Rants about food, because we just can't let things go.

Eat right, stay brilliant.

Monday 10 March 2014

EAT RIGHT - Breakfast: Sugar

Bringing together the best of the industry to discuss sugar. Good sugars, bad sugars, the causes for confusion and why it matters.

The demonisation of sugars in the press is causing quite a stir. On the one hand, you could argue that it’s a good thing as people are starting to think about their sugar intake and the implications it can have on one’s health. Yet on the other, we find that mixed messages and opinions have caused for a lot of confusion when it comes to the sweet stuff. 

You know this is so when the lifestyle advisors in the tabloids feature not only low fat dietary guidance but also a sensationalist and evangelical anti sugar scoop within the same section. The demonising process is often, sadly, a rather all-embracing, crowd-pleasing selection of simple sweeping statements. Just as all FAT is bad, and makes you fat/die, all types of SUGAR are now considered really bad and will make you spotty, blotchy, moody, bad tempered, fat, ill and of course, die.

As Rude Health co-founder, Nick Barnard, says it; get ready to be afraid and, of course, worried, about sugar. Here’s some cold turkey advice from the popular press for all of us sugar addicts (sinners): wine contains sugar, so that’s off limits. Honey? Bad. Tonic water? Switch to slimline. Diet fizzy drinks? Find your zero sugar fix out there. Careful: bread contains sugar so you jolly well can’t have any. 

This is of course absurd, yet inevitable. Be ready for the sugar damnation brigade to take over, and for the low sugar or sugar-free sweeteners (natural like Stevia, or synthetic like sucralose) to take the moral high ground. But we will all suffer, as usual, from this simplistic evangelism. Just as not all fats are equal – there are good fats and bad fats – sugar is not a homogenous substance.

We brought the best of the industry together to discuss their views on sugar at London's brand new healthy cafe, the Good Life EateryThe brains round the table ranged from Women’s Health writer Amy Grier, author and health coach Laura Bond, blogger of the moment Ella Woodward, creator and founder of Honestly Healthy, Natasha Corrett and yoga guru and nutrition coach Jo Arthur.  Also represented were REN skincare by Marielle Alix, Trekstock founder Sophie Epstone alone with their nutritionist Alex Newte Hardie. As well as journalist and author Nicole Mowbray, and Waitorse Kitchen’s Eleanor Maidment.

However different everyone’s opinion, the thing that united us was a commitment to better education and to encourage people to think harder about their sugar consumption and the alternatives that are out there. It’ll be a long road, but with more discussions like these and influencers getting behind the issue we can move in the right direction, one step at a time.

After enjoying our delicious ‘clean and lean’ breakfast we stepped out into the sunshine feeling energized and inspired, we were definitely up for more debates, discussions, eating right, and staying brilliant.

Recent articles in the press:

Sugar and fitness – Feeding your muscles and hardworking body
Sugar and beauty – Skin, beautiful starts on the inside, hair
Sugar and illness – POTS, Cancer
Sugar and energy – spikes and lows
Sugar and health and nutrition – looking after your health, organs

Questions for the table:
How the press understands sugar and are these the right messages?
What is one’s understanding of sugar? Refined table sugar vs Fruits. What does the message sugar-free mean?
What are the primary issues surrounding sugar?
In what order would you order the nutritionally values of the sugars displayed on the table: 
Agave, Maple, Sugar Cubes, Honey, Fruit, Rice Malt Syrup?
Is everyone the same in how they’re effected by sugar?
Is all sugar the same?

Jo Arthur teaches Power Yoga and Yin Yoga and is a certified Nutrition & Health Coach. She swears by doing everything in moderation. Fruit is great when you need a pick me up. However, if one is ill with cancer or other inflammatory diseases, which are fed by sugar, than any kind of sugar can be an issue.

Natasha Corrett from Honestly Healthy doesn’t agree with any refined foods at all. Part of the problem for her is that when foods become fashionable, demand increases, therefore supply has to meet demand by refining and over processing food that was originally wholesome. E.g. Agave. Now we have to look for raw agave to ensure it's the real deal. She firmly believes that it’s all about educating the mind and the palate and giving yourself a break sometimes when it comes to the sweet stuff. Otherwise your life will be based around willpower, which is completely unsustainable.

Rude Health co-founder Nick Barnard is our chief ranter and isn't afraid of standing up for real, honest food - the way it should be. He's got a thing or two to say about sugar, read all about it in his blog post; Not All Sugars Are The Same.

Co-founder of Rude Health, Camilla Barnard, sharing her views above. At Rude Health we vehemently reject any refined sugars. The fruit we choose to use in our cereals are just fruit pieces dried and nothing else. Our more indulgent cereals and granolas are sweetened with a drizzle of honey or date syrup and sometimes we use, sparingly, rapadura sugar, which is unrefined cane juice sugar, and the same as jaggery – in the Oatys and 7 Grain granolas. We don’t use any sugar or sweeteners in our drinks, not even Agave. We also cleverly spice our Ultimate Muesli, Spiced Apple Granola and Fruity Date with a hint of cinnamon.

 "I would never describe myself as being sugar-free, because to an extent, there is sugar in everything - veggies, milk, nuts. I'm low-sugar and believe that people should be informed with the knowledge of what sugar is so they can choose the degree to which they want to cut back; a degree which works for them and their lifestyle. To me, there's no point saying one type of sugar is ok and one type is not or that it's allowed sometimes and not others. It confuses the message. Sugar - whether that's natural or refined - does a very similar thing inside the body. That's not to say that it's 'bad' to eat honey or agave - nothing is 'bad' - but it is still a form of sugar, one that some may choose to eat and some (like me) may not. I think we need consistency on the message and not to impart value or meaning into things because their image is somehow more palatable, wholesome or natural. Also, I want everyone to eat what they want. I'm not fanatical - every now and again I'll have a glass of wine or whatever - but I am honest with myself about what I'm doing. I only do low sugar because I want to and the results have changed my life, to me after two years, it's not a chore or boring or hard. It doesn't have to be a fad. I know lots of people who do it now and don't feel deprived by it, done right it's actually quite luxurious and enjoyable." Nicole Mowbray (above left) is the author of Sweet Nothing (available soon). Follow her on Twitter for more. 

Eleanor Maidment (above right) is the editor of Waitrose Kitchen magazine. She found the way other foods such as fruits and alcohol are converted into sugars in your body very confusing, and could only imagine how the rest of the population were feeling about this issue. 

Ella Woodward from DeliciouslyElla blog feels that “everyone has some form of sweet tooth, so it’s really important that we don’t feel deprived of sugar when you’re starting to eat healthy, just try and reach for the most natural sugars" - fruit, raw honey, dates and maple syrup are her favourite options.

Amy Grier (left) is Women's Health Magazine's Features Editor. She feels that the demonisation of sugar isn't the answer. Cutting out sugar completely is not sustainable for a lot of the population. Instead, we need to educate ourselves about making better choices – small changes in our diets will make a bigger impact.

Health Coach Laura Bond’s mum unfortunately had cancer. This when Laura realised how bad sugar can be for inflammatory diseases. She raised the very important issue that there is not enough awareness about the neurotoxicity of these sugar substitutes - it’s crazy to order a diet drink when you’re claiming you’re off sugar. 

"I think it pays to be aware of just how much sugar we're consuming - especially in things like sauces and soups - and the reasons we reach for sweet treats in the first place (are we under stress? do we need more sleep? is it purely habit?...). I think must of us (including myself) could do with cutting down on our daily intake, but  I do believe there is a marked difference between the sugar you find in diet coke (aspartame) and Heinz tomato ketchup (HFCS) and the natural sugars in blueberries and honey. The former, industrialised, artificial sugars have been shown to be neurotoxic and are processed differently by the body." Laura Bond

Sophie Epstone, founder of Trekstock, believes it is all about balance. Half of cancer cases are caused by lifestyle choices and diet. Trekstock’s goal is to work towards a healthier, balanced lifestyle.

Alex Newte Hardie is the Nutritionist for Trekstock. She helps educate people about what’s happening in their body. Not just what we crave mentally, but also the glucose and quick fix of energy our body craves. "We are well-adapted to tolerate and utilise small amounts of sugar from whole food sources e.g. fruit/vegetables/some grains - in fact we actively need a little sugar for brain function and other bodily processes. Understanding the role sugar plays in our body and how much sugar we need before it interferes with the subtle biochemical balance of the body is key, alongside investing more into being mindful of our emotional and mental health, which left unchecked can be key drivers for over-consumption of sugar." 

Marielle Alix (right) is the head of Beauty Therapy at REN Skincare. She finds it difficult to find proper wholesome sugars. Even maple syrup can't be trusted at times. She's also noticed that sugar can affect the quality of her patients skin. 

"In my industry I meet many people experiencing various skin issues including adult acne.  As a naturopathic nutritionist I usually trace it back to hormone imbalance and one of the main culprits is irregular blood sugar levels and overproduction of insulin.  Clients are usually surprised to find out about the interconnectedness of their lifestyle / nutrition with the health of their skin but they are open to the idea.  All the great changes on our planet have always started with minorities and swapping the white stuff with wholesome mineral-rich sweeteners is no different.  The journey is one of raising awareness, educating others whilst showing others that recipes using the best quality natural sugar are actually as delicious.

Carbohydrates is another great general subject.  Most people now understand that wholemeal tends to be better than white but what people do not know much about is how the processing affects the end result.  And my latest topic of fascination is the process of natural fermentation – vegetables, dairy (everything can be fermented) and how this can help heal our guts (another culprit in adult acne)." Marielle Alix

For reference: 

Types of Sugar

Fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose are all types of sugar molecules. Fructose and glucose are single sugars while lactose, maltose and sucrose are double sugars.

Fructose or fruit sugar occurs naturally in fruits, some root vegetables, cane sugar and honey and is the sweetest of the sugars. It is one of the components of sucrose or table sugar.
This sugar is broken down in a person's liver, which turns it into glucose, or when there is sufficient glucose available, into glycogen, and then if necessary to fat.

Glucose or grape sugar occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices and is the primary product of
photosynthesis. Most ingested carbohydrates are converted into glucose during digestion and it is the form of sugar that is transported around the bodies of animals in the bloodstream. It can be manufactured from starch by the addition of enzymes or in the presence of acids. Glucose syrup is a liquid form of glucose that is widely used in the manufacture of foodstuffs. It is the sugar that a body prefers to use for energy.

Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk. A molecule of lactose is formed by the combination of a molecule of galactose with a molecule of glucose. It is broken down when consumed into its constituent parts by the enzyme
lactase during digestion. Children have this enzyme but some adults no longer form it and they are unable to digest lactose.

Maltose is formed during the germination of certain grains, the most notable one being barley, which is converted into malt, the source of the sugar's name. A molecule of maltose is formed by the combination of two molecules of glucose. It is less sweet than glucose, fructose or sucrose.

Sucrose is found in the stems of sugar cane and roots of sugar beet. It also occurs naturally alongside fructose and glucose in other plants, in particular fruits and some roots such as carrots. The different proportions of sugars found in these foods determines the range of sweetness experienced when eating them. A molecule of sucrose is formed by the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of fructose.

How our body reacts to Sugar

Energy Spike and Crash
Consuming lots of sugar causes a huge rush of glucose into the blood, and the pancreas releases extra insulin to turn the glucose into glycogen, which the liver and muscles use up. 
After the sugar rush, blood sugar levels drop dramatically, triggering the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to activate stored sugar supplies. Stress hormones raise our heart rate, make our stomachs clench in anticipation of an attack, and leave us shaky and nauseated once our bodies realize there’s no danger to respond to. 

Lowered Immunity
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people’s white blood cell counts were reduced for up to five hours after they ate one hundred grams of sugar. 

Fat Conversion
If there’s any glycogen left over after your liver and muscles become full—and chances are, there will be, unless you were physically active before eating lots of sugar and your raised metabolism can burn through all of it—that extra glycogen gets converted into fat. People mistakenly believe that eating fat-free foods prevents weight gain, but since they’re usually supplemented by extra sugar, those foods can be just as fattening. 

Eat right, stay brilliant. 


  1. Argh Sugar. A long and complicated debate. The key, is I think educating people so they are empowered to make their own decisions about sugar, what works for their body and especially knowing where to make educated choices - for example avoiding it when it is hidden in healthy food, and choosing alternatives. Keep up the fantastic work!

  2. This is so interesting, thanks for posting. I've been really exploring the theme of sugar in diet recently - whether I can give it up completely, and what the alternatives are. I too get very confused about what 'sugar' is good or bad - agave was deemed good but it's high in fructose which makes it bad?! Fruit is almost impossible to give up but do we need to? If we don't touch refined sugars at all then isn't a little fruit every day fine? Fascinating stuff and I shall continue to explore!