Is sugar really that bad for you?

Hey there! Thank you so much for joining me here on my secret corner of the internet!


I have something really good for you today. We're talking about...(drumroll please)...the big "S"! In case you missed it, that's sugar ;) Many of us have a love-hate relationship with sugar - we love to hate it and we hate that we love it! I'm not exempt here - I have had my fair share of sugar binges throughout the years (lots of late night ice cream trips) and I've had to do a lot of reading to get to the bottom of why I felt so *controlled* by sugar!


If this sounds anything like you, you're in the right place. I'm going to be explaining why you have uncontrollable sugar cravings and what to do about them in a simple manner that will allow you to take action right away! Ready?


I'm pretty sure I just heard you scream "yes!" at the top of your lungs (I'm super excited by your eagerness). But before we get started, I thought I should explain why it's important to get ahold of our sugar consumption. Carbs have been demonised by the diet industry, and along with that comes with the idea that cutting sugar leads to weight loss. That may be true (because most sugar-laden foods are also extremely high in calories) but there is lot more to it than that. Keep reading to find out more.



image source: Unsplash



Cutting sugar is about more than weight loss



The blood sugar roller-coaster


When you eat any food that contains sugar (this could be a doughnut or an apple) your blood sugar rises. The extent to which your blood sugar (or blood glucose) rises is proportionate to the level at which your digestive system needs to work to break down the glucose, as well as the actual level of glucose (sugar) present in the food. What I've just described is referred to as Glycemic Load.


At this point you might be wondering if the sugar in a doughnut and the sugar in an apple affects your blood sugar in the same way. I have a sneaky suspicion that you're picking up what I'm throwing down and you already have the answer to your own question! You guessed it...of course not! The glycemic load of a doughnut is higher than that of an apple; consequently the doughnut will have a much more dramatic impact on your blood sugar. After eating high sugar foods, your blood sugar goes really high very quickly after eating and goes back down pretty much just as quickly.


If you want to read a little bit more in depth about this, I've written about blood sugar and how to create healthy balanced meals in my mini e-book The Balanced Blueprint. Get your free chapter here



How high sugar foods cause cravings and keeps you hungry


Onto the next important thing - how the blood sugar roller coaster makes you a hangry monster that can't function without food and sugar for more than 2 hours at a time. I've been that girl. The girl who everyone knows not to leave waiting for food for too long because she gets really annoyed and borderline angry. This had pretty much been my experience of "hunger" since I was a pre-teen...or maybe even earlier than that. It's only about a year ago that I learned that not only is this not normal but it's totally detrimental for long term health.



So how do blood sugar highs and lows cause frequent hunger and cravings?


Each time you eat, your body recruits some of your hormones to help facilitate digestion, tell you when you're full and utilise energy. The problem arises when you eat simple carbohydrates, or even too much of a complex carbohydrate. This requires your pancreas to produce a large amount of the hormone insulin in order for glucose to be used by your brain and muscles for energy. When the high levels of glucose are swept out your bloodstream by insulin, your blood sugar then goes back to being really low. Your brain then releases hunger hormones that cause you to feel like you're starving and head back for more sugar rich foods. Why sugar-rich foods? Because your body perceives this rapid low blood sugar as a life-or-death type emergency and urgently needs to raise your blood sugar levels for survival. So 1-2 hours after eating, you may feel hungry and experience another sugar craving. This is really counter-productive.


So what do we do? I'm really glad you asked.



How to beat sugar cravings for good and feel fuller for longer



I'm sure you've heard of the term 'portion control' before. While it's usually referred to in the context of entire meals, it can sometimes get lost in translation when it comes to carbohydrates! (Just to clarify, I'm not just talking about obviously sugary foods here - I'm referring to all carbs, as carbs are all converted to glucose once digested). So I'll give you a couple of tips, starting from the really obvious, to some which you may not have considered before.



1.Add less sugar to your food


I told you we'd be starting with the obvious. It's important to mention this because often we undermine the power of simple things. Take a moment, right now, to think of the obvious sugar you consume. How many times in a day do you have tea or coffee and add sugar? How many teaspoons do you add each time? Or how often are you adding sugar to your cereal or porridge in the morning? Just get aware of your general habits, and moving forward pay closer attention to these instances. This will help you become conscious of your added sugar consumption and start working towards reducing it.



2.Figure out what else you're eating that has added sugar


Cooldrink, fruit juice, ice cream and biscuits/cookies are obvious examples of foods/drinks with added sugars. But what about the sneaky foods like 'healthy' cereals and snack bars e.g. bran flakes and oat bars? And all the savoury foods like crackers and tomato sauce? The key thing to keep in mind is that pretty much *all* processed food...the stuff that comes in boxes and is located in the middle of the grocery shop...is full of added sugar. Next time you go shopping, turn the box around and look at how much sugar is in the products you usually buy. An easy way to compare between products is to look at total sugar per 100g. Sooner or later you might find yourself choosing lower sugar options...or just ditching them altogether.



3.Switch to healthy carbohydrates


Foods like white bread, pasta and rice are examples of simple carbohydrates. These are staple foods in the homes of many South Africans...it's no surprise that many families have at least one member with type 2 diabetes. We all grew up eating these foods and it seems totally normal to consume them a few times a day...everyday. But this is not helping our health in any way.


Complex carbohydrates are a healthier source of carbohydrates. Unlike simple carbs, their fiber has not been removed and is still in tact. The fiber in the complex carbs is their secret sauce. This is what makes the digestive system work much harder to break them down, thus releasing glucose into the bloodstream at a slower and steadier rate. Instead of a blood sugar roller-coaster, they yield a gentle high and low of blood sugar which completely prevents the crash and burn that leads you running back to the fridge/pantry for more.


So what are complex carbs? Foods like brown rice, whole (not instant) oats, high fiber breads, wholewheat pasta, whole fruits and vegetables as well as legumes (lentils, beans etc).



4.Think portion control


A little goes a long way. I used to fear that if I didn't eat a lot of carbs at every meal, I wouldn't get full and I would faint! But this is totally backward, it's actually the over-eating of carbs (even of complex carbs) that leads to not getting full and fainting due to low blood sugar.


In South Africa we have a habit of over-consuming carbohydrates. We fill half the plate with rice or pap (maize meal), put a tiny bit of vegetables (often high starch veggies) and a lot of meat...oh and let's not forget the gravy. Like many others in my home country, this is how I grew up eating! So it might seem quite counter to your nature (because food is so inherent to our culture and identity) to re-think how you serve your food. But it's crucially important if you want to balance your blood sugar, feel fuller for longer, beat the cravings and be on track for long term health (i.e. live diabetes free).


Instead of filling half your plate with high starch grains, fill it will non-starchy vegetables. Anything green goes here. Other options include cauliflower, peas, peppers etc. Next, you may fill a quarter of your plate with grains like brown rice. Later down the line you may try to experiment with leaving the grains off the plate and notice if you still feel satisfied. The remaining quarter should be filled with healthy animal or plant-based protein. Don't forget to add a bit of healthy fats like olive oil or avocado.


Okay, so that is a simple 4 step process to beating your sugar cravings and staying fuller for longer. Steps 1-3 will help you cut out refined sugar from your diet. We're all better off without it to be honest. But life happens, and sometimes it's fun to eat a slice of cake at a friend's birthday celebration. Step 4 seals the deal by helping you create eating habits that support blood sugar balance and finally feel fuller for longer and cut the sugar cravings!


P.s. I forgot to mention alcohol! This just occured to me because I basically don't drink. Alcohol is a source of carbohydrates, and most mixes are packed with sugar! Take your sugar cleanse to the next level by also becoming mindful of your alcohol consumption.


If you have any questions that you'd like me to answer on my blog and Youtube channel, please let me know in the comments below. If I have the knowledge, I'll happily share it!


For more info on balancing your reaching your comfortable bodyweight, beating sugar cravings, balancing your hormones and achieving clear skin, get your free chapter of my mini e-book the balanced blueprint here. Or get the full version here.