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The Skinny on Quitting Sugar

I always find it interesting to watch people’s reaction when it comes to sugar. Some people’s eyes light up as though all their Christmases have come at once. For others, it is almost as if you are trying to poison them.

Sugar has become public enemy number one and with good reason. Studies have linked it strongly to the increase in metabolic syndromes, which include diabetes, obesity and heart disease – a deadly trifecta. However, people often get confused because a low sugar diet doesn’t necessarily mean a low carbohydrate diet. So let’s be clear on what we are talking about when it comes to sugar.

Is it really worth quitting sugar, and will it help you lose body fat?

In 2009, Professor Robert Lustig delivered a lecture at the University of California entitled ‘Sugar: the Bitter Truth’. As he delved into human biochemistry and physiology, he built a strong case for sugar being ‘toxic’ and ‘poisonous’. When we are talking sugar we are mainly talking fructose, with the worst being high fructose corn syrup. These sugars are converted to fat in the liver and can cause inflammation throughout the body. This doesn’t include glucose, which is an essential energy source for both the body and the brain.

In the US over the last 100 years the average person’s sugar intake has gone from less than one kilogram to over 60 kilograms each year, leading to many experts pointing the finger to sugar as the cause of rising obesity. However in Australia our sugar consumption has actually decreased since 1995 while obesity numbers have continued to increase. It’s important to know that quitting doesn’t mean you will lose weight, but it can make it easier in achieving this goal. However there are many other reasons to reduce your intake of the white poison that affects your health and performance every day.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health observed 50 000 middle aged men between 1986 and 2008 and found that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages led to a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It has been linked to accelerated aging and many other conditions such as cancer and dementia being more aggressive.

As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that we consume six teaspoons of sugar a day (25g). The average Australian consumes 60g per day, with a 2016 Australian study showing that we are still over consuming processed food and ‘80 to 90 per cent of our added sugar intake is coming from what should be occasional food or treats.’

So don’t feel the need to completely quit sugar, more so moderate your intake of the processed stuff. The easiest way to decrease your sugar intake is to focus on eating fresh foods that don’t require food labels such as vegetables, fruits and proteins. If it is in a packet, check out the food label. If sugar comes up as one of the first few ingredients, beware! Start by cutting back on your soft drink, sports drinks and fruit based drinks. Have sugar free days, by having confectionary and cakes only a couple of days a week. Don’t add sugar to your tea or coffee. Sauces, jams and spreads are often packed with hidden sugar.

Roger, a senior partner at a global accounting firm, was 48 years old and married with three kids. He would train five to six days every week, even during regular business trips to Asia. He didn’t drink or smoke, but like most blokes thought he could out-run his diet. He had high cholesterol, high blood pressure and wanted to drop a few kilos.

His day usually started with an energy drink and multi- vitamin. Lunch would be a toasted cheese sandwich or Chinese food with a can of Coke. His afternoon snack would be a custard tart, a can of Coke, a latte and a biscuit. Dinner would often be spaghetti bolognese, followed by a chocolate protein shake for dessert.

Roger’s calorie intake wasn’t too bad; he was consuming around 1900 calories a day. But what was concerning was the lack of nutrients and the high sugar intake. He was consuming around 40 teaspoons of sugar a day, more than 50% of his daily calorie intake. He needed a complete overhaul of what he was eating, but it had to be sustainable.

Together, we identified that the best place to start was to change his soft drink consumption, which alone contained 27 teaspoons of sugar. I could have easily encouraged him to switch from soft drink to water, but I knew this would not have been sustainable. We decided he would swap full Coke to Coke Zero. The results were immediate. Over three months he lost eight kilograms and dropped three belt notches. More importantly, his blood pressure and cholesterol decreased significantly. He was amazed at how much energy he had throughout the day. From this one small change he had also started to drink more water and upped his intake of vegetables.

By cutting sugar you won’t necessarily lose body fat, but it will assist you in making better food choices, give you more energy and improve overall vitality. Often if we get the quality of our food right first, the quantity will follow. What are you eating on a daily basis? Do you start with a nutritious breakfast or a visit to your local pastry shop? If you’re getting the big stuff right, then a few treats now and then may help you fuel a little bit of happiness.

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