For our “Food for Thought” Grand Challenges project we explored the effects of sugar on our diets. This follows on from ideas presented by Sugar Smart, with the eventual goal being to change food consumption behaviour among students and children. We aimed to create a new way to inform the general public about how much sugar is in everyday items, and educate about the damaging effects of sugar on our bodies. Having conducted a questionnaire asking students about their sugar eating habits and beliefs, we have gained an insightful understanding about what people think about sugar.
Around 70% of those asked feel guilty about how much sugar they eat and would like to cut down - it has been claimed that sugar can be as addictive as cocaine. The average American eats almost 3x the recommended amount of sugar per day (30g). With the growing findings about the various health risks of this sort of damaging eating behaviour, as outlined below, it is important to educate as many people as possible.
Sugary foods tend to be very calorific - muffins, for example, can contain over 400 calories (for reference, an average adult male requires around 2500 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight). At younger ages, the calories people consume are somewhat offset by everyday activity, but as we get older our lifestyles change.
Increasingly sedentary jobs, prioritising our children, general lifestyle stress - all these and more contribute to a natural decline in activity as we age. Making sure to exercise more is the obvious solution, but for some it can be unrealistic: 20 minutes on the treadmill only burns around 180 calories - the equivalent to a yoghurt.
The (easier!) alternative is to change our eating habits now, so that there's no need to worry about the future. :)References:
Most research today suggests an indirect link between overconsumption of sugar and the development of cancer cells, mainly as a result of obesity and excess body fat. Newer studies, however, show evidence that sucrose consumption is directly associated with significantly increased risk of some types of cancer.
It has also been revealed that cancerous cells’ hyperactive sugar consumption leads to a vicious cycle of cancer development and growth. Fructose, a constituent of table sugar, changes cell metabolism and raises the activity of cancer-promoting protein.References:
It has been found that a sugar-laden diet may raise your risk of dying of heart disease, even if you aren’t overweight. The British Heart Foundation states that even if you’re at a healthy weight, you should still keep an eye on how much sugar you’re eating, to make sure you get a balanced diet. It is well known that in the UK, people eat too much sugar without actually realising and this has been confirmed by dietary surveys.
Many well-known newspapers have bought to our attention the effects of too much sugar. In 2014, the Daily Mail published an article on how as little as one fizzy drink a day raises the risk of heart disease and that a sugary diet could double the chance of death. In the same year, BBC News published an article on the link between having a sweet tooth and heart attacks.
A recent publication on diabetes.co.uk further claims that new research linked high sugar diets to increased risk of heart disease.References:
Sugar consumption generates dopamine – the neurotransmitter that fuels the brain's reward system – in quantities similar to potent narcotics. Overconsumption, therefore, triggers imbalances in certain brain chemicals, which increases the chances of disorders such as depression.
Although it has been shown that sugar does not increase the risk of anxiety, it has been proven that it can worsen the symptoms and weaken the body’s ability to respond to stress.
Sugar can also affect how and how much we learn and remember, as insulin resistance built from a high sugar diet damages communications between brain cells involved in learning and memory formation.References:
BBC Good Food recommends that added sugar (table sugar, honey and syrups) make up only 5% of your diet, and WHO recommends 30g a day (7 tsp).
Exeter University Campus MarketPlace sells staple products like Heinz Baked Beans, Yogurt, cereal bars and ready meals. Advertised as ‘healthy and natural’, those products can contain up to 50% of your sugar GDA.
Some cereals have as much sugar as a doughnut - closer to a dessert than a breakfast food!References:
All these things are faraway issues that we don’t really think about when we’re young, but we’ll come to regret when we’re older. It’s important to note that there’s literally no need for sugar in our diet today, and the consequences of consuming it can be substantial – for some, it’s almost inevitable. 83% of 40-60 year olds in the UK are overweight or obese.
Our survey showed that most people are aware that sugar is bad for you and are willing to cut down, but the statistic above shows that action is rarely taken. So it’s important that we make a change now, and get into the habit of ignoring the sweets and fizzy drinks before it becomes a bigger problem.
Say no to sugar – your body will thank you for it!