Five reasons to give up sugar (middle-aged spread and premature ageing aren’t healthy – or sexy!)

Many of the signs of ageing that appear in our fifties may not be simply because we are getting older. They could be more to do with a lifetime of too much sugar

Among the many dietary and lifestyle reasons that can trigger wrinkles, high cholesterol, joint pain, stress and other health issues, there is one big one: sugar consumption. Sugar (more specifically, fructose) is at the heart of why we begin to see signs of ageing in our 50s.

If you think giving up sugar is just about losing a bit of weight, you may want to have another look at what’s really happening to your body when you eat too much of the sweet stuff.

When we think of sugar, we usually associate it with the white sticky stuff commonly known as table sugar (sucrose). But that’s only half of the story, as sucrose after it’s been consumed is metabolised as 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose.

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Glucose is absolutely essential to every cell in your body for good health. It is fructose (fruit sugar) that is the real problem

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Both are used by the body and, in fact, glucose is absolutely essential to every cell in your body for good health. It is fructose (fruit sugar) that is the real problem. It makes up 50 per cent of table sugar, and every piece of fruit you consume consists of fructose.

So when you declare to the world that you are thinking about giving up sugar, it is actually fructose that you need to cut back on. It can be a quite the conundrum. Could fruit possibly be bad for us?

Whereas every cell of your body metabolises glucose, fructose can only be metabolised by your liver, where it is either released back into the bloodstream when needed, where it can be problematic, or is converted by your liver to fat. Here are my five good reasons to cut down on frustose.

1. Middle-aged spread

If it were ever possible to have good fat and bad fat, well, now is the time to recognise that where your fat is located is a big deal. Fat on your tummy may not consist only of the subcutaneous fat that you can see – which you may have come to think of as ‘just middle aged spread’ – but of visceral fat.

Visceral fat is different to the fat elsewhere on your body as it is internal, dangerously surrounding primary organs such as the liver, heart, pancreas and abdominal organs. It increases your risk of conditions such as increased blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, stroke and insulin resistance.

It is linked to an over-consumption of fructose. It’s not pretty and it’s certainly not healthy.

2. Premature skin ageing 

Fructose, when consumed in excess, can attach itself to your skin’s collagen, setting off a cascade of damage and destruction. A process called glycation takes place and can have devastating effects your skin. Left unchecked, glycation destroys collagen proteins. Or, in other words, causes the formation of wrinkles.

3. Signs of ageing in the body 

If you’ve ever suffered from joint pain, high blood pressure or trouble with your kidneys, you may be tempted to accept it as part of the inevitable decline of ageing.

But something else could be at play. Perhaps there is something in your diet wreaking havoc with the internal harmony of your body. Yep, you guessed it: fructose.

The ingestion of too much fructose, if it doesn’t end up stored as fat, circulates in your bloodstream and raises your levels of uric acid (a waste product of urine). Too much uric acid leads to health conditions including hypertension, gout and kidney disease.

4. Stressed out, burnt out, tired

Now more than ever is the time to enjoy the spoils of all the years that have gone before. But we live in a crazy, busy stressed-out world, and we’re living longer and working longer.

When we’re under stress, a hormone called cortisol spikes. It’s a normal stress reaction, and part of our ancestral survival mechanism, putting us in ‘fight or flight’ mode to respond when we are under attack or feel threatened.

It is not meant to be constantly raised. But these days, many of us feel under a consistent level of ‘threat’ (workload, boss, family, juggling too many balls…) and our cortisol is constantly raised when it is not meant to be. The body isn’t designed for this. It leaves us with chronic anxiety, depression and suppressed immune function.

All this stress often stimulates our desire to load up on fructose-laden sugar. It’s a tempting solution, but short-lived and further spikes our stress hormones. A cycle of stress develops, leading to a state of health that is below par.

5. Fatty lipids or bad cholesterol in your blood

The management of high cholesterol is a controversial one and for many the jury is still out. Nevertheless, we can all take a little control over our own health and cut back on the fructose. There are some compelling reasons why.

Your low density lipoproteins or LDL ( ‘bad cholesterol’) are particularly susceptible to the damaging process of glycation. Once glycated, your LDL becomes poorly recognised by the lipoprotein receptors that scavenge and remove these troubling lipids from your bloodstream. Further, the path of debris from all this damage accumulates, putting you at greater risk of heart disease and stroke.

How to cut down on fructose

The ongoing overload we put on our bodies from too much fructose is unnecessary and, with a few minor adjustments to your consumption, you can make a big impact on your health.

Cut back on the following, as they all contain far too much fructose for your body to deal with:

White sugar

Brown sugar

Honey

Agave syrup

Golden syrup

High-fructose fruits (i.e. extremely sweet fruits)

Dried fruit

Concentrated fruit juice

You could try coconut sugar, which is widely touted as a healthy alternative, being 70-80 per cent sucrose and only a few per cent fructose (compared with table sugar’s 50 per cent fructose). But that’s not the whole truth, as sucrose IS half fructose.

Sugar in packaged foods 

Read the labels of all packaged foods, such as ready meals, soups, sauces, yoghurts with fruit in (not so healthy as you might think, as they have sugar added), biscuits and the like, and even tinned fruits and vegetables

Sugar, fructose, corn syrup and agave syrup all have a way of flying under the radar and creeping into many packaged foods. It’s quite shocking once you start to read the labels!

Or course, you could stop eating packaged foods, and instead eat freshly cooked food made from fresh natural ingredients, which is what the human body requires to be properly nourished anyway. (Call me radical…!) Getting older is inevitable but, with a bit of action on your part, it needn’t be premature and can be a healthy process.