Who doesn’t need a sweet treat?!
Whether it’s an afternoon chocolate bar, morning croissant, a small biscuit to go with our cup of tea or indulging in cakes and pastries on special occasions – sugar is a huge part of our lives and with sugary foods being within easy and affordable reach at ALL times… how can you possibly say no when it makes you feel that good?! But how long does it take until you feel irritable, anxious, tired or experience that energy slump, causing you to repeat the cycle all over again.
Time and time again, research and the media remind us of the harm our sugar laden diet can cause us in the long term – there is even strong evidence highlighting the link between a high sugar diet and type 2 diabetes, risk of CVD, stroke and weight gain.1,2,3
But, let’s look at sugar.
What is it, what happens to it in our bodies and what we can do to support the reduction of sugar in our diets?
When we eat starchy or sweet carbohydrates, such as bread or cakes, they are broken down into a simple sugar called glucose, which is a molecule carried by the blood to your cells. Levels of blood sugar are controlled by a hormone called insulin which enables us to use glucose as a source of energy.
Refined carbohydrates, such as sugary foods or white bread/pasta are void of fibre, which usually helps to slow down the release of glucose. This can cause blood sugar levels to rise very quickly, giving us that desired burst of energy.
However, when blood sugar rises too quickly, high levels of insulin can be released to compensate, causing our blood sugar levels to crash! This can lead to those sugar cravings and headaches we are all too familiar with, as well as impacting our mood, concentration and energy levels. This swing between high and low is sometimes called ‘the blood sugar rollercoaster’! What we must do is prevent stepping onto the rollercoaster in the first place and going for a ride.
Furthermore, studies show that consuming high quantities of sugar can disrupt the signalling of leptin (a hormone promoting the feeling of fullness), resulting in overeating and weight gain.4,5
These are a few simple steps you can take to rebalance blood sugar levels and rejuvenate your energy levels.
1) Limit your intake of cakes, biscuits, confectionary, white bread, white rice and swap these with complex carbohydrates such as whole-grains (brown pasta/bread/rice) and fibre rich root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips). The presence of fibre will slow and maintain your blood sugar levels.
2) Look out for processed foods- the ingredients ending in -ose are usually code for sugar.
3) Add sources of protein, such as meat, fish, nuts, pulses and eggs to each meal to support the balance of blood sugar levels, improving satiety and keeping you full for longer (preventing you from feeling irritable, low in energy or craving that chocolate bar).
4) Snack smart! When you feel like you need to reach for that mid-morning biscuit, swap it with a protein rich snack to help support and maintain energy levels through the day. Some easy examples are: a handful of nuts/seeds, hummus with vegetable sticks, roasted chickpeas, edamame beans or perhaps a chopped apple dipped in nut butter (e.g. peanut, almond or cashew butter).
5) Poor sleep can attribute imbalances in blood sugar levels. Research shows that individuals with lack of or poor sleep, experience more sugar cravings. Ghrelin is a hormone that controls our cravings for carbohydrates and simple sugars and our body makes more of it with inadequate sleep. Establish a good sleep routine, avoiding screens and blue light exposure before bed. Why not try reading a book or having a bath to help you wind down for evening?
By Zara Syed MSc, BSc (Hons), DipION, CNHC
Registered Nutritionist (mBANT)
*****This blog is not intended or implied to be a substitute for seeking professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. Information provided here is general, and not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any disease or conditions. Please contact your GP or private health consultant, if you have any personal health concerns, or consult a registered nutritional therapist for personalised dietary and lifestyle advice and guidance.
1. Basu, S., Yoffe, P., Hills, N. and Lustig, R. (2013). The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. PLoS ONE, 8(2), p.e57873.
2. Stanhope, K. (2015). Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, 53(1), pp.52-67.
3. Davis, J., Ventura, E., Weigensberg, M., Ball, G., Cruz, M., Shaibi, G. and Goran, M. (2005). The relation of sugar intake to β cell function in overweight Latino children. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82(5), pp.1004-1010.
4. Vasselli, J. (2012). The Role of Dietary Components in Leptin Resistance. Advances in Nutrition, 3(5), pp.736-738.
5. Shapiro, A., Tümer, N., Gao, Y., Cheng, K. and Scarpace, P. (2011). Prevention and reversal of diet-induced leptin resistance with a sugar-free diet despite high fat content. British Journal of Nutrition, 106(3), pp.390-397.