The Truth about Sugar: Acorn Health, Emsworth
This week is National sugar awareness week. With the amount of sugar consumption on the rise according to Public Health England, this blog investigates what the effects on your health will be. And whether or not you should cut down on sugar? (1)
What is Sugar
There are multiple forms of Sugar from refined, to unrefined, to brown. Sugar is defined as a generic sweet tasting soluble carbohydrate. This means it tastes sweet and can dissolve in our cups of tea. What this blog is going to be specifically referring to is refined sugars. Sucrose (table sugar) and fructose are the main form of added sugar we intake on a daily basis. Sucrose is a refined sugar that comes from plants although, it can be made in a lab as well.
The national guidelines for the intake of sugar have changed. Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, thats equivalent to 7.2 teaspoons or 2.4 tablespoons. Whereas children aged 7-10 should have no more than 24g, 5.7 teaspoons or 1.9 tablespoons, and children aged 4-6 no more than 19g, 4.5 teaspoons or 1.5 tablespoons.(2)
The effect sugar has on your body
When you ingest sugar the first thing that happens to your body is that blood sugar levels spike. This gives you a high feeling because opioids and dopamine are released. These hormones give you that nice feeling and are completely natural. However, due to the blood sugar levels rising insulin is produced in order to lower them back down. Insulin converts the sugar into fat which is stored around the body, usually around organs and the middle of the body. Too much insulin in the blood can lead to confusion, dizziness and irritability.
Following this rapid drop in blood sugar levels your body starts to crave more sugar, this leads to a feeling of a sugar crash; tiredness, lethargy, change in mood. The more sugar we eat the more our body builds up a tolerance to it. This means that in order to get that same high again we are going to need to ingest more and more sugar, leading to a vicious cycle.
Are there any benefits to eating sugar?
The main positive of eating sugar is that it is a fast way to intake calories and gain energy, this makes it great for athletes. Athletes usually burn off lots and lots of calories whilst competing. When your body is craving energy, sugar is a great source to replenish that which has been used up.
Sugar is also good for a quick boost of energy. If you need more energy for a short amount of time and don’t mind the negative consequences later, sugar is perfect.
The benefits of refined sugar seem to end there however, natural sugars (those found in fruit and other naturally sweet foods) do have other health benefits.
The negatives of sugar consumption
Here is a list of 10 negatives associated with a high intake of refined sugars:
- Sugar causes glucose levels to spike and plummet.
- Sugar increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
- A high-sugar diet can lead to chromium deficiency.
- Sugar accelerates aging.
- Your immune function can be affected by sugar.
- Sugar causes tooth decay.
- It can cause gum disease, which can lead to heart disease.
- Sugar affects cognition in children.
- It is known to increase stress.
- Sugar takes the place of important nutrients. (3)
- Sugars Impact on Pain and Healing
Sugar has more of an impact on your health than you might realise. Foods which contain high levels of sugar affect hormones in our blood stream. These foods actually increase the amount of inflammatory proteins which can lead to chronic inflammation. Most forms of joint pain and muscle aches involve inflammation as well as, injuries being exacerbated and prolonged by eating sugary foods.(4)
As mentioned above sugar can aggravate joint pain. They also lead to a process called glycation which damages cells in the body. Studies have shown that glycation in joints can cause changes in articular cartilage, making the cartilage more susceptible to damage and development of osteoarthritis. (5)
A high sugar diet results in the loss of minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium through your urine. These minerals are involved in muscle contraction and function. An imbalance or deficiency of any of these minerals can lead to excitability of nerve and muscle tissue and result in excessive muscle contractions or cramps. (6)
How to reduce your sugar intake
1. The first step to reducing your sugar intake is to stop adding sugar to meals and drinks. Remove table sugar and syrup from your cupboards. If this is too much too soon try reducing the amount of sugar you are adding to things by half. This includes both meals and drinks, so no more sugar in your teas and coffees.
2. Swap fizzy drinks for water. If you don’t like water or want something sweet to drink, diet drinks can be a better choice than sugary drinks.
4. If you are an avid baker try and reduce the amount of sugar you are using in each recipe. When baking cut the sugar called for in your recipe by one-third to one-half. Often you won’t notice the difference. You could also replace it completely, by using spices instead of sugar you can create inventive and delicious new dishes. Try ginger, cinnamon or nutmeg, which have great anti inflammatory properties.
5. Another simple tip is checking food labels. Food packaging tells you exactly how much sugar is contained within the product, some even come with a traffic light system on the front. Tinned sauces and ready meals are particularly bad for high sugar contents, so watch out for them! Shop around and try new foods which contain less sugar, you never know you might prefer them!
What can we do to help?
Although Osteopaths don’t work directly on your diet we can give you useful advice around your general lifestyle choices. We work together with you to create a plan of action to help you reach your goal of reducing your daily sugar intake.
One of my patients came into the clinic wanting to reduce sugar as part of her goals for treatment, as she was conscious that her diet could be contributing to her symptoms. During the initial consultation we planned out how she was going to do it. Over the next 3 weeks she would switch 1 glass of fizzy drink to water each week. She has been making good progress and feels in control of reducing her sugar intake. She has started making future plans to work on her diet as well.
Osteopaths work to identify the underlying cause for the issue. If it is an issue that would respond well to Osteopathic care, we can then help you with gentle hands on treatment. We also work with you to set goals which will directly improve your condition and reduce the level of pain you are currently in. By working on a goal to reduce sugar not only does it improve health, it also directly impacts your level of pain.
If you would like to know more about sugar and ways in which you can reduce your intake check out the video below or, if you have a different goal in mind check out the previous blog all about goal setting.
DeGroot J, Verzijl N, Wenting-van Wijk MJ, et al. Accumulation of advanced glycation end products as a molecular mechanism for aging as a risk factor in osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2004;50(4):1207–15.
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