Sugar: not so sweet? By Donna Aston

For any of us who have tried to reduce our waistline, or improve health, cutting back on sugar and refined foods is common practice, but what lies beneath our cravings for these foods may come as a surprise.

It’s important to note that refined carbohydrates (flour, cereals, bakery items, white rice, etc.) are essentially digested as sugar. While it may bring short-term joy to our tastebuds, excessive sugar consumption can have a long-term negative impact on the aging process.

Sugar triggers a significant blood glucose spike, which results in a process known as glycation. The more glucose we’re exposed to, the more our cells suffer glycation, which can be likened to cooking. Once a molecule is glycated (cooked!), it’s irreversibly damaged. You can’t ‘un-cook’ food any more than you can un-cook damaged cells. This damage can lead to longer term effects, ranging from a breakdown in collagen (a primary target of glycation) and the formation of wrinkles through to cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. 

Of course, aging is inevitable, however, we can influence the speed at which we age with considered diet and lifestyle choices. Skin, being the outermost protective cover of the body, is often subjected to both internal and external aging. Over time, glycation results in skin dryness, reduced thickness, loss of elasticity, and a reduced rate of cell regeneration. Collagen and elastin are the proteins in our skin that support a plump and taught complexion, and are also most prone to glycation, contributing to a sagging and dull complexion.

The external signs of glycation are generally apparent from the age of 30-35, as we’ve been exposed to the onslaught of sun damage, environment pollutants, hormonal changes, and glycation. 

By making some simple diet and lifestyle choices that support optimum blood glucose, the rate of glycation can be slowed. While all carbohydrates are converted into sugars, the more refined options can accelerate the glycation process 10-fold. And it’s not the odd blowout on sugar that’s the issue. Overindulgence in general can lead to chronically high blood glucose, which means your cells are exposed to high levels of glycation around the clock. 

As soluble fibre promotes healthy microbial balance in the gut, and helps to regulate blood glucose levels, including a diverse range of fibrous plant foods in your daily diet is a great place to start. Ensuring each meal is balanced with a serve of protein, five different plant foods and some unrefined fats and oils will provide your body with the nutrients required for optimal health.

Keep in mind that our blood glucose can also be impacted by factors other than diet. Persistent heightened levels of stress and poor sleep can trigger our ‘fight or flight’ response, increasing our blood glucose levels to prepare us to flee ‘danger’, yet we’re sitting at our desk. And it’s not for the intended 10 minutes, it’s commonly for weeks, months or years on end. 

Above all, remember to be kind to your body and allow yourself the luxury of regular exercise and the enjoyment of much-needed downtime. Your body, and your skin, will thank you for it!