bad for us, thereby initiating binge eating. Regularly consuming excessive amounts of sugar can cause the brain to go into overdrive, and the brain may even start to depend on the presence of this addictive substance- similar to that of substance addiction!
Why should we eat less sugar?
The obvious one is our dental health. All sugars have a detrimental effect on our teeth, however, when we drink a sugary drink (which 50% of us do – every day!) the sugar washes through every nook and cranny in our jaw and can sit in places we often miss when brushing, growing bacteria. Heavy consumption of sugar along with insufficient brushing can cause severe erosion, reduction of tooth enamel and even tooth decay.
If you eat too many sugary foods, our bodies convert the excess calories into fat for storage. It is an incredibly complex process, but just think of it as overfilling your body with more fuel than it needs, so when your liver sugar storage is completely full, the excess sugar is converted into fatty acids and sent off into the blood stream to be deposited on, yep, you guessed it! Your hips, stomach and butt – the undesirables. So the fat in your diet isn’t necessarily the culprit to those extra few pounds you might have put on since starting Uni!
Where to catch out hidden sugars and how to curb that sweet tooth!
Ever heard of hidden sugar? Probably not, given that it’s often found in foods we don’t expect it to be in. Here are some examples for you to watch out for, and some tips on how to try and limit your sugar consumption:
- Low-fat alternatives: You might think you’ve opted for a healthy choice, for example low-fat yoghurt or healthy living ready meals. However, fruit yoghurts often contain artificial fruit flavourings which are full of sugar and calories. Brands often take out the fat but replace it with lots of sugar to help enhance the taste. Instead, pick up plain low fat yoghurts instead, and add a handful of blueberries, strawberries or banana for a real healthy snack and cook your meals from scratch – this way, you know what’s going into your food.
- Baked Beans and Sauces: your average tin of baked beans in a tomato sauce can contain up to 7.2g of sugar per 100g. This is often due to the sauce they come with, as processed tomato sauces are one of the common culprits for hidden sugar. The same applies to your tomato pasta sauces too, with ¼ of a jar of the popular Dolmio tomato sauce containing two teaspoons of the stuff! Make sure you check the nutrition labels on your beans and sauces to ensure they aren’t too loaded with sugar or make your own! Here is a great student tried and tested tomato sauce recipe for you to try.
- Swap white for wholegrain: Just one slice of your bog standard white bread can be hiding up to 1.5g of sugar – don’t be fooled into thinking savoury foods being sugar free! Try swapping your white bread, pasta and rice for wholegrain alternatives as they don’t contain as much sugar and therefore don’t raise your blood sugar levels so quickly.
- Manage your cravings: Make sure your mid-meal snacking is kept to a minimum by satisfying your appetite with a balanced, filling meal. Try to include a source of protein for example, eggs for your breakfast and chicken or turkey in your sandwiches, as eating protein can help slow down your digestion and keep you full.
- Pick-me-up: We all know the feeling, mid-way through the day at Uni where you start to lose concentration and become very tired. Rather than reaching for the choccy bars for that energy boost, try eating an orange or apple with a handful of nuts and seeds. You could even try a homemade flapjack, the oats will slowly release energy and keep your brain ticking for the next couple of hours.
I hope this week’s blog has made you more aware of just how much sugar we are consuming on a daily basis, how dangerous this can be to our bodies and where to look out for it in everyday foods. I do believe Universities have a responsibility to encourage healthier eating habits in students; however, it’s down to you to think twice about that next can of pop, chocolate bar or bag of Haribos. Have you got any tips, tricks or recipes that will to help satisfy your cravings but without the sugar? Don’t forget to upload them to the Student Recipes website!