Is sugar not so sweet after all?

The documentary film, Fed Up was released in April this year and shocked audiences worldwide with claims that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine.

Students are known for disastrous diets consisting of alcohol, takeaways and beans on toast. So, does this epidemic affect you?

If sugar were only confined to desserts and cups of tea, it would be easy to limit our intake. Fat adds flavour to food but since the 1980s ‘fat-free’ bonanza, in order to make food still tasty and appealing, these fats were replaced with sugar.

Our yoghurts, condiments and tinned goods all became low-fat but high in sugar. And it doesn’t stop there: sugar is added to almost all of our foods, such as cereal, white bread and savoury goods like crisps.

The Fed Up challenge requires quitting sugar, cold turkey, for ten days.

Quitting sugar isn’t about weight loss, although this can be a positive side effect if you’re overweight. It’s claimed that after 1-2 days you’ll notice a difference in how you feel, however it’s supposed to take 1-2 weeks before sugar cravings begin to subside.

Although sugar is in most foods available to us, freshly prepared meals and avoiding all processed foods and artificial sweeteners will help us become healthier and happier.

My head hurt so much that I started avoiding noise and bright lights and I had a very short tolerance with everything and everyone.

I decided to undergo the challenge – and it’s called a challenge for a reason. Here’s how I got along.

I’m used to giving up foods. I’ve done Lent for the last seven years (giving up chips, chocolate, bread and condiments among other things) and I regularly have vegan and vegetarian fortnights. However, giving up sugar is in a league of its own.

During the first three days I felt extremely tired and run down. My head hurt so much that I started avoiding noise and bright lights and I had a very short tolerance with everything and everyone. This withdrawal stage wasn’t fun, but the fact that my body was having such a reaction to removing sugar from my diet made me realise just how much the white substance does affect our bodies.

The first rule I learnt was: as long as you stick to fresh, whole food like organic meat, seeds, vegetables and fruit, (natural sugars are OK) you’re eating sugar-free. However, all dressings and sauces need to be handmade as store bought sauces contain an alarming amount of added sugar.

Food shopping was a nightmare. There are over fifty different names for sugar, ranging from the more obvious: sugar, caramel, golden syrup and treacle, to the much more obscure: Florida crystals, Ethyl maltol, dextrin and barley melt. Luckily, a large number of the ones I was personally not aware of end in ‘ose’: lactose, fructose, sucrose etc.

So keeping an eye out for ingredients wasn’t impossible, but it’s something that would take longer than the ten days to learn. Carbohydrates are also essentially sugar, so it’s really important to stick to unrefined bread, pasta and rice which basically means brown and wholemeal. It takes longer for complex carbohydrates to be digested into your body, unlike simple carbs, ie white bread, which are turned into sugar instantly.

Afternoons, for the first half of the challenge, were very tricky. I was always so exhausted and craved tea or a chocolate bar to raise my energy levels. Whenever I hit this slump, I’d watch a section of Fed Up.  A key part of the film is talking about how you don’t have to be obese or overweight to have too much fat inside your body, and it’s the fat which causes disease.

fed up movie

“You don’t have to be obese or overweight to have too much fat inside your body, and it’s the fat which causes disease”

TOFI (Thin on the Outside Fat on the Inside), a term coined in the UK by The Guardian, describes people who eat junk food and don’t seem to put on weight. This means that while some people have a good enough metabolic rate for this not to cause a huge build-up of visible fat, a high body fat percentage at any dress size can be dangerous.

During the challenge I made sure that I ate my five fruits and vegetables a day. This helped me resist late night snacking and enabled me to stay full for longer, due to the high amount of fibre that I was ingesting.

I’m usually very temperamental when it comes to breakfast. I’ll have it everyday for a month and then not at all for another. However, because my energy levels crashed most afternoons, I found it a very important meal during this no sugar diet; therefore, most days began with natural yoghurt and berries for breakfast.

Alcohol can be consumed on a sugar-free diet and, surprisingly, wine and dry spirits rank at the top of the best drinks to consume. The fructose in the grapes ferments to become alcohol, which makes wine low in sugar.

Dry spirits are also acceptable to drink, as they’re extremely low in fructose, but only if they are mixed with soda water or consumed neat. I drank twice during the ten days and found that although drinking is fine, the lack of will power you have after a few drinks is not.

Unfortunately, on day six after several drinks I broke my no sugar rule and indulged in a hot dog with ketchup. The challenge has to be done 100 per cent because after breaking my sugar prohibition, I couldn’t just start again.

The challenge has to be done 100 per cent because after breaking my sugar prohibition, I couldn’t just start again.

Like the overindulgence in anything, overconsumption of sugar will have negative effects when taken to the extreme. Sugar makes us sluggish, fat and even increases insulin, which worsens acne-prone skin.

I felt revitalised while doing the challenge due to the number of healthy habits I had to develop, such as eating more fruits and veg, not snacking on sweets or chocolate which are empty calories, and routinely eating smaller meals more often to maintain energy levels.

I hope that sugar-free will be a more accessible option available on the market and I’d be keen to attempt the challenge again. It would be near impossible to go vegan if there wasn’t soya and tofu alternatives available and right now supermarkets are swamped with sugary products, making the challenge even more difficult as not only are we fighting the cravings, we’re fighting the supermarkets.

Instead of trying to convert people into quitting sugar, I encourage everyone to try and limit their sugar intake. Swap soft drinks, fruit juice and squash for water with a slice of fresh fruit for flavour. Another easy way to reduce your sugar intake is to avoid adding sugar to cereals or cups of tea and avoid foods which are fat-free.

While the lower calorie option may seem the healthier choice it’ll spike your blood sugar, causing you to feel hungry and increasing your desire to eat again afterwards. A small change which will make a huge difference.

Even if you can’t manage the full ten-day stint, try this sugar-free recipe to kick start a healthier lifestyle.

Ambitious people can join the challenge here today.

 

Featured photo courtesy of howzey via Flickr