A Sweet Solution: Why Reducing Your Sugar Intake Doesn’t Have to Mean Missing Out on Delicious Desserts

in General 01 January 1999

There cannot be many people who do not enjoy sugar in one form or another. Whether our favourite sugary indulgence comes in the form of cake, biscuits, chocolate, fizzy drinks or even just a hint of jam or marmalade on our morning toast, we all crave something sweet from time to time, even if we try to make it a rule to eat healthily. Indeed, if it sometimes seems as if we are hardwired to seek out sugary snacks, that isn’t a million miles from the truth. Nutritionists have long been aware that sugar interacts with the reward centres of the brain in much the same way as addictive drugs can do. It may even be the case that it is human instinct, evolved since the earliest days of our species, to seek out foods such as sugar, which are energy powerhouses, as they offer us the best possible chance of survival.

The Extent of the Excess

Ironically, however, the instinct that helped our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive may be killing us today; over-consumption of sugar has been linked to a raft of health problems, the best-known of which being obesity. The WHO’s (World Health Organisation) recent draft guideline which addresses our excessive sugar consumption advices that, ideally, sugar should count for no more than five percent of our calories and certainly not more than ten percent. It is easy to understand the WHO’s concern about sugar, when we consider that diets that are overly rich in sugar are associated with not only weight gain and tooth decay, but also with such life threatening conditions as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Sugar has also been linked to such widespread problems as anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and, worryingly, some medical experts believe that people whose diet contains an excess of sugar may be helping to pave the way in later life for memory problems and dementia.

Sweet Strategies for Replacing Refined Sugar in Our Diet

While any kind of sugar in excess may be a health risk, it is refined sugar that comes in for the most frequent and vehement criticism from medical experts. That is perhaps unsurprising when we consider the ubiquity of refined sugar; it is an ingredient of many of the prepackaged food items we consume on a daily basis, both sweet and savoury. For anyone who is interested in safeguarding their health and that of their loved ones, the thought that they may be putting their health at risk by consuming too much refined sugar is a troubling one indeed. Cutting back on refined sugar and moderating our intake of sugar rich food items, including fruit, chocolate and even, to the surprise of some people, alcohol may not just be good for our waistlines but also beneficial to our long term health. However, it is not necessary to forbid ourselves the occasional sweet treat, especially in the case of cakes and desserts that are prepared at home. By using unrefined sugar to replace refined sugar in recipes and limiting the sugar content to ensure it is not excessive it is still possible to satisfy a sweet tooth. Alternatives to sugar include other natural sweeteners such as coconut nectar, blackstrap molasses and brown rice syrup; these and others may be used to replace refined sugar in recipes.

Finding the Middle Ground

In practical terms, it would be extremely difficult to cut refined sugar from out diet altogether for the simple reason that so many of the foods we love contain it. Moreover refined sugar occurs as an ingredient in some unexpected places, such as in condiments and pre-prepared savoury dishes, which can make it very difficult to accurately monitor our consumption of refined sugar if we are not preparing every single meal from scratch. Moreover, it is important for anyone who is concerned about eating healthily to be aware that some food items which have a reputation for being a healthy option may, in fact, contain as much sugar as obvious baddies such as cake and biscuits. Fruit juices, smoothies and vitamin enriched diet shakes all typically contain a large amount of sugar and while their promised health benefits may offset this, health conscious people may wish to check the packaging of even these products to check that they are not exceeding their recommended intake of sugar by consuming such food items.

Contributed by Jenni Gannon


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The British Wheel of Yoga