The Most Dangerous Drug of All?
If someone was to ask you to nominate what you believed to be the worst kind of drug, your answer would very much depend on your personal perspective.
A good number of you would most likely name an illegal drug such as heroin at the top of your list, whilst some of you would nominate instead drugs like tobacco and alcohol in light of their enormous medical and social costs.
It is unlikely however, that more than a tiny percentage of you would name the drug that is causing increasing concern amongst many in the medical community and which Paul van der Velpen, head of Amsterdam’s respected health service, recently described as ‘the most dangerous drug of our time’.
The name of that drug? Sugar.
I know it sounds fanciful but when we look at the facts the sad truth is hard to ignore. For example, on average, we consume nearly 100g of sugar a day. That’s 23 teaspoons of the stuff; a figure high enough to evoke this stern warning from Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist leading a UK task force looking at sugar. Our daily intake, Dr Malhotra says, “Is way too high. Studies show this level of intake is strongly linked to type-2 diabetes and obesity.”
Support for Dr Malhotra’s warning also comes via the World Health Organisation, which published research in January of this year proving that high-sugar diets lead to weight gain. The corollary of weight-gain, of course, is obesity, and all the attendant health issues that condition raises, including heart disease, cancer, hypertension and decreased life expectancy.
And as if that wasn’t enough, another study published in the European Journal of Nutrition points to a link between high sugar intake and a much greater risk of depression.
This is sobering research, as is the growing conviction that sugar is a highly addictive substance and one which creates cravings we find hard to control. Recent studies, for example, reveal that whilst people eating fats and proteins will stop when they are full, they will keep eating if they are consuming sugars, no matter their level of satiety. Perhaps even more frightening, French researchers in Bordeaux also reported recently that laboratory rats chose sugar over cocaine, despite the fact that they were already addicted to cocaine!
So how have we all become addicted to sugar, despite our greater understanding of the importance of diet and the recent decline in the number of soft drinks we consume per head of population?
The answers to that question are many. One of them lies in our ever-increasing intake of processed foods, many of which are filled with the type of sugars we would be best to avoid. Most of these foods – biscuits, white bread, white pasta, chips, sweets, junk food – have a high Glycaemic Index (GI), and their consumption is more and more being associated with a whole host of health problems, including insulin resistance, fatty changes to the liver, and cardiac disease.
Our switch from soft drinks to fruit juices and smoothies is also a false panacea. No matter what we’ve been told, these drinks are not good for us. Smoothies, for example, are likely to contain as much sugar as a large Coke. Not only that, but juicing can remove key fibres and nutrients found in whole fruits, whilst adding hundreds of calories to our daily diet at the same time.
In the end, the answer is simple. For the sake of our health, we need to consume less sugar. Of course, that’s not easy to do given how ubiquitous it has become in our diet, but it is possible.
Here’s some things I have personally incorporated into my dietary habits over the last few years. They are all things I have really benefitted from and which I can highly recommend as ways to cut back on sugar and feel healthier as a result.
* Try to avoid packaged foods and if you do buy them read the label carefully. Often, foods touted as low-fat are packed with sugars. One way to do this is to shop at the edges of the supermarket, where you will find fresh, unpackaged foods. The centre aisles tend to contain prepackaged items that are loaded with ‘extras’ you don’t need.
* Eat whole fruits rather than consume fruit juices and smoothies. If you want to drink juice, then vegetable juice is a far healthier option.
* Avoid white bread and pasta, as well as biscuits, sweets and cakes.
* Don’t drink soft drinks.
* If you can’t go sweet-free, try to use unrefined sweeteners in place of sugar. Foods such as raw maple syrup, raw honey or coconut sugar have minerals and vitamins intact, making them less stressful on the body. Stevia is another possible substitute as it is without calories and its consumption does not cause an unwanted spike in blood sugar.
* Try to identify the sources of sugar in your diet and commit to cutting down on their consumption. To minimise temptation, throw out anything you have decided not to eat or drink in the future. Ban sugary drinks from your home and quit snacking on sugar.
* Come to view sugar as a special treat, rather like chocolate or champagne. It should be viewed as a special indulgence you enjoy once in a while, rather than as a key staple of your daily diet. I personally love a piece of dark chocolate after lunch, its my treat and a great antioxidant!
I hope some of this helps. If, like me, you want to better control the amount of sugar you consume, I wish you good luck!
– Megan Douglas