Updated: Feb 15, 2020
You may have noticed that sugar-being-the-bad-guy has become a bit of trend recently in magazines and health headlines. While not usually one to jump on a bandwagon, I do feel strongly about this one, mainly because I have been trying to eliminate sugar from my own diet since 2010. This is something I have been casually researching from a wide range of sources since 2010 and gradually adjusting my lifestyle around so what advice I offer in this post, I also live by myself! You will notice the info offered in this post is fairly basic, so for more comprehensive research, check out the sources at the bottom of this page.
As a midwife and a sugar-free advocate, I can safely recommend processed sugar be eliminated from anyone’s diet, especially pregnant women, for the simple fact that:
PROCESSED SUGAR OFFERS NO NUTRITIONAL VALUE TO THE BODY.
Processed sugar (sucrose) is half glucose (fuel that our body runs on) and half fructose (a toxin). Eventually, everything we eat is broken down into glucose so this fuel can come from any other food in ample doses. Fructose on the other hand, induces a series of toxic effects on the body while stripping it of vital nutrients and minerals and at the same time, creating an addictive association in the brain equivalent to opiates (like morphine). The more we eat, the more we want and the less healthy we become.
For a brief report, check out this 60 Minutes article: Sweet Poison
In my antenatal clinic I meet women every week who have worked hard to cut out alcohol, cut down on caffeine, stop smoking, drink more water and eat better than they usually would while pregnant. Some women start this process before they have even conceived, and go to great lengths to avoid toxins in their physical environment. The suggestion then, of also eliminating sugar from your diet is often seen as an over cautious step for paleos and vegans. Most people don’t consider the amount of sugar they eat to be excessive, and if they are already watching their diets (a commitment which doesn’t often last an entire pregnancy) they figure they will have enough self-control to regulate their own health and wellbeing, thank you very much! But here is what our sugar-addicted generation is unaware of:
The World Health Organisation currently recommends sugar intake be limited to one and a half tablespoons per day, to prevent chronic disease. That’s about the same as two pieces of whole fruit.
In comparison, the average Kiwi currently consumes over half a cup of sugar per day. That statement might not scare you if you are used to eating what you think is a small amount of sugar each day and don’t think it is affecting you much, but these statistics should (I apologise, they are American stats, NZ/Australian statistics do not date back this far):
Average processed sugar consumption over a 300 year period:
1700: the average person consumed around 1.8 kgs of sugar per year.
1800: the average person consumed around 8.2 kgs of sugar per year.
1900: average sugar consumption had increased to a whopping 41 kgs per year.
In 2005, Kiwis were consuming a jaw dropping average of 50 kgs of processed sugar each!
In 2009, more than 50 percent of Americans consumed a heart-stopping 82 kgs of sugar.
THE PROBLEM WITH MODERATION IS: EVERYONE CALLS WHAT THEY ARE DOING MODERATION.
If you are still not convinced, stop right now, go and check out your pantry. Look for hidden sugars: specifically check the nutritional tables of your favourite cereal, spreads, snack bars, most sauces & dressings, yoghurt, favourite drinks, lets not forget anything with the words “low fat”, and don’t be afraid to also check out the amount of sugar in savoury foods like crackers, potato chips, even frozen pizzas. A healthy guideline is 3 gms of sugar or less per 100 gms. Most of us are eating way more sugar than we realise, because most of us are not aware that we are eating it.
So, if you are coming to the realisation that our generation is eating more sugar than anyone else in history, well done. But if you’re like me, you’re probably not yet convinced that this is affecting you, or your family personally. Here’s some info to make you think again:
Fructose reduces serum folate (folic acid) levels in women. Folic Acid is important for the development of your baby’s spinal cord – that’s why the NZ Ministry of Health midwives recommend taking it as a supplement in pregnancy. Depleted serum folate can lead to conditions such as spina bifida. For more info, click here.
Each time you eat fructose, your immune system is suppressed for approximately 6 hours, as processed sugar reduces the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by 40%. During pregnancy, your body’s immune system is already suppressed, so eating sugar will make you even more vulnerable to infection, illness, bacteria and viruses. Multiple times a day.
Fructose promotes inflammation in the body. What pregnant woman wants to be more uncomfortable than they already are, really!
Fructose feeds cancer cells. It also suppresses your appetite regulation hormones, so you can no longer tell when you are full. In fact, research shows that fructose consumption leads to one of my favourite things in life – food seeking behaviour! This means you overeat more easily when you are eating sugar on a regular basis. Without processed sugar, our brains are much more efficient at signalling our bodies to stop eating.
Processed sugar is concentrated amounts of empty calories. This means, sugar makes you fat but unlike other food groups, it offers the body NO nutrients at all! Weight gain is a difficult subject for many body-conscious pregnant women to discuss, but it is important because excess weight gain in pregnancy is associated with increased risks for pretty much everything: gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, prolonged labour, emergency intervention in labour, anaesthetic complications, fetal shoulder dystocia, varying health complications in newborn babies…the list is endless. Unless you are drastically underweight, the recommended weight gain for Kiwi mums varies between 6 and 16 kgs, depending on your BMI (Body Mass Index). To physically grow a healthy baby, your dietary requirements increase in almost every category, so healthy women can expect to gain this weight while eating a balanced diet during pregnancy. Avoiding processed sugar while pregnant will decrease unnecessary weight gain, and help steer you towards healthier foods with a high nutritional value. Win!
Research around the effects of giving up sugar is very limited – lets face it, most of our generation is offended by the suggestion! – the most noticeable, and therefore most commonly reported benefits so far include weight loss, increased immunity, sustained energy levels, fewer headaches, less period pain, balanced moods and more stable sleep patterns.
For people keen to eliminate sugar from their lifestyles, there are some basic recommendations to keep in mind. Firstly, most people are aware that fructose is found in fruit, and fruit is good for us. What is also found in fruit in directly proportional amounts, is exactly the right amount of fiber and water our bodies need to metabolise the fructose back out of our systems – nature is a genius. Current dietary guidelines recommend two pieces of whole fruit per day as part of a balanced diet. That’s your WHO recommended sugar limit gone folks, sorry.
Secondly, there is evidence to suggest that sugar alternatives like artificial sweeteners could also be very bad for our bodies. Do not swap sugar for artificial sweeteners without informing yourself first.
Thirdly, ‘natural sugars’ like honey, agave syrup, palm sugar, fruit juice, apple sauce or dried fruits are higher in fructose than processed sugar – don’t be fooled by these alternatives they are likely to increase the toxic effects of fructose on your body, not reduce them.
For more comprehensive info…
For in-depth information, research, and fully informed quitting advice (trust me, it’s flippin’ hard!), I recommend:
“Sweet Poison. Why Sugar Makes Us Fat” by David Gillespie, or any of his other books on the effects of fructose.
Professor of Paediatrics Dr. Robert Lustig offers an informative lecture entitled “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” which is available on youtube and has had more than 3,000,000 views. The lecture is quite scientific at times, and 90 minutes long, so an equally informative short version is also available on youtube, here.
“This is your brain on sugar” Research conducted at UCLA shows high fructose diets contribute to memory loss and learning impairment.
Yale study shows fructose is linked to overeating.