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Health and Beauty Articles

Toxins: Kicking the habit

Part 2

I’ve had some quite amusing feedback from my last column which covered the dangers of smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol – namely when I had someone mouth to me ‘Pot! Kettle! Black!’ when I was busting some questionable dance moves in the danglers a couple of weeks ago, whilst clutching a beverage that definitely wasn’t water. I shall excel myself in this edition, as I’ll be talking about one of my favourite things: sugar. I was never one for sweet things as a little un’, until I discovered the wonders of sticky toffee pudding and Lindt chocolate in recent years! I’m well and truly knackered because I also have a savoury tooth – bread, shortbread, cake, you name it, and I like it! So, as with the majority of things I write about, this will be a learning curve for me as well as you.

Those who read last month’s article will remember that I’m using a red, amber and green system to describe how dangerous, or not, the topic is. Refined sugar is up on the hot seat this month...

Red alert toxins

Refined sugar

Refined sugar is quite a general description, one which doesn’t do justice to the quantity of foods/ingredients that are in this category. We initially think of the sugar we can see, the white stuff which we lump on our cereal and in our coffee. Refined sugar is so much more than that. Every time we eat biscuits, white bread, muffins, buns and fizzy drinks we are eating pure toxins, i.e. sugar! Any of the following ingredients are also a translation of sugar: dextrin, dextrose, fructose, fructose, sucrose and anything with the word syrup attached to it. In theory, these foods and ingredients should have POISON pinned directly beside them on the label. What a load of rubbish, you say? By definition, a poison is a substance which when applied or ingested into the body can cause disease - and refined sugar now contributes to more degenerative disease and premature deaths than tobacco.

Blood sugar (glucose)

When we eat refined carbohydrates, our bodies go into emergency mode because the sugars enter the bloodstream too rapidly, and if our sugar levels rise too high and stay there – we die, hence why the body has to act fast in order to survive. Ever wondered why you feel so tired after eating, say, a white bread sandwich and bit of cake for lunch? Your body will start using all of its resources to break down these foods, whilst at the same time trying to control the sugar levels, leaving you feeling more than a little drained (and hungry) for the rest of the afternoon.  

However, it’s true that when we eat sugar, we release the hormone dopamine, so we do experience a moment of instant happiness – but to maintain this high we have to keep on eating sugar, thus it is addictive in its taste as well as its physical effects. The most common time I will reach for something sugary, or savoury, is when I’m very hungry, very tired, and am craving that sugar rush – the healthy cans of soup in the cupboard don’t even get a look in and eventually resemble Michael McIntyre’s Chinese 5 Spice – banished to the back of the cupboard for all of eternity! But alas, the sugar high only lasts an hour at most, and you are left feeling awful when the glucose levels in the body drop.

Weight gain

And this effect has a very significant result on weight gain, as when you are left feeling drained, and hungry, you can easily become tangled in the endless cycle to go for more, and more, until your waist line has ballooned, and you’re left thinking how did that happen!? Considering sugar is changed into 2-5 times more fat than starch when it enters the bloodstream may start to give an explanation!

We often don’t acknowledge how many little sugary treats we have in a day; ‘Och, I’ll just have one biscuit with my tea’ has been said the world over to the point of exhaustion, particularly in the Western Isle, arguably the tea capital of Europe! Instead of relying on these little treats to constantly keep picking you up throughout your day, take healthy snacks in with you to work or school. Don’t take snacks that you know will end up a loner at the bottom of your lunch bag (if I had a pound for every solitary orange I have brought home from my working day in Harris I’d be in a sunny land far, far away!) Bring low fat yoghurt, or chop up some fresh pineapple – mix it up so you don’t get bored. And I can almost hear your thoughts: you do NOT need something to dunk in your tea, it’s simply habit!


And wherever sugar is, its relative diabetes isn’t far behind. Refined sugar and carbohydrates have an undeniable link to the disease, namely in the ever increasing population that have type 2 diabetes. Where it is detrimental to the health of non-diabetics, it is disastrous to the health of diabetics. A staggering 90% of sufferers with type 2 diabetes are obese, often as a result of sedentary lifestyles and poor diet choices – and it is said that over half of people with this type aren’t even aware they are diabetic. But slim people aren’t exempt from this! Even if you are burning off the calorie content of these foods your organs will still suffer.

But sugar and diabetes is not the only medical link to be aware of. Having a diet high in sugar can also heighten your risk of cancer, increase cholesterol, weaken eyesight, can contribute to heart disease as well as interfering with the absorption of protein in our bodies.

Recommended daily amount

So how much is too much? Sugar is actually more harmful to our bodies than eating nothing, as it drains the body of vitamins and minerals, so effectively any amount is too much; but I’m a realist and acknowledge that it would be near impossible to avoid a drop of sugar from entering your body from time to time! It is recommended that you take no more than 100 calories per day in sugar (6 tsp or 24 grams).

I always find these types of recommendations, well, a little vague. We can count our added teaspoons of added sugar easily, but it’s the sugar that’s hidden in food that creeps up on us. I’ve listed a few common sources of sugary foods so that you can gauge the recommendation a bit better.

  • 1 can of fizzy juice, such as coke: 39g/9 teaspoons (a teaspoon of sugar is roughly 4-5 grams)
  • 1 glass pomegranate juice (very random choice, but it was too shocking not to share!): 30g
  • 1 cup (8oz) whole milk: 11g
  • 1 slice white bread: 1g (more sugar is present when it is turned to glucose when ingested)
  • 1 tablespoon of jam: 14g
  • 1 mars bar: 31g
  • 1 chocolate digestive biscuit: 4.8g (2.6 without chocolate)
  • 1 ginger nut biscuit: 3.8g
  • 1 jammy dodger: 6.8g
  • 4 oz cupcake, iced: 24g
  • 1 carton activia yoghurt: 14g
  • 1 serving Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream (1/2 cup): 21g
  • Special K: 5.16g
  • 1 average bowl Frosties, Coco Pops, Stars, Ricicles: 14.8g – this is more than half the recommended daily amount. Shockingly, the majority of children’s cereals have more sugar than a bowl of dark chocolate ice-cream - possibly the worst start to the day that you could give your child despite the ramblings on the front of the box exclaiming they are actually good for you. Out with cereal, in with the mighty porridge!

So, as devastating as it may be, refined sugars and carbohydrates have absolutely no nutritional value. We can convince ourselves until the cows come home that we’re eating biscuits for the wheat and wholemeal nutritional value! Making small changes to your snacking, as well as making better choices when you’re feeling drained and in need of a ‘boost’, can dramatically bring down your intake of sugar.

The next stone(s) to be uncovered in Toxins: Kicking the habit are refined fats, caffeine and salt. See you in July!


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