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Is Sugar Your Drug of Choice??

First, let’s start with two common misconceptions;

1. That low-fat/diet products are healthy

WRONG! Fats are a whole article in themselves so in summary…

Whilst some fats are bad for you (trans-fat and saturated fats), we also need healthy fats for brain function and energy. The issue which arises when you remove/reduce the fats from a product (think milk, yoghurt, cream etc), is that the product loses taste, flavour and mouthfeel. So, to alleviate this; sugar, along with flavourings, salt and thickening agents are added to replace the fat.

Here’s an example: (taken from Carla Evans article, “In Touch” magazine Summer 2016)

Example 1

SA YOGHURT BRAND, honey and vanilla flavour

Per 100g

Fat 3.3%

Sugar 6.7%

Energy 310 KJ (74 kcals)


Certified biodynamic organic whole milk, Kangaroo Island Bush Honey, genuine organic vanilla, cultures

Example 2

Well known yoghurt brand, vanilla flavour. Marketed as healthy due to <2% fat

Per 100g

Fat 1.9%

Sugar 12.9%

Energy 367KJ (88 kcals)


milk, milk solids, skim milk, water, sugar, fructose, corn starch, halal gelatine, natural flavour, acidity regulators (citric acid, sodium citrate), preservative (potassium sorbate), vanilla bean seed (min. 0.01%), natural colour (carotene), yoghurt cultures: (s.thermophilus and l.bulgaricus).

So, for a product marketed as “healthy” due to having less fat, it has slightly more kilojoules than full fat yoghurt and almost double the amount of sugar!

2. That sugar-free is a better alternative

WRONG AGAIN!! Artificial sweeteners are exactly that, artificial! They are seen as good alternatives to refined sugar and natural sweeteners because they have zero calories, however; the side effects make them a huge health risk. Artificial sweeteners can cause symptoms such as headaches, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, obesity, hormone imbalance, not to mention an addiction to overly sweet foods, they can also affect the gastrointestinal tract, and alter intestinal microbiome (gut flora) as well as increasing risk of diabetes and kidney damage.

Here is a list of the most common, and most dangerous artificial sweeteners, the top 5 are underlined!

  • Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet, Natrataste Blue)

  • Acesulfame potassium (Equal spoonful, Sweet One, Sweet’n’Safe)

  • Alitame

  • Cyclamate

  • Dulcin

  • Equal

  • Glucin

  • Kaltame

  • Mogrosides

  • Neotame

  • NutraSweet

  • Nutrinova

  • Phenlalanine

  • Saccharin (Sweet’n’Low)

  • Splenda

  • Sorbitol

  • Sucralose (Splenda)

  • Twinsweet

  • Sweet ‘N Low

  • Xylitol

So, What’s Real and What’s Not?

Sugar from sugar cane goes through varying degrees of processing, depending on the desired result. The most unrefined form of sugar from sugar cane is Rapadura sugar, after this, the next step is to remove the molasses, which contains the vitamins and minerals our body needs to metabolise the sugar. Basically, the more refined it is, the worse it is for you, and the harder it is for your body to break down/absorb.

Real, unrefined sugars:

Rapadura Sugar

Coconut sugar

Raw honey

Pure maple syrup


These are the types you want to have in your kitchen, for cooking and baking. Use ½ - ¾ the amount of sugar the recipe says.

Unreal, refined/synthetic sugars:

Agave nectar/syrup (depends on the company as to whether a water extraction method is used or a chemical extraction method)

Barley malt (syrup)

Beet sugar

Brown rice syrup

Brown sugar

Cane sugar

Carob syrup


Castor sugar

Confectioner’s sugar

Corn syrup




Fruit juice



Glucose syrup

Golden syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

Icing sugar

Invert sugar

Invert syrup



Malt syrup

Maltodextrin (usually made from corn or wheat)



Raw cane sugar






Added sugars can be hard to spot on nutrition labels due to the many names they come under. One rule of thumb is that anything ending in ‘ose’ is a sugar. Another thing to check is their place on the ingredient list. The ingredients are always listed in order of quantity, so the first ingredient will be the main ingredient of a product.

In the near future, we can expect to see an ‘’Added Sugar” line on the nutrition table, so it will be easier to determine the amount of natural sugar vs added sugar in the product.

The negative impact of SUGAR on the body.


Excess sugar impairs cognitive skills and self-control. It has a drug-like effect in the reward centre of the brain, giving it a huge surge of the feel good hormone, dopamine. This reward response is what creates the addictive drive, as your body needs more and more to get the same feelings of pleasure.

Sugar also affects your mood. In healthy young people, the ability to process emotion is compromised by elevated blood glucose. Sugar gives you a quick burst of energy, or a high, followed by the crash, as your cells absorb the sugar, this can create feelings of anxiety and depression.


Sugar has an inflammatory response in the body. This can cause joint pain, and increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Another side effect of this inflammation is the effect it has on your skin, it makes you age faster!!


Extra insulin in your blood (caused by excess sugar consumption) can cause your artery walls to grow faster than normal, becoming tense, which adds stress to the heart. Over time, this can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks or stroke.

Kidneys, Liver, Pancreas

Essentially if your body becomes insulin resistant due to excess sugar consumption, all of these organs will be affected. Your pancreas becomes overworked, and is eventually unable to produce sufficient amounts of insulin to break down the sugar. The liver can then become insulin resistant, meaning the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels correctly, which leads to type 2 diabetes. If you have diabetes, too much sugar can then damage the kidneys, preventing them from effectively filtering waste out of the blood, and eventually leading to kidney failure.

NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) is also linked to excess sugar consumption.

A 2013 study published in PLOS ONE found that for every 150 calories of sugar a person consumes daily (approx. 1 can of soft drink), their risk of type 2 diabetes increases by 1.1%

Gut Health

Excess sugar can alter the gut microbiota by feeding yeast and bad bacteria, which leads to damage of the intestinal walls, and therefore, creates a leaky gut. It can also create an imbalance in the healthy gut bacteria, such as candida overgrowth; which also leads to leaky gut, and can cause symptoms such as brain fog, bad breath, exhaustion, gas and bloating, hormone imbalance, more sweet cravings, weak immune system or thrush/UTI.

How to reduce sugar intake

The first two weeks of cutting back on sugar will be the hardest. You may experience withdrawal symptoms, fatigue, headaches and even low moods. However, after that, it will be a lot easier. Always contact your healthcare professional if you are concerned by the symptoms you experience.

To reduce your sugar intake, start by reading nutrition labels, avoid anything with more than 10g of sugar per 100g.

Avoid all soft drinks, soda, energy drinks (even berocca!), juice (freshly squeezed is OK in moderation – not everyday), flavoured milk. If you add sugar to hot drinks, start cutting it back until you can have it with no sugar, or limit yourself to one cup a day. Just drink lots of water!

Things you can do to help curb the cravings are to eat fruit, it still has sugars but you are also getting the benefit of the fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals from the flesh/skin.

Eat more healthy fats and low GI foods so that you have consistent energy levels throughout the day. This will help with feelings of fatigue, brain fog and sugar cravings.

Avoid low fat, sugar free and diet products! They will either have increased sugar (low fat), or contain artificial sweeteners. Compare full fat product alternatives and find the one with the lowest sugar/kilojoules per 100g.

Swap out refined sugar for natural sugars (and less of them) in your cooking and baking.

Keep a food diary!! This is a great way to see what you’re eating, and how many times a day you consume foods with added sugar.

Alternatively, seek advice from a nutritionist/dietician or someone with training in nutrition.


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