There is space for the sweet stuff in your diet; you just need to know where to look. Elite trainer, George Toohey, explains.
It’s 8.30am and I’m sat inside a Nordic Bakery, drinking a black Americano. This is my favourite place to eat breakfast and people watch. I’ve just finished a Viking-worthy portion of porridge topped with seasonal berries and, on the table to the right, two female executives are eating as they discuss the finer points of office politics. One is sat in front of a plate-sized Swedish cinnamon bun, the other a chocolate cinnamon roll the size of a house brick – both are drinking large lattes. As I sit and think about how best to start an article on the effects of sugar on your health, I analyse their breakfast using Myfitnesspal. Both consumed 660Kcal of which 160Kcal came from 40g of pure sugar. Shockingly, a woman’s recommended daily allowance for added sugar is just 20g.
Now, cinnamon buns are not the devil and neither is sugar. But there is a time and place for everything and not all sugars are created the same.
Free Sugars VS Intrinsic Sugars
When you eat anything that contains sugars, insulin is released in your blood stream from your pancreas. This hormone regulates sugars (glucose) moving into your muscles for energy, your organs so they can function optimally and to your fat stores (which is no bad thing) so that it can be accessed later if energy stores are low. The problem comes, however, when your body is bombarded with 40g of added sugar all at once. This is when the difference between free and intrinsic sugars comes into play.
These are found in things like sweets, which are generally a magical mixture of E numbers and added sugars, either from dextrose or high fructose corn syrup (aka the devil). Once eaten, your body is flooded with sugar. There is no fibrous buffer and so the raw sugar hits your blood stream, spiking insulin production. If this happens too often, you build up a resistance to insulin and your body starts storing more fat, instead of burning the stores you already have.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently reviewed its recommendation that 10% of your daily calories should come from free sugars. This was based on World War 2 era studies, dental health concerns and the demands on the health care system caused by sugar-related disease. This was scaled down to 5% in 2015 (20g for women and 25g for men) as a safety recommendation to limit the global obesity and heart disease epidemic.
These are the sugars found inside natural foods; fruits for instance contain very high amounts of sugar, however they also contain high levels of fibre. This helps to drip feed the sugar from your gut to the blood stream, giving our insulin levels a chance to keep up with the demand.
This sugar content is what has given fruit juice a bad rap in recent years amongst fitness evangelists. I fully understand why this is such an easy target, however, I believe natural fruit juice is a good way to get added nutrients into your diet. Though you do have to look out for a couple of things. You need to make sure that the juice you are drinking is not from concentrate and also that it contains the pulp of the fruit; this will add the fibre your guts need to slow down the insulin production. The other thing (as with all things diet related) is our portion control, one glass means one glass!
If you need further proof that fruits sugars are worth their place in your diet, consider this. A handful of berries will help control hunger, add nutrients and give you a boost of energy – they will not make you fat. Let’s compare them to everyone’s childhood favourites: Skittles; little handfuls of colourful, tasty, toxic waste. A typical 125g box of raspberries around 30-40 berries (much more than a handful) contains 40Kcal, 5.8g sugar and 3.8g fibre. A 60g bag of skittles (enough to fit in the palm of your hand) contains 255kcal, 48g of sugar and 0g of fibre. This would cause a massive energy spike, followed by a miserable crash, and usually another handful of rainbows.
High sugar fruits and vegetables cannot be painted with the same brush as the E number-laden sugar sweets. Using Myfitnesspal with a zero tolerance for all sugars will lead to a very bland and boring existence. My advice would be that if it’s natural, sweet and it fits with your lifestyle then enjoy it.
And most importantly, don’t be the guy or gal who excuses themself from the table when the birthday cake comes out. Enjoy your life, be healthy and make sensible decisions. No one ever died after a slice of Victoria sponge, after all.