Sorry, Ms Poppins, but it appears that a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine redundant. Refined sugars are those ingredients that seem to be present in everything delicious these days, but what tastes so sweet may not be so to your insides!
But what does ‘refined’ sugar mean?
The process of refining basically refers to purification of a substance by removing any unwanted substances to leave a single, pure element for use. The term refined sugar means sugar that has been sourced from sugar cane or sugar beets and refined to the point that it is 99.9% sucrose, which means that it has been stripped of all the other things that make it useful to our body. For all intents and purposes, refined sugar contains no other vitamins, minerals, proteins or fibres. But why is this bad? Well, this is pretty much what is meant by the term “empty calories”. Empty calories are those that we find in foods such as refined sugars and, for all intents and purposes, contain no other nutritional elements such as proteins, vitamins or fibre. This means that the energy we gain from these calories is less-sustainable, and hence more likely to convert into fat because we are less likely to use it.
Dangers of refined sugar
Other than the obvious weight gain factor explained above, sugar rots our teeth. But not only our teeth, unfortunately! What sugar does is lowers the internal pH our blood – making it more acidic. In order to correct this imbalance of blood pH, the body draws minerals such as calcium from our teeth and bones. In the case of excessive refined-sugar consumption, this can be enough to create pores in our teeth and bones, and precipitates things like cavities, gum disease, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Daily sugar consumption, leading to a continuously over-acidic condition of the blood can also affect our vital organs. Sugar, or glucose, is stored in the liver as glycogen before it can be used up by our cells to make energy. However, the liver has a capacity – and when that capacity is reached, it causes the liver to swell like a balloon and return the sugar into the blood in the form of fatty acids.
Where refined sugars hide
Like many other things that are bad for us, cheeky little refined sugars often find hiding spots in places we would never suspect. Additionally, slight derivatives of refined sugar go under different names but can do just as much damage to your body by consuming them all the same.
You might find some of these ingredients on the backs of packaged foods in the supermarket- they may sound innocent, but be warned!
- Molasses – the by-product of refining sugar cane or sugar beet into a viscous, brown liquid. Otherwise known as treacle.
- Corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Fructose (except that which is naturally-occurring in fruit)
- Fruit juice concentrate
Foods to avoid
If you’re trying to kick the habit, here’s a list of foods that contain high amounts of refined sugars that need to be replaced with healthier, more wholesome alternatives!
- Soft drinks – some cans of soft drink can contain up to five teaspoons of refined sugar alone! Think twice about popping open one of these when you feel like being refreshed – go with a sparkling water with a sliver of lemon in it instead! Drinking your calories is one of the quickest and sneakiest way of upping that daily intake.
- Packaged, processed foods – a lot of ready-made meals and packaged foods tend to have high sugar contents due to the preservative effects. Learn to read labels and understand what you’re really eating.
- Fruit juice – especially long-life. Most fruit juices on the market contain enormous volumes of added sugar; sometimes as much as soft drink. Pick out the juices on the shelf that are labelled ‘no added sugar’ to be safe and protect those chompers.
- Diet yoghurt/cream/ice-cream – dairy products that are labelled “99% fat-free!” and what-not can sometimes be deceiving. When fat content is removed from these types of foods, it often takes a lot of the flavour and appeal away from them, so the manufacturers hike the sugar content to compensate. Watch out for those types of yoghurts containing mango or berry flavoured fruit concentrate in them, as these are quite often packed with sugars as well. Sometimes it’s not quite worth going fat-free!