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Finding the balance with sugar

Have a bit of a sweet tooth? Dr Katie Molloy shares her advice for reducing daily sugar consumption.

Sugar: toxic poison or important energy source? It’s a contentious issue, dividing even the experts. One fact we agree on is that on the whole we’re consuming far too much. If you’ve committed to drastically reducing your sugar intake for FebFast, congratulations! Your body is likely already thanking you, down to the cellular level.

Here are some of the top reasons to review your sugar intake.

Empty calories

In its most processed and refined form (think the white powdery stuff we stir into coffee, or high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and packaged foods), sugar has absolutely no nutritional value. Void of vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and enzymes, it’s a source of energy but not nutrition. Naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables, full fat dairy, honey and unrefined carbohydrates are valid energy sources, and along with the other nutrients in these foods, important for nourishing a healthy body.

It’s addictive

Sugar messes with the leptin-ghrelin pathway of hormones, which is in charge of regulating appetite. The more sugar we consume, the stronger the positive feedback cycle encouraging us to want more. This is why it’s possible to drink a belly full of soft drink and still have an appetite for dinner. The sugar-addicted merry-go-round often also features cravings, mood swings, sleep trouble and poor energy.

It hides in foods and drinks

When it comes to processed foods, sugar is often overlooked in sauces, salad dressings, juices, tonic water, breads, dry biscuits and any products that have been modified to be ‘low’ or ‘reduced’ fat. When buying packaged or takeaway food, read labels and ask for nutritional tables. Hopefully this is a habit that continues long after FebFast.

It inhibits digestive processes 

From the Chinese medicine perspective, excessive intake of sugar can weaken digestive function and inhibit absorption of vital nutrients through the gastro-intestinal tract. As a result, we receive less usable energy and nutrition from the better food and beverage choices we make. This can increase sugar cravings and intensify the rollercoaster of energy peaks and troughs commonly experienced by those who consume refined sugar in excess. Over time, it can also lead to symptoms of a weakened digestive system, including bloating, flatulence, loose stools or constipation, nausea, vomiting, bad breath, skin problems and more.

It decreases brain function

Studies have linked a high intake of refined sugar to deficiencies in memory and overall cognitive health. You’ll be familiar with this if you’ve ever experienced the brain fog that follows a Big Mac meal or bag of snakes.

It shortens life expectancy and increases risk of serious health problems

Too much sugar speeds up the aging process, damages teeth and gums and puts pressure on the liver the same way alcohol does. There is increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The obesity epidemic is largely being blamed on the accessibility and availability of foods containing refined sugar worldwide.

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