The demonising of sugar has led to so much #nutribabble that it is hard to know what to do.
The answer is straightforward. Just stop all added sugar in your diet and food choices - especially if you are over 50. If you don't stop, you are adding additional risk to everything that is going to happen to your health as you age.
Added sugar is going to make you fatter, and lead to a higher risk of diabetes and in turn, a higher risk of limb amputations, blindness, kidney failure and dementia.
You can sugarcoat it all you like, but you cannot escape the consequences. If you want to see your grandchildren for longer, then the simplest change that you can make to your diet is to eliminate added sugar.
By accident, I made this choice in my late teens.
From time to time, I had wondered why we ate this white gunk on our breakfast cereal every morning and plonked spoonfuls into our tea. But I continued doing it - two teaspoons of sugar on my breakfast Weetbix every morning.
In the late 1960s, my new girlfriend took me to meet her parents. Her mother offered me a cup of tea. "Where's the sugar?" I asked, glancing around the table.
Her mother's answer stunned me - "We don't use any added sugar, only for cooking".
I didn't know what to say, as I had never thought of this before. While I was digesting this revelation, she offered to get sugar from the cooking cupboard for me. I declined, and said in a half-convinced voice - "maybe I'll try without sugar".
The idea made immediate sense, but the practicality of how I could enjoy a cup of tea was confusing me.
The tea tasted disgusting, and I could hardly drink any. But I stuck with this fantastic new idea of no added sugar. I learnt to add water and dilute tea and coffee, and after about 3 years, I could drink them at full strength.
The first benefits were nothing to do with health, but that I could now experience the real flavour of tea and coffee - and milk. I could taste the natural sweetness of milk for the first time.
When you add sugar, you are adding empty calories. It has no food value. It is merely excess energy which is turned into fat. In the process of being turned into fat, it overloads your metabolic system and in particular your insulin response system.
It is this constant demand for insulin which ultimately leads to Type 2 diabetes. That is something that you want to avoid at all costs - believe me, I know, I have diabetes.
Here are two common myths about sugar, and giving up added sugar, that you need to know.
Myth #1 - Sugars are sugars
The "sugar activists", including groups of doctors and nutritionists, claim that "sugar is sugar" no matter what the source and that it should all be avoided.
They use phrases such as "all sugar is the same once it is in your body". Therefore, they say, we should avoid not only added sugar but all food with "high" sugar. They publish charts with bananas and other fruits listed in the same "to be avoided" categories as Coke and sports drinks.
That's a lot of baloney.
This kind of advice makes giving up added sugar far harder than it already is. Sugar in natural foods, e.g. fruit, is not only bound to other compounds in the fruit, but it also reacts differently in our digestive system. See here (quoted below).
A medium-sized banana contains 14 grams of sugar. A serving of Oreos (three cookies) also contains 14 grams of sugar. Since they both have the same total amount of sugar, does it really matter if one is naturally occurring while the other is added?
Here is the bottom line: cutting out added sugar does not mean that you need to cut out any healthy, wholesome natural foods.
I eat several pieces of fruit each day, including bananas, mangos, apples, and oranges. I eat dark chocolate regularly, and I enjoy chocolate croissants and other cakes and sweets from time to time. Cutting out added sugar does not mean giving up your life!
That said, I pay a lot more attention to labels and I reject as many processed products as possible which contain added sugar.
Myth #2 - You can exercise it off
A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar (virtually all of which are added sugar). That's 156 calories of added sugar—nearly 8 per cent of your total daily calories if you're on a 2,000 calorie a day diet.
The average American consumes a staggering 88 grams of added sugar per day.
In Australia, under-18s consume far more sugar than the recommended amount, much of it from what they drink. Boys aged 14-18 consume more than 90g of free sugars a day — a third of it sourced from soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks.
To burn this amount of sugar our average American and our Australia under-18s would have to run more than 52km every week!
Here's the weekly exercise that you will need to put in if you have one of the drinks below every day:
If you are over 50, and consuming sugary drinks, foods and sweets, then you are probably consuming about half of the above, especially if you are adding sugar to your tea and coffee.
That means that to avoid adding weight, just from the sugar, you need to be doing half of the exercise in the above table. Are you walking 26km a week? I doubt it.
Remember, this amount of exercise only burns off your sugar habit, not any other extra calories that you may be consuming.
Between 50 and 60, you may not notice too much of a weight gain from the empty calories of sugar. You're probably adding about 1kg a year to your weight - not too bad.
Unfortunately, at this age, your skeletal muscles are wasting away, and their weight is being replaced by fat. So, you are gaining more fat than you think. This extra fat is unhelpful if you want to live longer better.
Each of those extra calories from sugar are converted into triglycerides, which is stored as "fat". The biggest problem from extra stored triglycerides is that they end up in your arteries where they build up into plaque.
The buildup of plaque can narrow the arteries and decrease their elasticity. This, in turn, can lead to a variety of cardiovascular problems, such as increased blood pressure, coronary heart disease, peripheral artery disease, and even heart attack.
> Read my post: Will you choose to live 5 years longer or to look good in a t-shirt but cannot do up your shoelaces?
Cutting out added sugar is the first step to take to reduce the increase in the percentage of fat in your body. After that comes exercise, but that's another story.
It won't be easy - make a plan
Starting today, take steps to reduce your consumption of directly added sugar to zero, and to minimise indirectly added sugar. That means reducing or moderating your intake of sweets, sugary drinks, and sweetened cakes and breads.
It won't be easy. Typically you may have headaches, and feel a decreased motivation to do work, a lack of contentment and ability to concentrate, cravings for sugary drinks, and lower ratings of overall wellbeing.
These will pass. How long will these discomforts take to pass? I have no idea - that is a complicated equation.
I suggest that you plan your withdrawal in a way which maximises your chances of success.
That could be cold-turkey or could be by eliminating added sugar in steps over 12 months, for example. You might cut out sugary drinks, or added sugar in tea or coffee, and plan over time to phase out other sugary foods.
The end result will be worth it.
You will feel healthier, better able to combat obesity, and will have unmasked new taste sensations previously dulled by overloads of sugar.
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building body-shaping training for people our age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter