I went cold turkey on sugarSugar is a toxic addiction, say scientists – and it's hidden in
everything from bread to bacon. So how easy is it to give up
There’s no denying it: I have a sweet tooth. In fact, I have 32 sweet teeth. Like many women, I can’t resist a red velvet cupcake and I give in with giddy delight to the temptation of a syrupy toffee nut latte on a cold day.
I pretty much succumb to sugar whenever I’m feeling stressed, hormonal, tired or even just bored. At Christmas I demolished an entire tin of Roses by Boxing Day evening.
As the New Year chimed in, I greeted 2012 looking the spottiest I have been since adolescence and tipping the scales at my heaviest weight ever, 10st 7lb, my size 12 skirts straining at the waistband.
Sweet temptation: Alison Tyler tries to resist her sugar cravings for a month – how will her health benefit
So when I read the news last week that scientists from California University have branded sugar a poison whose sale should be regulated as tightly as cigarettes and alcohol, I was fascinated. They warned that sugary foods and drinks are responsible for illnesses including obesity, heart disease, cancer and liver problems.
‘A little is not a problem, but a lot kills — slowly,’ said the scientists, who pointed out that sugar not only makes people fat, but also changes the body’s metabolism, raises blood pressure, throws hormones off balance and harms the liver.
It is linked with fertility problems in women and illnesses such as polycistic ovary syndrome, insomnia and even raises your risk of dementia and rheumatoid arthritis.
Scary stuff, but instead of comforting myself with a defiant bite from the nearest Mars bar (which contains 60g, or 15 level teaspoons, of sugar), I smugly took a sip of my mug of sugarless coffee. You see, since January 1, I haven’t eaten a chocolate bar, drunk any sugary drinks or snacked on biscuits, cakes or brownies.
I knew I had to do something about my problem the day I calculated I had consumed 59 teaspoons of sugar in cakes, sweet drinks, pastries and chocolate bars in the 16 hours between waking up and going to bed.
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Quick fix: Alison relied on sugary treats to boost her energy levels but there are better ways to feel more energised, as she discovered
I usually start each day with a chocolate croissant and a sugary coffee (which together amount to five teaspoons of sugar) and continue on a glucose rollercoaster throughout the day, gorging on Danish pastries and chocolate bars, washed down with syrupy Ribena.
Instead, I opt for wholemeal toast instead of white — white bread contains 1-2g of added sugar per slice, while wholemeal doesn’t have any.
More important, because of the way white bread is refined to remove the bran and germ from the flour, it allows the body to absorb sugar much more quickly, causing a spike in the body’s insulin production.
My unsweetened coffee tastes bitter, but I persevere. Fiona Hunter has calculated that the amount of sugar I usually add (two generous teaspoons) multiplied by the number of cups I drink (at least three a day) amounts to a minimum of 840 calories a week.
‘And they are empty calories — that’s the worst thing about sugar, you won’t feel any more full or satisfied for consuming those calories,’ she said.
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Just a spoonful of sugar: But the number we eat throughout the day can add up to a dangerous amount (posed by model)
Day three is hell. My head is fuzzy and I can’t think straight. /02/08/article-2098428-0A3DC4CA000005DC-197_468x286.jpg” width=”468″ height=”286″ alt=”Toxic habit: Relying on treats to get you through the day can lead to health problems including diabetes (posed by model)” class=”blkBorder” />
Toxic habit: Relying on treats to get you through the day can lead to health problems including diabetes (posed by model)
And I’m avoiding supposedly healthy snacks such as fruit yoghurt or diet bars, which can be drowning in sugar.
I really taste the sweetness of natural sugars in foods, too, such as tomatoes, apples and even milk.
On Sunday, I ate half a pomegranate and it tasted sweeter and more delicious than any I’ve eaten before.
When I spoke to Dr Fiona Hunter, I asked her if I should also give up fruit as it contains the natural sugar, fructose.
‘Fruit is an essential source of nutrients and a healthy form of sugar, so I wouldn’t recommend cutting it out of your diet,’ she said. ‘Besides, the amount of fructose in fruit isn’t that high.
‘What’s more, fructose is less damaging than regular sugar because it triggers a lower insulin response. That means your blood sugar levels stay more stable and you’re less likely to experience a sugar rush followed by a crash.’
'I feel more energised throughout the
day and I'm more than half-a-stone lighter'
The most dangerous sugars aren’t fructose in fruit or even sucrose (table sugar); they’re the ones in processed foods that we can’t see.
A Which report found that some savoury foods contain more sugar than ice cream.
Over the past 30 years, food manufacturers have doubled the amount of sugar they add to their products.
And most contain the worst kind of sugar — high-fructose corn syrup (often described as HFCS or glucose-fructose syrup on food packaging), which doesn’t satisfy hunger in the way cane sugar does, so it just makes you want to eat more.
It is very sweet and calorific, and the body metabolises it differently from glucose — it’s not as easily absorbed and goes straight to the liver, where it can create fat, which can lead to gout, liver disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Recent studies have also linked high fructose intake with high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.
I’ve almost finished a month of being totally sugar free — and I must admit I’m looking forward to eating it again, albeit in far smaller quantities.
The good news is that I haven’t had a single spot all month. I can’t say for sure if this is down to not eating sugar, but as Dr Fiona Hunter said: ‘It’s not necessarily the sugar itself that is bad for your skin, but the fact it is in a lot of junk foods that have no nutritional benefit.
‘Eating too much rubbish will be bad for your skin, especially if you fill up on those empty calories at the expense of fresh fruit and veg and protein.’
I feel more energised throughout the day, probably because I’ve got off that blood sugar high-low rollercoaster, and I’m 9st 13lb — more than half-a-stone lighter — without adjusting the rest of my diet.
The bad news: that Cadbury’s Flake my husband bought me a week ago isn’t sitting in my fridge any more.
You can’t win them all, but I will stick to cutting out the sugar in coffee, and avoiding fizzy drinks and syrupy cordials.
If I can start my day with a sensible low-sugar breakfast, I should be able to set myself up for minimal sweet cravings in the afternoon and evenings.
It’s been a tough month, but it could change the way I eat forever and that’s got to be worth the effort.