Sugar, the Cigarettes of Our Generation
Go to any supermarket, close your eyes, find a random aisle and pick up a random item off a shelf. You have a 74% chance of picking up an item jam-packed with added sugar. Australians consume over 40 teaspoons of sugar per day without even realising it, and the effects this sugar has on our minds and body can be overwhelming. I really do believe that sugar will become the cigarettes of our generation. Over 63% of Australians are obese and that number is continuously climbing every day. If we don't change our attitudes about what we put into our bodies, then we will continue on our no brakes, crash course into those human-like creatures from Wall-e.
With the abundance of dietary information on the back of every packaged food, coupled with the processed foods industries marketing wizardry and creative names for refined sugar, it's no surprise that people can be confused or misled about what they are actually consuming. Everyday items that look and are branded as healthy are usually packed with things like high fructose corn syrup, waxy maize starch, molasses, fruit juice concentrate… It's one of the reasons why Australians are on a fast track to becoming the largest and unhealthiest population globally. This sugar is more than bad for our waistlines though, there are numerous other side effects that come with a high sugar diet.
Sugar makes your organs fat. Consumption of too much refined sugar triggers your liver to store fat more efficiently. It also causes a spike in bad cholesterol, dangerous triglyceride blood fats and excess insulin in the blood stream. This sugar also creates tense blood vessels. Chronically high insulin levels cause the smooth muscle cells around each blood vessel to grow faster than normal. This basically causes tense artery walls, which can put you on the path to high blood pressure. Couple this with bad cholesterol and you are on a path for heart attacks, strokes or even aneurysms. It even contributes to the ageing of your skin. The sugar you consume, after hitting your bloodstream, undergoes a process called glycation. This is where the sugar attaches itself to proteins which contributes to the loss of elasticity found in ageing body tissues, from your skin to your organs and arteries and even the retina cells in your eyes. The more sugar circulating in your blood, the faster this damage takes hold.
Sugar can also cause you to feel hungrier. Excess sugar consumption can cause your leptin levels to drop. The job of leptin is to signal the brain when to stop eating, meaning that a whole pack of Tim Tams is too easy to eat and makes it far easier to follow with an ice cream chaser. You may feel like climbing the walls during the sugar high, but it will be followed by a crash of unrelenting fatigue in as little as 30 minutes after consumption. Because of the massive release of dopamine in the reward centre of the brain every time you eat sugar, your instinct will be to seek more high sugar foods once you do crash. This is why sugar can be just as addictive as cocaine.
This is an easy trap to fall into when you don't inspect your labels. Spending a few extra seconds to check the labels on your food can have a huge impact for not only yourself, but the people that you shop and cook for as well. Not too long ago, we had doctors and professionals endorsing cigarette products. Fast forward 60 years later and we as a society have significantly shifted our perceptions about smoking and the health effects. You wouldn't let your children smoke cigarettes, and we even look back at the days where it wasn't so bad and think how primitive our thinking was. It's only a matter of time before we experience the same shift in attitude towards refined sugars. So before you walk down the confectionary aisle, think about your health and vitality and the risks associated with a high sugar diet. Because one day you, your children or even grandchildren will look back at your eating habits in shock, awe or even disgust.