I decided to take stock of my sugar intake. Don’t get me wrong. As a health freak, I have ditched the poisonous white powder ages ago. I read labels rigorously and do my best to avoid buying stuff that lists sugar among its ingredients. But even in the health freak community, you’d encounter a lot of misconceptions about sugar.
It’s been proven in studies involving rats that the sweet taste is actually more addictive and more difficult to resist than cocaine. Add to it the sometimes tranquilising sometimes stimulating effect that sugar has and you’d understand why it is so difficult even for a health freak to ditch ALL sweet treats. Sometimes we soothe our conscience with stories about the so-called good sugars. You know the natural sugars in fruits, smoothies, and dried fruits, yes, especially dried fruits, dates in the first place, oh my good I already have a sugar rush just thinking about dates….
But the fact is that sugar is sugar and even the better natural forms need to be approached with caution.
Sugar ages you, no matter in what form
Why am I so fussy about sugar? Good question. The answer is that I am a very vain woman and I don’t want to age. The case against sugar in this department is pretty much bulletproof and the heap of evidence is growing. Just last week, a study by University College London researchers published in Cell Reports, revealed that sugar-laden diet decreases the life span of fruit flies by 7 per cent. The way it works is by inhibiting a gene called FOXO, which is responsible for longevity in many species including humans. The team has already observed the same effect in a type of worm.
“The fact that transient high sugar accelerates ageing in both species and by the same mechanism is pretty shocking,” said the study’s co-author Professor David Gems, from UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing. “It is yet more evidence of how much we have to fear from excess sugar in the diet.”
The scary thing about this study is that the effect was impossible to mitigate even if the fruit flies (and worms) were put on a better diet in later life. That makes me regret all those childhood ice cream and cake binges. Anyway…
The horror called glycation
In addition to FOXO, there is a process called glycation. It’s quite well researched and understood and the way it works sounds like a horror plot. Sugar molecules in your bloodstream attack protein and lipids in your body, attach to them and create what is called advanced glycation end-products (fittingly abbreviated as AGEs). These AGEs accumulate in the proteins making them brittle and deformed.
Glycation has been studied for a while in diabetics. Diabetics have chronically elevated blood sugar levels due to the impairments in insulin production and hence the glycation they are experiencing is rather turbo-charged. Many of the health problems seen in diabetics are due to the glycation of all sorts of tissues. Glycation is believed to be behind cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, neuropathy, macular degeneration and even deafness.
A bit more slowly, glycation is happening to everyone and the first place where it shows is skin. Glycated collaged loses elasticity and suppleness, the skin cracks, develops wrinkles, gets saggy.
The advanced glycation end-products are fluorescent, which means scientists can observe them in a certain spectrum. They make your face glow in a way you would rather avoid. Diabetics have been found to glow the most of all. The more glucose in the blood, the more glycation-related skin glow and the more wrinkles and skin-sagging.
AGEs can also be ingested. In the same way that sugars attack proteins in the body, they attack them in the pot or a frying pan. Especially browned foods are full of AGEs and so are cakes and other baked stuff. Boiled and steamed food is generally lower in AGEs than fried food. Everything involving caramelisation is an AGE bomb. Research suggests that 10 to 30 per cent of those ingested AGEs are absorbed in the body.
The accumulation of AGEs in the skin starts to show at around the age of 20. After that it increases every year at a certain rate.
The good news is that unlike the FOXO related sugar aging, glycation-related damage can be to a certain degree reversed.
The body has some mechanisms in place, which enable you to clear up some of these horror molecules from your system.
Clearly, the number one rule is to eat in such a way that you have no excess sugar in the bloodstream at any point.
In fact, research suggests that fructose is a ten-times more potent glycation agent than glucose (so much to the innocence of ‘healthy’ sweet treats such as raisins, dried dates and fruit smoothies).
Some of the more open minded and educated beauty experts already started recommending people to go sugar-free instead of having botox. The elimination of foods rich in AGEs should be a no-brainer.
There are surprisingly many foods and herbs that have been found to protect against the formation of AGEs and contribute to removing them. Green tea, cinnamon, vitamin C, ginger, blueberries and many other vitamins and minerals can help mitigate the glycation damage.
My worst offences
So how much have I been offending my skin and contributing to glycation by indulging in the so-called healthy sweets?
Blackstrap molasses – I eat one to two tablespoons of blackstrap molasses a day. I discovered blackstrap molasses during my struggles with endometriosis and fibroids. The community swears by it. Blackstrap molasses contains all the good stuff from sugar cane, which the sugar industry doesn’t want. 100 grams of blackstrap molasses contains 1000 per cent of a recommended daily dose (RDD) of chromium, 390 per cent of the RDD of copper, 736 per cent of iron and 760 per cent of calcium. However, it also contains almost 62 grams of sugar. Glycemix index of blackstrap molasses is 55, which is the upper limit of what is considered low. That means that blackstrap molasses releases sugar into the bloodstream relatively slowly.
The amount of sugar in one tablespoon is about 20 grams. With two tablespoons a day, that would already make up a sugar intake of 40 grams.
I still want the benefits of all those vitamins and nutrients but I’d say from now on, I’d reduce the amount to one spoon a day max and will only take it in the morning before my 45-minute cycle to work. This way, I shall burn all that sugar before I reach the office.
Nakd bars – These raw bars contain no added sugar. They are made of squashed dates, nuts, raisins and other stuff. And they are highly addictive. I am trying to avoid them but sometimes I can’t resist. My favourite is the cocoa orange one, which contains almost 14 grams of sugar per bar.
On a sugar-binging day when I eat my two table spoons of black strap molasses in the morning and two Nakd bars after lunch, that would make almost 70 grams of sugar in one day…
That’s not good. 90 grams of sugar (added as well as naturally occurring), is sort of the general daily recommendation.
Now I am at 70 and I haven’t even started counting the sugars from vegetables and complex carbs. Not good.
My verdict is no more Nakd bars. I don’t see the benefit of blackstrap molasses in them and if I have to choose, blackstrap molasses it is.
Dark Chocolate (85 per cent cocoa)
Another of my supposedly innocent guilty pleasures, which I find highly addictive and difficult to stop eating once the bar is opened. There is no doubt that there is a lot of beneficial stuff in dark chocolate but a 100g bar can contain over 15 grams of sugar. And yes, it happens to me sometimes that I destroy the whole bar in a day.
My verdict is – better than Nakd bars but I’d rather not have it.
A serving of 2 to 3 dates contains a shocking 29 grams of sugar. Sometimes I easily devour 6 or 8, which would make for an unbelievable total of nearly 100 grams of sugar, which is more than the recommended daily consumption.
Yes, there are some beneficial nutrients in dates but honestly, to hell with them. I don’t want to see this stuff anywhere near me.
My diet consists mainly of vegetables. I don’t get too heavy on fruit. Let’s say I eat one large piece (or a few smaller pieces of fruit a day). Let’s have a look at mango, which I ate today. A 100 gram serving of mango contains about 14 grams of sugar. It’s OK to have a bit of fresh fruit every day but veg is the king.
Honey – a tea spoon of honey contains about 5.7 grams of sugar. If I add half a tea spoon into my porridge, that makes almost 3 grams of sugar.
I think I can live without honey …
Despite my above average healthy diet, on many days, I certainly consume more sugar than I should. Today, with two spoons of blackstrap molasses and a mango, I certainly reached 55 grams of sugar.
There’s no point soothing my conscience that all this sugar is natural or anyhow healthy. It’s still sugar and I’d rather have less of it.