*Forget coffee and desserts. Even breads and granola bars come loaded with
sugar these days, and we get addicted to it unwittingly. Shonali Muthalaly
talks to experts who insist that the addiction must be fought. Thankfully,
it can be!*
How much sugar do you have in a day? Two spoons with coffee? Three spoons,
if you count dessert. So five in total?
Not really. Even if you're a health nut. Actually, especially if you're
health nut. Your healthy breakfast cereal contains sugar. So do your
virtuous digestive biscuits. And your righteous granola bars. Replacing
aerated sodas with energy drinks? Well, that's merely swapping ten
teaspoons of sugar for 6.
Raj Ganpath, co-founder and coach at The Quad, a Chennai-based boot camp,
which promotes optimal fitness and sustainable wholesome nutrition, warns
his clients that what's considered 'normal' today is far from healthy.
"Today's normal amount is in reality excessive and today's occasional is in
reality frequent," he says, adding, "The one teaspoon of sugar in your
coffee is not going to kill you." It's your daily choices that make you
Even as sugar is being hidden better and better in processed food, Ganpath
says we are getting "dumber and dumber about what we eat". He says, "We
choose to believe the marketing because it's convenient. It's convenient to
pour out cereal and milk out of the bowl and believe you are giving your
children a nutritious breakfast. Even though it is the equivalent of
handing them a chocolate bar and a multivitamin."
As food manufacturers have discovered, back, sugar makes everything taste
better. "A lot of what we eat today is made in a lab, not a kitchen. It's
engineered, and there is a lot of research going into it. Manufacturers
find ways to layer sugar, salt and fat to make it difficult to resist,"
says Ganpath, adding "And they have discovered that sugar makes everything
taste better. Ten years ago, things never used to be so sweet. We don't
realise this because the changes have been gradual. Bread used to be flour,
yeast, water, salt. Now it has 30 to 40 ingredients, including sugar.
Apples used to be tart. Over the last 120 years, we have selectively bred
them to make them sweet. Today everything is homogenised with a sugar-bias.
Even nachos have sugar."
"If it has a label, it stays off my table," says Jill Escher, author of
Club Perma-Chub: A Sugar Addict's Guide to Easy Weight Loss*. Jill, who
moved from a size 12 to a size six 6 dress size in four months after giving
up sugar runs the 'End Sugar Addiction' blog, which explains to people just
how addictive sugar can be. "Processed food tends to be replete with sugars
in various forms. If a food didn't come from fairly directly from a plant
or animal, it does not belong in your diet."
Dr Sheela Nambiar, obstetrician and gynaecologist, who runs a fitness
programme called 'Training For Life' in Chennai and Udhagamandalam,
explains why you should, in particular, watch out for 'fat-free' food. The
author of the recently launched book *Get Sizewise*, she says, "When
manufacturers take out the fat, the taste goes down. So they add a lot of
sugar to compensate." Start reading labels, and you'll notice hidden sugar
everywhere. "It's in sauces and mixes. In ketchup. In packaged yoghurt."
"Sugar is intoxicating — it floods users with a mild euphoria that, for
reasons of both brain chemistry and hormonal actions, is highly addictive,"
says Escher. "Willpower is a myth, a very destructive myth because it
places the blame on the victim and not the perpetrator. Sugar urges stem
from an abnormally altered biochemistry. To overcome sugar addiction and
create the foundation for healthy eating, we need to reclaim our innate
biochemistry from the invading forces of processed food, sugar, and grains.
A normal biochemistry, based on eating real, unprocessed food, has no need
for refined sugars."
She adds, "The idea of sugar as a staple food is a modern construct and our
distorted bodies show the scars of this relentless assault." Ganpath says,
"It's not normal to eat dessert every day. But any meal at a restaurant now
comes with dessert. Coffee is served with cookies. It's hard to imagine
being addicted to sugar, but picture a world with no sugar and try to fit
anything you do into it, and you'll see how it makes sense."
When Escher gave up sugar three years ago, it wasn't easy. I was 45 years
old, and at only five feet tall, packed on about 30 excess pounds. I knew
deep inside I had become addicted to sugar, and that it was making me fat,
sluggish, and foggy-headed." She adds, "My problem wasn't too many calories
or insufficient willpower, but a nearly lifelong chemical dependence on
refined sugars which had sickened by body and hijacked my brain." Although
the first few weeks were challenging, she says, "I started feeling better
after just a few days. My cravings began to lift, and I began to feel more
nourished with my new way of eating. Weight loss happened fast—almost two
pounds a week. The benefits went far beyond anything I could have imagined:
going from size 12 to size 6 in clothing; clear, glowing skin; a more
focused mind; better sleep; receding arthritis in my spine; better vision;
great cholesterol numbers (even though I ate plenty of dietary fats); and
more energy and zest for work, family, life, and projects.
According to the report *India's Sugar policy and the World Sugar
Economy*submitted at the FAO International Sugar Conference, Fiji 2012, the
consumption in India is growing rapidly. While per capita consumption of
sugar in India is at 20.2 kg, which is that's lower than the global average
of 24.8 kg, it's a steep increase from 4.9 kg in 1963. (The global average
on the other hand shows an increase from 17.3 kg in 1963.)
The fact that we're now eating more refined sugars, including high fructose
corn syrup, makes it additionally worrying. "These are the products of
complex, highly mechanised chemical and physical processes of extraction.
Our bodies were not designed to metabolise these foreign substances," says
Escher. "The problem is not just calories," says Dr Nambiar. "Your insulin
spikes as soon as you consume it." This in turn triggers low blood sugar,
which exhausts you and triggers more sugar cravings. "Artificial sweeteners
aren't much better," says Dr. Nambiar. "The jury is out on aspartame.
Stevia is the safest as as it's natural. But ideally you should train your
palate to get used to less sugar."
"I never ask clients to quit sugar," says Ganpath. "They instantly stop
listening to me. Really, how long are you going to live free from sugar in
a world that celebrates sugar in everything from your morning coffee to
your bedtime antacid?" He adds, "But if you need chocolate to get through
the day, it's time you realised you're sugar-dependent. Your body doesn't
need sugar — it gives you nothing." What about those celebrated 'feel-good
hormones' released by sugary food? He counters, "You get that from patting
*Jill Escher's list for sugar-addicts: *
1. Avoid the "white stuff," including refined sugar, flour, most starches
(easy on the rice and potatoes), and processed food, which invariably
contains blood sugar-spiking junk. Starches are nothing more than
long-chain sugars which convert to sugars during digestion. A bowl of pasta
is little more than a bowl of sugar.
2. Eat plenty of dietary fats, including butter, ghee, lard, avocados,
coconut oil, and olive oil.
3. Avoid vegetable oils, such as soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, and
canola oil. These highly refined oils cause inflammation.
4. Eat plenty of raw veggies – always have a bowl of sliced and yummy
veggies in your fridge to snack on (I tend to have cucumber, carrots, red
5. Don.t eat late at night. For example, try to eat dinner by 7pm, and then
go at least 12 hours without food, having breakfast no earlier than 7am.
When I say "weight loss happens in your sleep," I.m not kidding — you need
to give your digestion and hormones a break if you want the body to start
using fat stores for energy.
6. Drink water, preferably lemon water, throughout the day. Stay hydrated,
carry your water bottle around with you. If you need a bit of sweetness,
add a pinch of stevia.