'Hidden sugars in processed foods are dangerously addictive – opt for fruits, vegetables and pulses instead'

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By Joanne Reid Rodrigues

IT was announced last week that five million people in the UK have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In all probability there are many more with the condition who are undiagnosed. Like high blood pressure, it’s a rather silent condition and by the time people experience symptoms, they’ve often been living with it for a while.

We should never be blasé about type 2 diabetes. It’s a condition that needs to be taken very seriously. If it’s not managed well, it can cause severe complications.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are not the same. Type 1 is an auto immune disease whereby the body’s own immune system attacks healthy cells – in this case, the beta cells that make insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that drives glucose out of the blood, into cells in our liver, muscles, and fat, to give us energy and bring our blood glucose back to a safe level. Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children, but it can occur in adults too. Former Prime Minister Theresa May was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes later in life.

While type 1 diabetes is not caused by lifestyle, type 2 diabetes is often caused by lifestyle factors and is treated by diet and medication, and sometimes insulin.

Most children who have diabetes have type 1. Their parents understandably feel irritated when well-intentioned people try to advise them on feeding their children healthier food.

With type 2 diabetes, the three high-risk factors are being overweight, over 40, and having a family history of the condition. But the shocking truth is that a greater number of young people are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – even children. The numbers of adolescents and young children presenting with adult conditions is escalating every year – high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, and depression to name only a few.

While I’ve always believed in personal responsibility, practices within the food industry are often heinous. In many cases high levels of sugar are added to many daily staples. This is fuelling obesity and metabolic syndrome – the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and obesity.

Back in 1972, Professor John Yudkin’s book, Pure, White and Deadly, was published. He was well ahead of his time. The sugar industry was booming and fortunes were being made. In his book, Professor Yudkin named sugar as the leading cause of obesity and heart disease and other serious health conditions. He predicted the obesity crisis and metabolic syndrome that’s so prevalent in the world today, and he warned against consuming high amounts of sugar in our daily diet. The sugar industry defamed him and called his work a piece of science fiction. Instead of ignoring his warnings, the world should have listened.

In my 20s I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Yudkin on a couple of occasions when I attended his lectures in London. I’d read his book and I was fighting my way out of binge eating disorder – I’d been hooked on sugar since childhood. When I was a child in the 1960s, the harmful effects of sugar weren’t known.

My short time with Professor Yudkin was enlightening. My sugar addiction had a strong grip on me though, and it would be some years yet before I could put his advice into practice – though eventually I did. While we can lead a horse to water, we can’t make it drink. But here’s the thing: if the horse is near water, it’s very well positioned to drink when it’s thirsty enough.

We often gather and store information before we’re ready to act on it. So, where to start in helping ourselves prevent type 2 diabetes? The most critical shift is diet. Stress-management and exercise are important factors, but diet is number one.

We all know we’re taking in lots of sugar if we eat biscuits, chocolates and donuts, and drink soft drinks. But when a person doesn’t eat any confectionery or drink soft drinks, they’re often baffled when, after analysing their weekly food consumption, I tell them they’re consuming too much processed sugar. This is because of hidden sugars in breakfast cereals, yoghurts, soups and sauces and many other canned and packaged foods.

Fruits, vegetables, and the milk from milk-producing mammals contain intrinsic sugar – this is not the cause of obesity or metabolic syndrome. This type of sugar is intrinsic within the cellular structure of the fruit and vegetables, and much of it is bound by the fibre in these foods.

The sugar that’s causing all the trouble is called free sugar. Highly processed, this sugar elevates blood glucose levels too high, too quickly. Spikes in blood glucose levels are also associated with mood disorders and increased cravings for more sugary and processed foods.

Adults shouldn’t have more than 28g of free sugar daily. But many adults are regularly having in excess of 90g of free sugar daily, and those with a habit of binge eating are typically having more. When reading labels on food produce, aim to select produce that contains no more than 5g of sugar per 100g of the product.

Naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables don’t count towards your daily sugar intake. While tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples and mango have higher sugar content, in my 37 years working in this field I’ve never known anyone become obese because they ate too many bananas or mangoes. Delicious as they are, they’re not addicting.

Unprocessed complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, pulses, sweet potatoes and oatmeal are extremely healthy. It’s the refined carbohydrates that cause all the trouble.

No one gets addicted to healthy food. Processed sugar, however, is addicting, as are other junk foods. This fact is now beyond debate. In truth, ‘food’ is too honourable a word for so much of what’s now making up the popular diet. Food-like substances is a more accurate description.

Reducing sugar and refined carbs is a positive health investment. Join me again in two weeks and I’ll show you some practical ways to succeed.

  • Joanne Reid Rodrigues is the founder of Slimming Together and the creator of The Authentic Confidence Course. She is an author and therapist in nutrition, CBT, and stress management. Joanne can be contacted at JoanneRR.com.

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