Most of us instinctively know what’s healthy and what’s not, so on those days (or sometimes weeks or months) when our diets somehow spin out of control, not only do we experience the direct nutritional impact (fluctuating blood sugar levels, poor concentration, restlessness, increased stress levels and weight gain), the guilt we feel over losing control of our diets just makes the whole situation so much worse. The thing is, not only do we make bad food choices when we’re stressed, these poor food choices actually stress us out more – making us feel even more guilty.
When you’re under stress, your brain sets off your “fight or flight” response. This triggers a release of stress hormones including adrenalin and cortisol, both of which actively encourage you to crave fast-release, high-energy sugar-filled, fatty and highly-refined / processed carbohydrate foods (white bread, rice or pastas, which all behave like sugars in the body). This sugar and fat craving is great from an evolutionary perspective (e.g. running away from a predator) however, in our modern, crazy-hectic world we are surrounded both by constant stress, and way, way, way too many sugary, fatty and highly-processed carbohydrate foods that provide no nutritional value and actually just make our stress levels worse.
Strip added sugars from your diet
To regain control of your eating patterns and keep you sugar intake at a sweet (not sour) level, start by assessing how much added sugar you’re consuming. Both the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the World Health Organization recommend limiting added sugars, but working out how much added sugar foods contain is often more misleading than it should be.
Understand total vs. added sugars
Nutritional labels in Australia aren’t legally required to disclose added sugars, only total sugars. Total sugars include sugars that are naturally-occurring in fresh fruit or dairy (which provide vital accompanying nutrients and are protective in many chronic diseases). Research constantly confirms that health problems associated with sugars are caused by added sugars, not naturally-occurring sugars in fruits and dairy.
From mid-2018, US labelling laws will require food manufacturers to list both total and added sugars on their nutrition labels. However, currently in Australia there is no definitive way to work out how much added sugar a food contains. What’s worse, because food manufacturers know that we’re trying to avoid sugar, they’ll sneak in all kinds of ingredients that may not sound like sugars, but they really are.
|Ingredients you’ll find on labels that are actually sugar|
|Agave nectar / syrup||Dextrose||Maltose|
|Barley malt||Evaporated cane juice||Maple syrup|
|Blackstrap molasses||Fruit juice||Muscovado|
|Brown sugar||Fruit juice concentrate||Palm sugar|
|Carob syrup||Golden syrup||Powdered sugar|
|Caster sugar||Grape sugar / syrup||Rapadura|
|Coconut sugar||High fructose corn syrup||Raw sugar|
|Coffee sugar crystals||Honey||Rice syrup|
|Confectioner’s sugar||Icing sugar||Sucrose|
|Corn syrup||Invert sugar||Treacle|
|Date sugar / syrup||Lactose||Turbinado|
|List compiled by Choice|
Practical tips to beat the added sugar cycle:
- Don’t replace sugars with artificial or even naturally intense sweeteners (e.g. stevia, agave). These contain significantly less kilojoules than sugar, but when you eat sweet foods your brain expects a sugar hit and this will actually boost your craving for sugar.
- Limit your added sugar intake. The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10% (and ideally aim for 5% or less) of total energy intake.
- Read labels for added sugars. The higher the sugary ingredient is to the top of the ingredients list, the more added sugars the food contains.
- Plan ahead and don’t wait until the last minute to eat. If you’re hungry, grab a piece of fresh fruit before you make a decision about lunch/dinner or head out to the supermarket. Even this small boost in healthy blood sugars, fibre, vitamins and minerals can reduce your stress levels, help you make healthier food choices and regain control of your appetite.
- Ensure your meals are macronutrient-balanced for protein, slow-release complex carbohydrates, fibre and healthy fats to keep your appetite in-check and your stress levels under control.
Kristen Beck is the Nutritionist behind ENE-CHI fresh meal nutrition programs. Each ENE-CHI nutrition program is perfectly balanced for kilojoules, protein, carbohydrates, fats, fibre and limits sugars and sodium. To find out more about ENE-CHI nutrition programs click here.