October 20, 2023
Sugar Awareness by Emma Newlyn
Do you have a ‘sweet tooth’? Perhaps you’re partial to a couple of biscuits with your morning cup of tea, or you reach for a chocolate bar when the mid-afternoon slump hits….
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with a sweet treat every so often, it’s important to consider what the sugar in some of these sweet foods could be doing to your body, and how to make healthier choices so you can enjoy delicious foods in a way that is more beneficial for your wellbeing.
What happens when we eat sugar?
When we ingest something with carbohydrates or sugars, blood sugar levels in the body rise. In response to this, the pancreas releases a hormone known as ‘insulin’ which helps shift the sugar into the body’s cells, so we can use it for energy. If this happens too often or for too long however, we may develop ‘insulin resistance’, whereby the body responds less effectively to the insulin signals, and we can’t get the sugar we’ve eaten into our cells. This can lead to low energy levels, persistent hunger, and weight gain, as well as unhealthily high blood sugar levels. All of this can eventually lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
What are blood sugar levels?
The term ‘blood sugar levels’ refers to the amount of glucose in your blood. Target blood sugar levels differ for everyone, but they should generally be around 4-7mmol/l before eating, and under 8.5-9mmol/l roughly two hours after a meal. Your age, activity levels and the food consumed will affect these levels. You can measure blood sugar levels using an at-home finger prick test, or by wearing a continuous glucose monitor, but there are other ways to understand what’s happening with your blood sugar too.
Signs of disrupted blood sugar
One of the most common signs of blood sugar issues is how you feel when you’re hungry, and how you feel shortly after eating. Here are some signs of disrupted blood sugar:
· Feeling shaky when you’re hungry
· ‘Hangy’ (hungry and angry!)
· Heart palpitations when you get hungry
· Sugar cravings
· Wanting something sweet or high in carbohydrates 30 minutes to an hour after eating
· Sweating when you feel very hungry
· Dizziness when you’re hungry
· Nervousness or anxiety that comes and goes
· Feeling hungry all the time, despite eating a lot
These signs all show your levels of glucose are unstable, and this can be due to different reasons. Most commonly however, unstable blood sugar levels can be caused by a diet high in processed foods and sugar. This is because when we eat a food high in sugar or carbohydrates, our blood sugar levels ‘spike’ upward, and can then ‘crash’ back down. When the ‘crash’ happens, this is usually when you’ll experience those unpleasant symptoms listed above. Even foods we may think are ‘healthy’, such as energy bars or fruit juice, can be very high in sugar. Some of the most common foods that can cause a blood sugar spike and crash include:
· Energy drinks – a small bottle of Lucozade has about 15 teaspoons of sugar
· Energy bars
· Soft drinks – there are about 7 teaspoons of sugar in one can of coke
· Fruit juice – there are roughly 5 to 7 tea spoons of sugar in a glass of fruit juice
· Syrups added to coffees
· Breakfast cereals with added sugar – many cereals are made of over 30% sugar
· White bread
· White rice
· Yoghurts with added fruit or sugar
· Sweeteners, honey or maple syrup
If you want to reduce the amount of sugar you consume so you can feel healthier, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of foods you’re consuming from the list above. You can replace soft drinks with sparkling water, breakfast cereals with high-fibre porridge or eggs on toast, white bread for wholegrain sourdough, and sweetened yoghurts with full-fat Greek yoghurt, which can all have a much healthier impact on your blood sugar levels.
Favouring Fats & Protein Over Sugar
Back in the 80’s and 90’s when the ‘low fat’ movement was popular, we were introduced to high-sugar foods with very little nutritional benefit, and unfortunately the idea that low fat is ‘healthy’ stuck in our minds! In order to stabilise blood sugar levels however, it’s important to choose healthy sources of vegetables, fats and proteins, as these do not disrupt blood sugar levels the way sugar does. If you still want to enjoy sugar and carbohydrates without spiking your blood sugar, you can also do this by pairing carbohydrates with proteins and fats! By doing this, it slows the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream, allowing the body to more effectively manage glucose levels. This could look like eating eggs with your toast, instead of jam; eating fruit with a handful of nuts; and choosing to eat your favourite sugary snack as dessert after your lunch or dinner, instead of on its own.
Here are some ideas for low-sugar snacks to try this month:
· Handful of mixed nuts
· 2 squares 80% dark chocolate
· ½ an avocado with a dash of tamari dressing
· Hummus and carrot sticks
· Greek yoghurt with almond butter and blueberries
· Cottage cheese with cucumber
· Piece of cheese (roughly 30g or a matchbox size) with apple slices
· 2 boiled eggs with a pinch of salt