A full 13% of the South African population suffers from diabetes. As a country with a high fast food culture, these statistics are almost to be expected. And our high sugar intake in particular is to blame for much of the problem.
According to registered dietician Vanessa Clarke, with the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, diets that include high amounts of sugar have been shown to increase one’s risk of several chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and even cognitive decline and cancer.
“Sugar provides us with energy in the form of calories. However, we need to be concerned about our intake of free sugars or added sugars as these offer little to no nutritional benefit besides providing calories. In the long term, consuming foods with high quantities of sugar may displace our intake of other foods which may be richer in nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals. This could put us at risk of nutritional deficiencies,” she says.
Addiction is dangerous
Consuming foods rich in added sugars can cause our blood glucose levels to peak and then dip.
“This results in a rollercoaster ride of unstable blood sugar levels because when our blood sugar level dips, we automatically tend to crave more sugar-dense foods. These cravings can often be interpreted as having a sugar addiction when, really by just controlling and managing our blood sugar levels, we can curb future sugar cravings,” Clarke says.
Much like with different fats – good fat and bad fat – there are different types of sugars. And when looking at our diet and the risks associated with a high intake of the sweet substance, Clarke says we should focus on limiting the intake of added sugars.
“Foods which contain added sugars include breakfast cereals, sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks as well as other processed foods. Foods containing natural sugars provide an array of other nutrients whereas foods dense in added sugar often provide little other nutritional benefit,” Clarke says.
These are the foods to avoid:
- Sweet rolls and doughnuts
- Ice cream and some yoghurts
- Sugar-sweetened drinks
How to kick the habit
The way to prevent any of the chronic diseases that come with an uncontrollable and excessive intake of sugar, is to keep up a healthy diet in the long run. But trying to sidestep a major lifestyle disease and being fit and healthy doesn’t necessarily mean that sweetness is completely off limits
Be mindful of the amount you consume. Spread your intake out through the day and try to pair your sugar-dense foods with a food rich in protein as this helps to lower the glycaemic impact of the sweet foods. Diets high in fibre also manage blood glucose levels, so ensuring you eat plenty of fibre-rich foods can be helpful.
Celebrity dietician Andrea du Plessis adds these five tips:
Tip 1: Flush them out
A sweet craving is a lead symptom of dehydration.
• Drink at least six glasses of water per day.
• Instead of water, enjoy a home-made iced and fruit-infused green tea. Chill 2 litres of green tea, made in a pot with 4 teabags. Keep it refrigerated and add fresh ginger or orange slices and berries for a delicious, fruity beverage.
Tip two: Less is more
You can reset your taste buds’ sensitivity to a lower level of sweetness.
• Gradually reduce sugar added to beverages and cereals – the less you use, the less you need.
• Avoid intensely sweet-tasting foods. The less you expose your taste buds to sweet foods, the less you need to appreciate a sweet taste.
Tip three: Fruit is your friend
• Eat a low GI fruit such as an apple, or two peach halves one hour before your sweet craving usually hits. Don’t wait for the sweet craving to arrive! Catch it one hour before its usual peak. Eating the fruit will help balance your glucose levels, thereby reducing the physiological sweet craving trigger.
Tip four: See how low GI you can go
• Start your day with a low GI breakfast such as unsweetened low GI muesli with berries and plain yoghurt. It will help balance your appetite and reduce sweet cravings.
• Snack on a small portion of almonds (2 tablespoons) – research has shown this low GI snack helps control appetite and supports weight loss success.
Tip five: Eat dark chocolate daily
• Research has shown that people who follow a weight-loss diet and include a small portion of dark chocolate daily are more likely to stick to their eating plans.
• Dark chocolate (ideally 85%+ cocoa) is the key as it contains very little sugar, but all the taste you can handle! One small square of a slab is enough for daily use.