Excess sugar intake can lead to liver damage, heart attack, stroke, blindness, amputation, dementia, depression and as Dr Eva said in her RTÉ documentary Sugar Crash, we are currently the fourth highest consumer of sugar in the world. We need to stop.
We’re well into Lent at this stage and a lot of people are sacrificing one thing or another and before the sugar high of Easter arrives, this is a good time to take stock.
As a confirmed chocaholic, I can’t believe that it’s a month since I had my last chocolate bar (Pancake Tuesday was February 9) and although I want it all the time (including now!), I’m at that stage where I don’t miss it too much.
I do this every year and it is a genuine sacrifice to give chocolate up. It’s not for vanity reasons and it's not for weight loss, as I’m such a sugar junkie that I get my fix elsewhere but normally it’s of the more natural, healthier fruit/fructose variety. I balance this with a little protein (nuts, usually, more on that below), avoiding the sugar-craving highs and subsequent crashes, that chocolate normally drives me to.
Every year I say that I’m going to stay away from the hard stuff after Lent – the first bar on Easter Sunday never tastes as good as I remember and I vow to walk away for good… but then I get addicted again and the whole cycle continues. Cue our Nutritionist Mags Carey – she’s here with advice on staying off the hard stuff to save our bodies (and souls) the sugar crash that Dr Eva Orsmond spoke about in her fantastic RTÉ One documentary.
- Avoid Sugar High
The first thing that Mags recommends is avoiding sugar highs and lows by balancing your blood sugars. The way to do this is to take five minutes the night before and plan your eating for the next day – when and what you are going to have for your meals? Will you have a small snack in between and if so, what? Hunger leads to bad, sugary choices, leading to 11am and 3pm slumps. Refined sugars (the cheap white stuff) is simple carbohydrate which spikes your blood sugar, giving you a quick boost of energy which is burnt off quickly leaving you tired and in need of the next fix. Much better to have slow release carbohydrates in your system which are released slowler, letting you get on with life at your own speed.
- No Added Sugar
For years I think I drank coffee simply so I could have an excuse to add sugar to something that was acceptable to drink. In recent years, I’m convinced that the coffee from a certain shop is my favourite because they give us a delicious ‘free’ sweet! Cutting out sugar from your choice of cuppa is an immediate step in the right direction. If you don’t like the drink without the sugar – then you don’t like the drink so find something else!
- Swap it Out
If you have to have sugar in your drink, food, baking etc then swap out the bad one (refined) for the more natural options (such as fruit, good quality honey, dates, molasses, desiccated coconut etc). Also beware - there are over 50 names to describe (refined) sugar (for example, dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose, sucrose, maltose, agave, sucanat, panela and, and and...) so you need to read the labels closely. Other things to swap out with mega gains and not much pain are white pasta and rice for whole grain. Why? The starch in the white rice/pasta converts to sugars when cooked and ingested, leading to spikes in your blood sugar.
- Get Fresh, Not Dried Fruit
Many of us think that dried fruit is the healthy option but during the drying process, the sugar content of the fruit increases (simplifying/butchering the science here but you get it). Calorie wise that isn’t ideal plus it’s a killer for the teeth so go for fresh fruit instead and keep an eye on how much fruit you have a day – try to balance the amount with your vegetable intake to make sure you and yours are getting your 7-a-day.
- Go Veggie, Not Fruity – Juice Wise
Juicers have taken centre stage over the past year and they are readily available to buy at prices to suit most budgets but the key is to go veggie rather than fruity to reduce your sugar intake and to keep your blood sugars balanced.
6. Get Nuts
One tip that I love, not least of all because it’s so simple, effective and involves nuts is the tip to eat protein with your fructose. Together they slow down the release of the sugar and balance blood sugar levels, which as we’re all learning is key.
Instead of drinking concentrated fruit juices, you’re 100% better to go for water – most of us don’t drink enough of it anyway. If you’re not a fan, then add a little fresh lemon or orange juice or add mint/cucumber. I always think that those are things I’ll never get the time to do but like everything, you just get organised and fill up a jug the night before in the fridge which you can keep adding to throughout the week. Soon the whole house starts to drink it and join in with the prep.
Need an incentive: Dr Eva revealed that children are getting the same diseases that alcohol causes through sugary drinks – there are on average ten spoons of sugar in a can carbonated soft drinks. There are over two and a half spoons of sugar in one of those live yogurt drinks. ‘Nuff said.
Remember it can take up to 21 days to break this habit of our toxic relationship with sugar and in the first week, Mags advises us to prepare to feel a bit off-form as the sugar leaves your system. By 2030, Ireland is expected to be the fattest nation in Europe unless we do something.
I believe in the gently, gently approach to these things and will begin by doing one of the steps per week for seven weeks, rather than trying to do it all at once and failing. To make sure that you do it though and you’re not too easy on yourself – get out your phone/diary, from today, mark in each of the seven steps into your diary over the next seven weeks. That’ll bring you to the end of April – just think of the energy levels, the pounds lost, your bod on the beach, in your summer wardrobe…now, step away from the sugar bowl. We can do it, we have to.