Listen: Dr Peter Brukner chats to Laura and Duncan about the impact of sugar on our health.
It’s no secret that too much sugar is not good for us, but knowing that doesn’t always stop us from reaching for a doughnut when we feel the need for a sugar hit. (The one coated in delicious chocolate and covered with sprinkles).
Eliminating sugar may be a tough move – especially when Christmas is just around the corner – but there are ways of cutting back the sugar intake that will make a huge difference in the long term for our health and our pockets.
According to Dr Peter Brukner, it’s an issue for national concern; almost 2 million Australians now have type 2 diabetes—mainly due to poor diets including excess sugar.
Dr Brukner is the official doctor for the Australian Cricket team. He and the team at the health organisation SugarByHalf aim to reverse this trend. The purpose of the newly formed not-for-profit is to create awareness and encourage Australians to reduce their sugar intake by 50 percent.
“Australians are generally having too much sugar and it’s one of the leading causes of our current epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes, tooth cavities and liver diseases,” Dr Brukner says.
He’s not calling for an all-out sugar ban, but for moderation. “I’m not anti-sugar completely; I think sugar is an essential part of life but in small amounts,” he said. “It’s changed dramatically…when I was a kid sugar was a treat. Nowadays it’s just part of everyday life, everywhere we go we have food that contain sugars, sometimes we don’t even realise they contain sugars.”
The Hidden Sugars They Don’t Tell You About
Nearly all processed food contains sugar, says Dr Brukner, but the problem is that it’s not always labelled as sugar. In fact the food industry has about 56 different names that they use for sugar.
While it’s cheaper, faster and more convenient to buy processed foods that are high in sugar, some products are best avoided. Soft drinks are one of them. “The big factor is still sugary drinks,” Dr Brukner said. “There’s no doubt that soft drinks are the number one hidden or not-so-hidden cause of sugars.” Soft drinks are a particular concern for teenagers. While the average Australian adult consumes 16 teaspoons of extra sugar a day, teens are having about 22 teaspoons according to Dr Brukner.
Healthy-looking products can be overloaded with sugar, too. “Even things that we perceive as healthy like fruit yoghurts, fruit juices and muesli bars, there’s a lot of sugars in all these things,” he said.
The Healthy Way to Supermarket Shop
Stick to the outside aisles offering fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meat.
If you’re keen to shop healthier, a good rule-of-thumb is to stick to whole foods, and avoid processed.
Dr Brukner’s tip is to stay away from the middle aisles of the supermarket, where sweets are generally shelved, and stick to the outside aisles offering fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meat.
How to Eliminate the Need for a Sugar Hit
Dr Brukner offered a helpful explanation on why we crave sugar hits. “When you have a load of sugar, you get a spike of glucose in your blood that causes a release of insulin. That causes the glucose to go into your muscles and your liver, and then you get a great drop. And that’s when you get the hungers again at two hours after your sugar hit.
“But if you stick to your healthy fats or the slower-releasing carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables, then you’re not going to need your sugar hit every two hours.”
As a former sugar-craver himself, Dr Brukner said he has experienced first hand the difference that reducing your sugar intake makes.
“If you don’t have much sugar in your meals you’re not as hungry,” he said. “When I stopped having sugar a few years ago, that was the first thing that I noticed; that I just wasn’t as hungry.”
Save Your Health and Your Money
If you’re keen to have a healthier festive season, consider reducing your sugar intake in small ways. One less serving of Christmas pudding means one less sugar hit, one less crash, and one less sugar craving. It may also mean one less trip to the supermarket to satisfy your hunger, and a little money saved for the New Year.