Why does sugar make you fat?

Sugar - not so sweet sadly!

Put simply, if we eat more sugar than our bodies can efficiently process, the pancreas is prompted to release insulin on a way too regular basis to keep blood sugar levels in the safe zone.  Much of the excess glucose is stored as fat, we gain weight and the more we weigh, the greater the risk of such health conditions as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  Sugar itself is not the demon, we just tend to eat rather too much of it so let’s look a bit more closely at how we can satisfy our sweet tooth without wreaking havoc on our health.

Don’t ditch fruit.  Diet myths come and go and one that is saturating the media right now is the misguided suggestion that we limit our consumption of fruit.  The premiss being that fruit is sugar - fructose in this case.  The fact that fruit is rich in fibre, provides an abundance of protective plant chemicals plus in some cases, a little protein and fat seems to be largely ignored or merely merits a quick mention in the last paragraph.  This, is in my view is scaremongering at its worst.  Few foods make a quicker or healthier snack and to ensure that the sugar doesn’t play havoc with blood sugar levels, have some protein or fat with your fresh fruit or fruit juice (a handful of nuts, a chunk of cheese or a carton of plain yoghurt are all good choices).

Ditch the Liquid ‘Candy’.  Over the years, I have seen scores of dieters lose weight in record time and seriously reduce sugar cravings by merely cutting out fizzy pop and other sugary drinks.  A can of cola contains around 8 cubes of sugar, some sports drinks as many as 12 and even supposedly-healthy vitamin waters come in anywhere between 4 and 6 cubes!  Try a week of swapping them for tea or coffee (with a spoonful of sugar if you can’t manage without), fruit and herb teas (hot or chilled), sparkling water with sugar-free fruit cordials, fresh fruit juices watered down 50:50, vegetable juices and light soups.  And, don’t imagine that the ‘diet’ and ‘zero’ versions of your canned or bottled favourites are fine - all those artificial sweeteners do nothing to curb cravings - the brain can’t distinguish between natural sugars and chemically-altered syrups.

Eat More Fat.  The indomitable Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat and a host of other inspiring books on the subject explains in a clear and concise illustration why sugar makes us fat and fats halt the process. Here’s the link.  Print it off and stick it on the fridge then get more tasty, filling and satisfying fats into your diet.  Oily fish, nuts, seeds and their oils and butters and avocados are tops and can blunt a sugar craving in the time it takes to open a bag of crisps or unwrap a Krispy Kreme doughnut!

Get Competitive.  If you work in an office or alongside others and love a challenge, this tactic has success written all over it.  Get as many people on board as possible, get everyone to pitch a fiver into a kitty, decide on a prize (not a sugary one!), determine a completion date and go sugar-free.  Some may cheat when they are away from prying eyes, some may slink off on an errand and scoff a few chocolate digestives along the way but most find it hard not to buckle under when quizzed!

Get More Sleep.  Sleep deprivation signals a need for additional calories.  When levels of the ‘appetite’ hormone, leptin decrease, the brain thinks there is a shortage of food and we are prompted to eat more.  Conversely, when levels are high, we feel fuller for longer.  Studies show that those who regularly get 6 hours or less sleep per night not only gain weight more rapidly than those who get their 8 hours plus but also struggle to lose weight long term.  Focus on getting an early night at least 4 nights a week and watch sugar cravings lessen.

Make a Beeline for Root Vegetables.  Carrots, turnip, swede, parsnip, beetroot, sweet potatoes and celeriac taste sweet because they are rich in natural sugars. Greens on the other hand are slightly bitter and whilst they offer a wealth of health benefits they don’t quite cut it if you are trying to control invasive sugar needs.  Root vegetables are in season and cheap as chips at this time of the year so get them into your shopping trolley and roast them, grate them into salads and make filling and comforting soups and stews.

Suck on a Sugar Cube.  When you chew and swallow food, it has to go through the digestion process before being absorbed and that can take time you simply don’t have when a sugar craving strikes but if you pop a sugar cube under your tongue and let it dissolve slowly, the sugar will be absorbed directly into the blood stream, the urge will pass and you have only had a very small amount of sugar.  It works but make sure you rinse your mouth well with water afterwards to prevent getting a dressing down from your dentist!

Beware of Breakfast Cereals.  Way too many on the shelves and heralded as ‘healthy options’ are heaving with sugar and when you start the day with a sugar overload, the need for more continues.  Before you know it you are struggling to overcome a desperate desire for a sweet treat and can depend on little other than willpower to quell it.  Go savoury at breakfast time with scrambled eggs on toast, lean bacon with tomatoes and mushrooms, ham and cheese, porridge with cinnamon and a dash of honey or vegetable juices.

Read the label.  If you don’t have time to cook from fresh and ready-made meals form part of your diet, label-reading is vital.  Where it says ‘Carbohydrates; of which sugars’, 10g per 100g is high, 2g is low so aim for a maximum of 4g.  Also, ingredients are always listed on a ‘most, first‘ basis so if sugar, syrup or anything ending in -ose or -ol is near the top, leave it on the shelf.

For more tips on how to stay sweet without hazarding health and piling on the pounds go to FatBustForver and find out more about Fiona’s fat loss plans.