How to eat well: Sugar? I never touch the stuff

By Ian Marber, September 27, 2012

I am often asked what I eat, but rather than list everything, I find that it easier to say what I don’t eat.
Firstly, as I was born with coeliac disease, an intolerance to gluten, I can’t eat wheat, barley or rye. I have an unpleasant reaction, one that I will gloss over in print, to allium, especially garlic, raw onions and chives, so those are out too.

These elements I have no choice about, but the one food I avoid out of choice is sugar. There is nothing inherently wrong with sugar (after all, it’s natural in as much as it comes from a field), and of course, it tastes pretty good too. But sugar, in nearly all its forms can cause problems.

It is rapidly digested by the human body which in turn can lead to a spike in glucose and thus insulin levels. All carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars, but in the case of sugar itself, it’s the speed at which this happens that has a knock-on effect on how we feel — mostly causing frequent fatigue and cravings for more sweet food, and ultimately weight gain.

Organic sugar, brown sugar and cane sugar have much the same effect — colour and origin have little importance when it comes to basic biochemistry.

And what about honey? It has a healthy aura as the whole bees/sunshine/hives/honeycomb thing feels pleasingly natural. It also has the advantage over sugar of not being so obviously processed. But while honey is generally better than sugar, I have never thought that just because a food has an inferior alternative it should automatically qualify as especially great.

Honey does, of course, have some health benefits, not least mild anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects, but eating sweet food, whether it’s honey or organic brown sugar, leads to wanting more, and that’s where the problem lies.

A little honey on plain yogurt or a couple of squares of dark chocolate to satisfy sugar cravings is all very well, but getting rid of the cravings altogether is much more effective than fighting them. Take a look at food labels and avoid anything ending in “ose”, such as glucose, fructose or lactose.

Try a week without any sugar or sweet food and see the difference.

Ian Marber is one of the UK’s most highly regarded nutrition experts and the author of 11 books.

Last updated: 10:59am, September 27 2012