A personal and positive approach to living a low-sugar life

by Claudia Gascoyne

Tens of thousands of years ago – in an era before farming, supermarkets and the internet – our ancestors had a very different relationship to food as we do now.

Food was a job in itself. Many hours of the day were dedicated to hunting, gathering, preparing and sharing. Of the foods that were sourced from our environment, whether it be from land or sea, few of these contained that sweet, desirable substance we call sugar. Some communities of ancient homo sapiens, such as certain Indigenous Australian groups that existed 60,000 years ago, relied only on berries or sweet-tasting ants to get their daily sugar-fix. In other communities, a brave swipe of a nearby beehive was enough to satisfy the traditional palate for weeks.

In present-day Australia, our relationship with food tells a very different story. As the average citizen makes her way through breakfast, lunch and dinner, she will consume 16 teaspoons of sugar in total, over double what she should be consuming on a daily basis. Her teenage child is likely to consume far more than that. Sugar is no longer a rare treat; it is a necessity. It sneaks into our spaghetti bolognese, it is hidden in our baked beans, and we willingly guzzle it down by the litre in the form of a thirst-quenching soft drink or fruit juice. As a nation, our obsession has grown into a full-blown addiction.

As a result of our extreme sugar intake, we are experiencing high numbers of Australians that are overweight or obese. Currently, 1 in 4 children, and almost 3 in 4 adults in certain areas of our country, are overweight or obese. But it doesn’t end there. Overweight and obesity are known to greatly increase the risk of long-term disease. While we know that reducing sugar is one of the most effective ways to lessen our risk, it is easier said than done. We live in an environment where we are bombarded by delicious and attention-grabbing products loaded with hidden sugar.

Our environment has changed dramatically since our hunter-gatherer days and our behaviour has shifted accordingly. Our current food environment has moved us away from natural whole foods and promotes packaged and processed foods instead. These foods are cleverly marketed and labelled to seem like good food options, however, many contain more sugar and less nutrients than we are led to believe. With the typical Australian diet consisting of up to 35% of these discretionary, packaged or processed foods, sugar is sneaking into our diet in larger quantities than we might be aware of.

However obvious obstacles lie in the way of our well-intentioned desire to limit the amount of sugar we eat: sugar tastes amazing and it’s everywhere we go. It floods our body with dopamine, the feel-good hormone that tells you to “eat that again”. It quite literally hits that sweet-spot, and the more we have, the more we crave. Mouth-watering images are posted on every corner. We can’t scroll through social media or flick through television channels without encountering it. Filling up on petrol is near-impossible without adding a chocolate bar or two to the transaction.

In light of this, lots can still be done on a personal level while we wait for policy and big food companies to make it a little easier for us to go through our day without constantly fighting temptation. Let’s explore all the ways reducing sugar can be of benefit to our bodies and minds, so that our desire for a healthy, happy life outweighs our desire to eat that cupcake.

  1. Firstly, reducing our sugar intake is likely to (surprise, surprise) help us lose weight, and consequently help reduce the probability of winding up with common, chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer, stroke, and even sleep disorders. Check out this article that explains the link between sugar and chronic disease.

  2. Maintaining a diet with minimal sugar also gives us more energy! Forget about that soda-induced sugar high that lasts mere minutes, with less sugar our energy levels become more consistent throughout the day, meaning that we can hold onto that sprightly vitality from dawn till dusk. Along with this comes better cognition and focus.

  3. Save money on expensive beauty products promising to give you back that youthful glow of your early 20’s and cut down on sugar instead. Sugar can cause inflammation and poor immunity, so as we wave goodbye to the sweet treats, we are also waving goodbye to acne, coldsores, redness and other skin complications.

  4. Less sugar is associated with better mood. Sugar plays a role in certain chemical processes in the brain relating to mental illness such as depression and anxiety, so it’s in our best interests to arm our brains and minds with a healthy low-sugar diet.

  5. Lastly, consuming less sugar can help reduce digestive disturbances including bloating, gassiness, and general inflammation of the gut. If belly discomfort is a frequent issue for you, try slowly phasing out sugar and see how you feel (spoiler: you’ll probably feel better).

The temptation of sugary foods as well as the ease of access to them are definitely powerful players in our decision-making, but by understanding the benefits of a low sugar diet, we can use these positive affirmations as our springboard to take control of the sugar in our own diet and help us reclaim a healthy body and mind.