Withdrawing from sugar

By Donna Duggan

Withdrawing from sugar

A few years ago I spent a week at the Gwinganna health retreat when I had just finished weaning my son. Like most new mothers I was pretty exhausted and severely sleep deprived and was very much looking forward to week of sleep and pampering. Because I had been breastfeeding, I hadn’t been drinking very much alcohol or caffeine so I wasn’t too concerned about suffering from any detox symptoms.

The food at Gwinganna is fabulous, hearty and nourishing. It’s also so flavoursome that you don’t realise it’s missing sugar, dairy and some of the additives that are loaded into processed foods.

The first day slipped by in a blur as my body adjusted to sleep and silence. I missed my family, a lot. I also noticed that I missed the taste of something sweet after my meals and whenever my energy levels waned.

The second night I woke up bathed in sweat. I was trembling and my head pounded. I felt paralysed with anxiety and I was terribly nauseous. I talked to the naturopath the next day and she deduced a sugar withdrawal. We sat down to work out how much sugar I had been consuming and I was shocked. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but it had got way out of control.

By the end of the week at Gwinganna, I was feeling healthier and more energetic than I had in years. I also managed to take home some healthy habits that kept my sugar intake at the recommended level (around 5% of your daily food intake) for a good while. The healthy eating habits rewarded me with better sleep, clearer skin and increased energy.

It’s only recently that I’ve acknowledged that once again, my sugar intake is getting out of control. That’s the trouble with sugar, once you get a taste for it, you always want more.

This morning, I found myself flipping through Sarah Wilson’s book, I Quit Sugar. While I’m not ready to give up sugar all together [Wilson recommends eating no sugar – including fruit – while you break the sugar habit], she does have some great tips in how to reduce the sugar load. The book also made me realise how much sugar I’m feeding my kids. While I console myself with the fact that they are constantly moving and need the energy, the fact is I’m teaching them some very unhealthy habits.

The University of Sydney released a statement today saying that guidelines used to rate school canteen menus need an overhaul to limit the sugar content of food and drinks. Dr Kieron Rooney, a senior lecturer in biochemistry and exercise physiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, said the current canteen guidelines do not pass the nutrition test because added sugar is not included in the ‘nutrient criteria’ to classify food or drinks as green, amber or red.

“Australia’s canteen guidelines are failing our kids because they don’t comply with the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines, which recommend limiting food and drinks with added sugar,” Dr Rooney said.

“The canteen guidelines only assess the kilojoules, saturated fat, sodium and fibre content of food and drinks, which means menu items that are still high in added sugar can be deemed canteen compliant and sold at the school tuckshop.”

Dr Rooney warned that food and drinks with high sugar content were sneaking onto canteen menus across the country because the criteria guidelines were so outdated.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends children’s sugar intake should be less than 10 percent, with improved health benefits associated with reducing sugar to 5 percent of energy intake, so it’s important that we ensure our guidelines are up to date to protect kids’ health,” says Dr Rooney.

“Is sugar so bad?” you may be asking. Well, a little bit is ok, but too much can lead to many health problems such as type 2 diabetes, tooth decay and obesity. If you want to know how much your body actually needs you can go to www.eatforhealth.gov.au, which will work out your daily energy requirements. According to the calculator, my daily energy requirement sits around 9000kJ, which means only 450kJ a day should come from sugar which equals about 25g. Considering there is about 14g of sugar in a banana, 20g in a couple of biscuits and 19g in a gluten-free muesli bar, I’m in trouble. And it’s only 2pm.

So it’s time to exercise a little self-restraint, and to get a little clever in what I buy and how I eat. Here’s hoping the benefits outweigh the withdrawal!


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