You may have decided to give up sugar for Lent. Or maybe you are just trying to cut down for health reasons. But the likelihood is you are consuming vast amounts of the sweet stuff without even knowing it. Adam Rogers reveals where sugar lurks and how to avoid it.
Sugar has become the number one enemy in the battle against obesity, with nations around the world implementing strategies to encourage people to cut down. Just last month Prime Minister David Cameron compared the impact of sugar on people’s health to that of smoking.
That sugar is bad for us is nothing new. However, even the most dedicated fitness aficionados can fall into some common sugar traps.
“Unless you’re a marathon runner, there is no need to consume anything other than water in the gym,” says Rogers. “I see so many overweight people sipping isotonic drinks whilst working out. They are simply burning calories, then putting more calories in, and essentially they are achieving nothing.”
For people who are doing long distance running, the sugar found in sports drinks can help boost energy. However there is no need to splash out on expensive brands. Most drinks contain three key components: water to hydrate you, sugar for energy and salt to replace electrolytes lost when you sweat. These simple ingredients can be easily mixed up in a bottle with a little squash for flavour to make a sports drink that is just as effective as the big brands and is virtually free.
Rogers believes breakfast cereals are one of the biggest contributors to the obesity crisis. “Cereals are packed with a lot more sugar than people think: just one medium sized bowl can contain more than 50% of your daily recommended amount. There is nothing natural about cereals, so manufacturers have had to add loads of vitamins and nutrients to make them healthy.”
His advice is to avoid them altogether and opt for “real” breakfast food such as oats, eggs and bacon.
Low fat and Gluten-free
“Unless you have been diagnosed with coeliac disease, you should not be eating gluten-free products. They often have added sugar in them to make up for the loss of flavour when the gluten was taken out,” says Rogers.
The same goes for fat-free products, such as yoghurts. “Often the amount of calories in a fat-free yoghurt is more than the full-fat version because of all the sugar that has been added,” he explains.
It doesn’t matter what form the sugar comes in, whether it’s honey, syrup, demerera, plain white or the sugar found in fruit, it is all made up of the same two components: fructose and glucose. Neither type of sugar is better for you, but your body processes them differently. Fructose breaks down in your liver and doesn’t provoke an insulin response. Glucose starts to break down in the stomach and requires the release of insulin into the bloodstream to be metabolised completely.
Rogers warns that just because fruit contains sugar, does not mean you should avoid it. Fruit contains fibre, which slows down your body’s digestion of glucose, diminishes the spike in insulin production and gives your body more time to use up the glucose as fuel before storing it as fat. Fruit also contains lots of vitamins, antioxidants and water – unlike cakes or sweets, which are nutritionally void.
He advises to stick to food that is as fresh and as unprocessed as possible: “Look at the ingredient list. If there are more than a handful of ingredients, or if there is something that you can’t pronounce or something with a number in it, then it is probably bad for you.”
Adam Rogers is a coach at Third Space specialising in nutritional programming.