Sugar Rush!

How it sneaks into seemingly healthy dishes and damages our physical and mental health.

Last month Cancer Research announced predictions that obesity would overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer in UK women – a statistic not to be ignored; while many of us might be a way off obesity, just being overweight is seriously detrimental to health. It’s now been linked with cancers including bowel, gallbladder, kidney, liver, breast, ovarian and thyroid, alongside a host of heart diseases, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Cancer Research has suggested that within 20 years, 9% of cancers (approximately 23,000 cases) could be caused by excess weight.

As we become increasingly conscious of nutrition and how best to nourish ourselves, partners or children, it’s important not to underestimate the prevalence of sugar – and how subtly as many as 22 teaspoons a day are being snuck into seemingly healthy choices. High sugar consumption is not only detrimental to physical health but causes mood swings, anxiety, chronic fatigue and premature skin ageing.

A form of carbohydrate, sugar is broken down to glucose to provide energy.

Refined sugar is more dangerous than the naturally occurring kinds. The body breaks it down quickly causing a spike in insulin and blood sugar levels (imagine pretty much every 6-year-old birthday party you’ve been to). While this spike often feels like just the thing to see us through a cardio session or power through an afternoon’s work, these sugars are unlikely to satiate an appetite (so we’ll feel hungry again quickly) and when blood sugar levels come crashing down we’re left craving more sweetness, or feeling tired and irritable.

Naturally occurring sugars are much more gentle on the body.

Fruit tends to have a lower glycaemic index and high fibre content, causing it to breakdown slowly in the gut. Slower digestion means we feel fuller for longer and benefit from a more sustainable energy release. Natural sugar (particularly in fruit and vegetables) comes alongside a host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so are an important part of a balanced diet – but they should still be consumed mindfully. Years of genetic modification have dramatically increased the amount of ‘naturally occurring’ sugar in common fruits like apples and bananas and stevia, raw honey, raw cane sugar and coconut sugar are a better source than foods filled with refined varieties, they still have a very high sugar content. The RDA in the UK is 30 grams for age 11+, which is about two tablespoons – be wary of ‘healthy’ recipes requiring significantly more.


Studies have shown sugar to be as addictive as cocaine, with some scientists going as far as to say it’s eight times more addictive than the illegal substance.

This explains a lot about our sweet tooth – humans are hardwired to want it! Consumption in the UK averages around 22 teaspoons per day and if you think you’re exempt (kudos to those disciplined enough to turn down wine, chocolate treats and sweetener in their hot drinks) you’d be surprised by the seemingly healthy foods that are full of it. Fruit juice, sauces and salad dressings, granola and yoghurt are often seen as a healthy option and while they might contain a number of beneficial nutrients, the sugar content tends to be high so it’s best to make your own, or learn to read the labels! Misleadingly, ‘Low Fat’ varieties are laden with the sweet stuff; while fats are reduced, sugar is added to compensate and improve flavour. An investigation by The Telegraph and World Health Organisation found that in some cases, supposedly healthy low fat options contained as much as five times the sugar of their full fat equivalent!

If you’re planning to reassess and reset, consider a one, three, five or ten-day cleanse with Grace Belgravia. Membership isn’t required for the most effective detox in the city, which includes a healthy combination of exercise, detoxifying treatments and nourishing food. Gentle exercise helps regulate blood sugar levels and each dish on the menu comprises deliciously healthy ingredients that leave you full and satisfied, gradually reducing cravings and reliance on sugar. These are short, manageable programmes that introduce new ideas and reset habits, for a sustainable approach to living well.

You can also learn more through a fascinating series of #GraceTalks, led by Grace Belgravia Environmental Medicine Practitioner, Dr Shideh Pouria, find upcoming events on the Grace Belgravia Website.