Sugar: Food for Thought in February 2017
I have an attitude problem when it comes to healthy eating. I’m too lazy to even contemplate planning a week of it. The phrase ‘meal prep’ sends shivers down my spine. I’m not exaggerating! I actually feel sick when Tupperware filled with cold pasta and tuna and the like appears. Vom.
But, as usual, the joke’s on me. I spend ridiculous amounts of money on food on the go and often without the satisfaction of knowing I’m eating healthily. I’ve been working in the same practice now for just over three and a half years and I used to joke that I brought my lunch to work 1.5 times per year but now that average has been further reduced as it’s been over a year now! (The 0.5 part refers to a time I brought in leftover seafood pasta only to spill half of it en route from my car to the fridge: Michelle and bringing in lunch is just not meant to be!)
Nobody ever went to bed regretting a day of eating well and, as a healthy diet is imperative for overall health, I’ve vowed to up the ante with my nutrition henceforth. I’d like to maintain balance in the process. If Audrey Hepburn ate chocolate and pasta every day than so can I!
Food art and styling have taken over social media. Smartphones have revolutionised this phenomenon. Such a relief not to have to locate a camera, take a photo, drive to a pharmacy and leave the film in to be developed, collect the prints in a couple of days and then exhibit them to friends and family and anyone elso who’d like a goo… har har. Late to the party, I’ve only recently begun to snap the odd food shot. I’m aware that nothing irks many people more than pausing to take a #foodporn shot. Many of you will be relieved to know that the overwhelming majority of my snapping does zero justice to the chef and so ends up in the (iPhone photo album) bin. But I have to say I do enjoy the moreish ones that spring up on the Instagram feeds of more talented photographers.
Apart from the food art/styling onslaught, the media is awash with nutribabble and conflicting reports and it’s difficult to know where to start. Food is obviously too broad a topic to tackle in a single short post so I’ll leave you with some thoughts on sugar which is an area I’m going to tackle as a priority. I’ll have a look at more specific topics in due course when I’m a smug eater of whole, unprocessed food with generous helpings of greens, healthy fats, protein at every meal yada yada.
Implicated in everything from life-threatening heart disease and diabetes to skin issues and sneaky weight gain, excess sugar has always been bad news. Like millions across the globe, I am addicted to sugar and can eat superhuman amounts of it in one session. I can’t stock excess food containing high amounts of refined sugar in the house for fear I’ll inhale it all in one sitting. I’m the mouse in those experiments, permanently activating my brain’s reward system! My neighbour kindly left over half a tray of leftover sticky toffee pudding last week. FYI this is the precise kind of leftover food with which I’m wholly on board! My darling friend Hilary insisted I bring the whole lot to the table as I was annoying her with my toing and froing to procure yet another ‘mini-slice’. I refused several times as I believed each mini-slice was going to be my last. But, low and behold, less than an hour later the tray was clear. It was delicious Conor – thanks a mill! (I obviously didn’t drop the tray back straight away, lest he think I was a complete pig. Also, there is zero chance he’d ever stumble across this blog post!)
My endgame is to embrace a lower-sugar lifestyle rather than cut it out in a totalitarian way. Here are a few pointers I’ll endeavour to apply:
- Be mindful of sugar intake. Examine food labels for hidden sugars if you cannot avoid processed food. The World Health Organisation recommends that only 5% of your daily calories derive from added sugars; this equates to approx. 5-6 teaspoons (25g) for women, and 7-8 (35g) for men. Remember to factor in alcohol intake here! However, don’t fixate on or demonise sugar. Yes, we’d all be better off with minimal amounts of it but total deprivation is likely to lead to excessive indulgence. Small servings of sugar here and there will not doom you to infirmity.
- Consider your cravings and substitute wherever possible. For instance, instead of milk chocolate, try a darker version – 70% cacao and upwards. It usually takes a smaller amount to satisfy a craving and it doesn’t perpetuate cravings in the way other chocolate does. If dark chocolate has never grabbed you in the past, I’d recommend you try again with Lindt (my perennial fav!) dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt. Nom! If you crave something sweet after your dinner, try a peppermint tea. I also keep meaning to try makeup maestro Bobbi Brown’s hack: grapefruit with ground cinnamon sprinkled on top. It might do the trick.
- But don’t plump for artificial sweeteners such as aspartane, sucralose, acesulfame K, saccharin, xylitol, sorbital et al! The prospect of zero calories may be inviting but they just encourage your taste buds, thereby perpetuating your cravings for the sweet stuff.
- Look after yourself! Everything you do or omit to do impacts on everything else! Eat well: as well as sprinkling every plate with some fruit/salad/veg, incorporate small servings of healthy fats (from nuts, avocado, salmon and so on), lean protein and slow-release carbs into each meal/snack to promote satiety.
Sleep well. Manage your stress. Sleep deprivation and stress wreak havoc with your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, resulting raised cortisol (‘stress hormone’) levels, exhaustion and sugar cravings. Regular exercise will result in better sleep, reduced stress and will also remove sugar from your bloodstream: #winning! The endorphin boost may also reduce your reliance chocolate, bon bons and ice-cream!
So far, so common sense. Let the journey begin…
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