Sugar dilemmas?Posted on: 30 July 2019 by Rob Hobson
What effect does eating too much sugar have on our health (particularly for women over 50)?
One of the main concerns in women over 50 is heart health. After the menopause they are at greater risk of heart disease and eating too much sugar in the diet can lead to weight gain and high cholesterol.
Most significantly, excess sugar in the diet has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a high-sugar diet was associated with a greater risk of dying from heart disease. The researchers also found that the higher your intake of sugar the greater your risk of developing heart disease.
The link between sugar and heart disease is not that clear but research has suggested several indirect pathways. High amounts of sugar can overload the liver where it’s converted into fat. Over time fat can accumulate and increase the risk of fatty liver disease, which is a contributor to diabetes (a risk factor for heart disease). Too much sugar in the diet can also raise blood pressure and encourage inflammation in the body, which are also risk factors for heart disease.
How does sugar affect weight gain?
See above for weight gain and no it doesn’t make you put weight on in specific places. Although some people report of getting more belly fat when they overindulge in sugar and alcohol (turns to sugar).
Why is sugar so addictive?
Some scientists say that we are hardwired to desire sugar as it is so essential for our survival (the body runs on glucose for fuel and needs a continues supply). Childhood rewards of sweets have also left many of us craving or at least desiring sweets after eating meals. Sugar also causes the release of ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters in the brain and this can make it quite addictive as we enjoy the ‘high’. Of course, there is also the comfort side of things too as some people seek happiness and comfort in eating sweet treat foods.
How to calm those sugar cravings
Increase your protein intake
Protein helps to keep you feeling full and can lessen the desire to snack between meals. Structure your meals by teaming proteins with healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds), fibre (wholegrains) and plenty of vegetables. If you need to snack between meals then something protein-based such as boiled eggs, beans or lean meat proteins are a great option.
Spice things up a little!
Sweet spices such as ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon can make a great substitute for sugar. These spices can be added to hot beverages and smoothies or sprinkled over porridge and yoghurt in place of sweeteners such as sugar or honey.
Keep yourself busy
Research shows that the desire for something sweet after you have eaten is more likely to stem from habits formed during childhood as opposed to anything more biological. Evenings are the achilleas heal of sweet snackers so the first step is to keep these foods out of the house. Try and fill your time by going out for a walk, doing something around the house or having a nice bath with a good book rather than flopping in front of the TV with a family pack of minstrels as there is some truth in the saying, “Idle hands make for the devil’s work”.
Try chewing on gum
Try chewing sugar-free gum after meals as research has shown that this can help with sweet cravings in some people.
Make sure you build in some relax time
We are more likely to seek out sweet treats and comfort foods when under stress. Try to adopt other ways to manage your stress rather than relying on food. Magnesium helps to relax the body and can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds and even a little high-cocoa dark chocolate, which is also rich in the compounds phenylethylamine that acts as mild mood booster.
What about sweeteners - Aspartame? Stevia? Xylitol?
I have no issue with artificial sweeteners, and they are a useful replacement for people that are trying to eat less sugar or lose weight. There is no link between cancer and artificial sweeteners which is something that is often associated with them. There is also no definitive proof that eating a lot of artificial sweeteners stimulates hunger and the desire for sweet foods which is another suggested link. There was some research to suggest that artificial sweeteners can damage the gut microbiome but as of yet this research is not definitive.
Should we be worried about the sugar in fresh and also dried fruit?
I wouldn’t worry too much about fresh fruit especially as most of the population fails to eat 5-a-day! Fruit juice is a slightly different case as the fibre is removed and your left with free sugars that can damage teeth and impact on blood sugar levels. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink it but just keep it limited to one glass a day and preferably with a meal.
Dried fruit again is something I wouldn’t worry too much about. It is a good source of minerals such as iron and calcium, but I wouldn’t dine out on it too much as it can still be damaging for teeth as its quite sticky and this is especially the case for young kids. Everything in moderation!
Of course, you can always add fruit to savoury foods and that would make them part of a balanced meal and counteract the effects on blood sugar levels etc.
About the author
Rob Hobson is a Registered Nutritionist and is also Head of Nutrition for Healthspan, the UK’s leading vitamin and supplement brand.
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