Eating high fat food has received a lot of media attention as it is high in calories and encourages weight gain with the result that we are now encouraged to eat low fat foods.
Manufactures are happy to provide low fat options but have started to add extra sugar to make these low fat foods more appealing to us. But now experts are turning the spot light on to sugar. Some experts have dramatically declared sugar as a pure white and deadly poison that is "killing us".
What better than a nice hot drink and a sweet snack at the end of the working day? It can make you feel comforted when we are tired or stressed. The problem is that a routine habit of sweet treats can lead us to become dependent on a sugary fix to get us through the day or to make us feel comforted at the end of a busy one.
We often think we need sugar or that our bodies are asking for sugar to give us energy, but in reality we are tired and need a rest. We can get all the energy we need from the other food we eat in a healthy balanced diet. Advertising works hard to convince us that we need a sugar fix for energy.
John Hoebel, a professor of psychology at Princeton University tells us that eating sweet food triggers the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. He also found in an experiment that when rats were fed a sugary diet they had withdrawal symptoms when the sugar was taken away from them: proving that sweet cravings are very real. So it is true the more sweet food you have the more you want.
Why is sugar bad for us?
Sugar has long been associated with type 2 diabetes, tooth decay and obesity. More and more heart surgeons are linking sugar consumption to heart disease and artery inflammation.
A 2011 study by Northwestern University's Department of Preventive Medicine revealed that women who drink sugar-sweetened beverages increase their risk for developing cardiovascular disease. However we could say that people who consume a lot of sugar would have a tendency towards obesity, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes. But this study interestingly showed that heart risk factors developed even when the women did not gain weight.
Sugar is a threat to heart health for a few reasons. First, sugar raises blood glucose and stimulates insulin production. This is not a problem for people with normal metabolism, but is troublesome for those with pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Secondly, high-sugar foods are often high in calories and can lead to overeating and weight gain. Thirdly, diets high in simple sugars can increase blood levels of triglycerides. Heart Association guidelines specify that most women should have not more than six teaspoons of sugar and most men should get no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day.
Following studies on sugar New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a major campaigner against obesity took these research results seriously and proposed a controversial ban on selling super-sized sugary drinks at the City's restaurants, etc. New York City has also rolled out a
"Fruits and Vegetables Prescription Programme", so recognising the healing and health properties of good nutrition.
Is all sugar bad?
Before you try to cut all sugar from your diet, it is important to know the difference between naturally occurring sugars — those that are naturally found in foods such as fruit, some vegetables, and milk — and sugars that are added to sweets, cakes and ready-made meals during manufacturing.
We expect to find sugar in cakes and sweets but sugar is also commonly added to many ready-made meals; many breakfast cereals are marketed at children as healthy but are coated in sugar. Foods with high amounts of added sugars have limited nutritional value and are considered "empty" calories.
Sugar goes by many different names, depending on its source and how it was made. Check food labels for ingredients ending in "ose" — that's the chemical name for many types of sugar, such as fructose, glucose, maltose and dextrose.
There is no need to cut out all dessert: the key is to eat strategically
Dr Dwight Lundell suggests we look back and chooses the natural homemade foods from simple ingredients that our grandmother made and not those your mum turned to as times changed and the supermarkets arrived with aisles filled with manufactured, ready-made food presented in pretty boxes to tempt us. By eliminating high sugar inflammatory foods and adding simple natural fresh products, you can reverse years of damage to your arteries and throughout your body caused by consuming the western style diet.
Try to establish your own rules
Cut down on fizzy drinks as a can of fizzy drink can contain about 130 calories as well as additives and colourings. Next time you're tempted to reach for a soda or other sugary drink, grab a glass of ice-cold water instead.
Stop adding sugar to hot drinks and cereals
Only eat dessert on weekends. Only have one small sweet snack per day. Save cakes for celebrations and then really enjoy them. Choose fresh fruit and yoghurt for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and other sweets. Choose to finish a meal with a small piece of cheese instead of dessert.
Alva Carpenter is a nutritionist and fitness expert based in the Gulf. Readers can send their questions to firstname.lastname@example.org