Is sugar ever healthy? Should we quit eating it? Sugar Free Farm screens Thursdays, 7.30pm on SBS, and here the series nutritionist talks us through finding the right balance.
Angelique Panagos

7 Jun 2016 - 3:41 PM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2016 - 12:10 PM

The media spotlight on sugar has opened many great conversations in recent years. It’s the single ingredient I’m asked most about in my clinic and the one most people fear parting with!

In the UK nation, we’re succumbing to so many of its effects. The UK Diabetes rate has increased by 60% in the past decade alone. Diabetes being just one of the illnesses I reference in ‘Can I eat sugar and still be healthy?’ – a five-minute video I urge you to watch if you haven’t already.

To follow this, and help you break free from sugar reliance, I’m dedicating three new blog posts to sugar. We’ll start with blood sugar balance, before introducing you to insulin resistance and telling you more about Diabetes. So let’s begin…

Understanding sugar

There’s always a certain level of sugar, otherwise known as glucose, circulating through your bloodstream. This is the single most essential fuel used by your body, responsible for giving sustained energy and powering every cell, tissue, organ, muscle and limb.

By now you may be confused. We’ve opened with the negatives of sugar and now we’re saying it’s the most essential fuel. Read on to understand why. Spoiler alert: it’s all about the right type of sugar and finding balance!

A balancing act

Our bodies like to keep things consistent and use a number of efficient self-regulating mechanisms to do so. The main mechanism being insulin.

The hormone insulin acts as a messenger, allowing circulating sugar to enter the cells of the body where it’s used as fuel, enabling blood sugar to return to normal.

Signs of poor blood sugar regulation include:

  • Cravings, particularly for sweet food
  • Low energy & fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Regular yawning
  • A ‘foggy’ head
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings & irritability
  • Anxiety & depression
  • Tearfulness
  • Poor concentration & memory

So how and why does blood sugar regulation go wrong?

Carbohydrate foods, drinks and stress are by far the biggest triggers! Problems start to occur in diets based around sugary and refined foods, such as sweets, cakes, pastries, white bread, pasta and rice.

These foods rapidly release sugar into the bloodstream, resulting in sharp peaks to blood sugar levels. Regular peaks and troughs eventually take their toll, sending your body’s control mechanisms into disarray.

Reaching for a quick ‘pick me up’ in the form of a sugary snack, coffee or energy drink further compounds things. Your body may become so sensitive to changes in blood sugar that excess insulin is released, which causes blood sugar levels to crash below normal.

Added incentives to stop the blood sugar cycle…

Insulin also promotes fat storage! If you want to maintain weight loss, balanced blood sugar is key. Constantly elevated insulin causes insulin resistance, preventing sugar from entering cells and potentially leading to the development of adult onset diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

In fact, the long-term detrimental effects of sugar and fluctuating blood sugar levels is so far reaching that it can exert its influence on just about every system in the body. That’s everything from appetite control, hormone regulation, mental health and poor immunity, through to cardiovascular health and so much more.

6 steps to breaking the blood sugar cycle

As I said in the clip, it’s not always easy to break free from sugar. Yet you can do it! Let’s explore a few of the mentioned tips, along with a few extras.

1. Plan ahead

How many times have you quickly grabbed a chocolate bar, sandwich or packet of crisps on the fly? Countless times, I bet! When our blood sugar levels plummet so do our healthy intentions and we reach for the first sugary snack in sight. Avoid temptation by planning ahead and knowing you have a smarter alternative.

2. Eat regularly

This tip goes hand in hand with the above. The minute you skip meals or go hours between them, you’ll push yourself into the blood sugar crash. Nothing is more important than your health. Make time for three main meals a day and ensure they’re evenly spaced. By planning ahead, you’ll also have a great balancing snack on hand should you need it.

3. Avoid sugar

As mentioned in the clip, read those ingredients labels and watch for sugar’s many names! Beware of anything that contains 22g of sugar per 100g, that houses multiple sugars, and/or that lists sugar towards the top of the ingredients list.

4. Favour whole foods

Again, it’s all connected. By favouring whole foods, you’ll limit the number of added and hidden sugars you’re exposed to. And by ‘whole foods’ we mean ‘real foods’. An unrefined brown rice salad will be far more balancing than that pre-packed processed sandwich.

5. Eating good quality protein

Good quality proteins – such as lean meats, fish, and unprocessed nuts, beans and pulses – should factor into each meal and snack. Protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which means less of those blood sugar dips.

6. And be sure to include fibre

Again, fibre fills you up with all the good stuff! Eat the rainbow and aim for at least your five a day (preferably 10)!

If you’re favouring whole foods this step shouldn’t be so hard.


Watch Sugar Free Farm On Demand now.

Read Angelique's original article here.

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