Sugar has been having a pretty tough time recently and my sweet tooth and I have been becoming increasingly concerned that we might have to part ways! Not only was it becoming clear quite how much damage sugar is doing to our health every day, my particular health issues (which I will go into in more detail in other posts) meant I should take even greater care with sugar. So I began to consider very seriously exactly how much sugar I was consuming. I realised that the problem isn’t necessarily the obvious culprits such as fizzy drinks and doughnuts because these are foods we know we should avoid. The real problem lies with the hidden sugar in foods, especially in foods marketed as being healthy and good for us. In this post I want to focus on this hidden sugar, but I plan to do future posts on sugar’s appalling impact on our health.
Now to give you a little context – the classic white sugar cube which we can all conjure up in our minds is 4 grams of sugar. The normal amount of sugar in our blood is about 4 or 5 grams. This means whenever you eat sugar your body has to work it’s little socks off to get your blood sugar back down to about a sugar cube amount. With that sugar cube image in your mind start checking the grams of sugar in your daily drinks and snacks and prepare to be quite surprised!
I would often start the day with the Pret green goddess juice but that was starting the day with 42.8 grams (10 and three quarter sugar cubes).
Now I don’t want to appear to be bashing Pret (because I am a huge fan and think they offer fantastic lunch options – not to mention their almond croissants are to die for…) so I thought it only fair to mention a couple of similar examples. Moma bircher muesli, again something which seems like a healthy choice, has 26.4 grams of sugar (6 and a half sugar cubes). The Naked “Green Machine” juice, again marketed as a health drink, has a staggering 52 grams of sugar (13 sugar cubes).
I should mention here that fruit juice is a real booby trap in the battle against sugar. Fruit juice bars have been popping up everywhere in the last few years and are fueling a bit of a misguided health craze. Of course the vitamin and antioxidant contents of such juices are fantastic but this comes at a serious cost on the sugar consumption front. Fructose – the sugar in fruit – is natural but a sugar all the same and triggers exactly the same physiological response as added refined sugar would trigger. Pret proudly claim to squeeze over half a kilo of fresh fruit and veg into every bottle but this is a bad thing for two reasons. Firstly, this is a totally unnatural amount of fruit to consume in one sitting. We would never sit down and eat a dozen oranges and a couple of bananas so we shouldn’t drink the equivalent in sugar! Secondly, the fibre has been removed in the process of juicing. Mother nature (sensible woman that she is) produced food with its sugar content balanced with fibre and this is key. This fibre buffers the release of sugar into the bloodstream avoiding blood sugar spikes. So we should focus instead on vegetable based smoothies which are much lower in sugar, still contain the important fibre and still provide that rich nutrient injection.
So you’ve maybe had your 13 sugar cubes in your juice so far and now you are at desk your mind turns to coffee. The world of coffee is on crack…hazelnut macchiato, vanilla spice latte, salted caramel mocha, iced caramel macchiato…the options are endless. Then the coffee shops do us favour by offering us the “skinny” alternative of skimmed milk because heaven forbid we might consume some FAT. So let’s look at a few of these coffee drinks on crack…(amounts below are based on the medium “Grande” Starbucks cup).
Caramel macchiato – 31.9 grams (8 sugar cubes)
Iced chai tea latte – 42.1 grams (10 and a half sugar cubes)
Coffee frappuccino – 49.6 grams (12 and a half sugar cubes)
Caramel frappuccino – 61.3 grams (15 sugar cubes)
Perhaps at lunch you choose to be healthy again and grab a vitamin water – that is 33 grams of sugar (8 and a quarter sugar cubes)! That one really shocked me because it is marketed as water with added vitamins. What they don’t mention is that there is also only 6 grams less sugar than there is in a classic can of coca-cola!
I could go on but I hope this has given you a flavour of the issue and encourages you to be a little more savvy with the labels on the food and drinks you are consuming.