Cutting back on sweet

Health: Curbing sugar intake can improve health

By: By Jessica Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014 06:00 am

Dr. Stella Jansen van Rensburg at Papillon Medical Aesthetics pours a bag of sugar outside of her downtown Okotoks clinic.
Dr. Stella Jansen van Rensburg at Papillon Medical Aesthetics pours a bag of sugar outside of her downtown Okotoks clinic.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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It may only be a week since Valentine’s Day, but cutting back on sugar is something that can benefit your health in the long-term.

It’s a sweet addition for almost anything, from soft drinks and baked goods, to a favourite chocolate and candy treat, but medical and health professionals recommend keeping sugar intake to a minimum.

“Sugar has a negative metabolic effect on your system, on your body,” said Dr. Stella Jansen van Rensburg at Papillon Medical Aesthetics in Okotoks. “It’s not only empty calories. Every time you ingest sugar it causes an insulin response. Insulin is an inflammatory hormone and that is why sugar is linked to so many diseases, because it causes inflammation in the body.”

For some people, it’s extremely difficult to cut back, Rensburg said.

“If that’s the case, just cutting back already a good start,” she said. “What I suggest for my patients is avoid it, not to drink any pop, to keep their foods as natural as possible.”

She suggests getting sugars from whole foods, instead of by then teaspoon.

“If that’s an issue, a lot of people manage to cut back initially and that will also help,” Rensburg said. “For optimum health, if you want to be really healthy long-term, you should cut out refined sugar completely and eat what’s naturally available in whole foods.”

The American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugars, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons.

There is no specific limit on how much sugar you should consume in a day, according to Health Canada.

“I don’t know if a limit would help people,” Rensburg said. “In this day and age, people need to educate themselves on what’s healthy and empower themselves with knowledge rather than wait for recommendations.”

The average Canadian consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar a day, or 21.4 per cent of their daily caloric intake, according to a 2004 report by Statistics Canada. That doesn’t include naturally-occurring sugars in fruits. More than a third, or 35 per cent, of the sugar that Canadians consumed came from the ‘other’ foods category, which include packaged and prepared foods, the report said.

According to the Statistics Canada report, 85 per cent of Canadians’ sugar intake comes from other sources. Beverages including milk, fruit juice, soft drinks and fruit drinks account for 44 per cent of the average daily sugar intake of children and adolescents, and 35 per cent of adults’ daily sugar intake. Sugar derived from candy and chocolate accounted for 10 per cent of children and adolescents’ daily intake and only five per cent of adults’.

Foods high in sugar, fat and salt trigger the brain’s release of dopamine and endorphins.

“Sugar lights up the same areas of the brain as cocaine or heroin,” said Rensburg. “There’s a definite addiction pattern with sugar because we do get a high from it.”

Calories from added sugar are associated with “significantly increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality,” according to a study published in the journal Jama Internal Medicine two weeks ago.

“We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD mortality,” said study author Quanhe Yang of the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet, people are often unaware of the hidden sugars in the foods they’re eating, said

Rachelle Fleurant, personal trainer at Motion Fitness in Okotoks.

“People’s idea of what’s healthy isn’t so healthy sometimes,” she said. “You could be eating yogurt with no added sugar, but it contains artificial sweetener instead.”

There are hidden sugars people should be on the lookout for, the personal trainer said.

“Any ingredient with those at the end, like fructose, is always bad,” she said.

These can include fructose, glucose-fructose or high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, honey, cane juice, and syrups including corn syrup, malt syrup, golden syrup and refiner’s syrup, according to The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

Fleurant, whose background includes holistic nutrition and a degree in nutritional health from the University of Arizona, said sugar addiction is common, but there are various factors that play into the decision to eat the sweet stuff.

“Sometimes it’s environmental,” she said. “Sometimes it’s stress, or fatigue.”

“Cutting sugar cold turkey is always hard to do,” Fleurant said. “If you can’t go a day without eating a piece of chocolate, switch it to dark chocolate or something less refined.”


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