Don't let 'fat-free' and 'diet' labels mislead you

Ishi Khosla Posted online: Saturday, Oct 26, 2013 at 0000 hrs
Winters seem to be laden with festivals and weddings. There is no doubt that we enjoy the festivals, but the added sugar consumed through sweets comes with baggage.

It has been established that sugars and sweets have an addictive nature comparable to drug addiction. Sugar uses the same neurological pathways as narcotics to hit the pleasure centre of the brain that send out the signals: “Eat more, eat more.” Those with a preference for bingeing on sweet foods tend to binge more frequently.

A recent study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine reported that bingeing on a 10 per cent sugar solution repeatedly releases dopamine (a neurotransmitter, a chemical released by the brain, which plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour) and postpones the feeling of satiety. Not only this, research has revealed that sugar and sweet-reward can not only substitute addictive drugs such as cocaine, but can also be even more rewarding.

In a research published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care to review the analogy of cocaine and foods high in sugar at the neurological levels, the component of sugar and sweet reward appear to be more robust than cocaine.

Further, a recent clinical study published in 2008 suggests that carbohydrates can have “abuse potential” for “carbohydrate cravers’’. Carbohydrate craving has been characterised as an overwhelming drive to compulsively and selectively over-consume carbohydrate-rich, protein-poor foods in response to low mood, resulting in weight gain.

Sugar, in any case is, ‘empty calories’ because its consumption provides energy (calories) but no nutritional value. Milk and fruits for example, contain naturally occurring sugars like lactose and fructose, respectively, and also provide other essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals and proteins. Children who have one sugary drink a day are 55 per cent more likely to be overweight than those who do not.

Whatever be the science, a prudent approach is necessary. Be aware that “fat-free” may actually be high sugar.

Also, remember excessive use of artificial sweeteners may also increase a desire to indulge in sweets and more high-calorie foods. Chances are that eating foods with less sugar will make you want it less. Remember, eating right and more sleep will make you less likely to crave it.

And when you do want it, choose healthier options such fresh fruits, dry fruits, honey, chocolate or jaggery-coated nuts. ‘Sugar fixes’ that work include mouth fresheners like fennel, cardamom, tea, coffee and sugar-free sweets and gums.

Cut sugar consumption

Cut sugar consumption slowly, preferably over a few weeks. Someone who goes from eating a lot of sugar to no sugar at all can feel irritable and low.

Learn to read labels. Do you know that most no-fat and low-fat items are loaded with sugar? Labels are confusing to read at first, learning to look at the nutritional value can help.

Learn to decode ‘sugar’. This is where things get tricky. The following terms are all words to describe various forms of sugar: honey, jaggery, molasses, barley malt, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn or agave syrup, sucrose, lactose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, galactose, grape sugar, mannitol, sorghum syrup and maple syrup. While some options (molasses, jaggery and honey) might be slightly healthier, they still count as sugars.

Watch what you drink, not just what you eat. Drinks are often loaded with sugar. Be mindful of the amount of sugar in your tea, coffee, shakes, juices, “diet” drinks, sweetened wines, liquor and mixed alcoholic drinks.

Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being, one should integrate physical, mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”