How Much of This Toxin Are You Drinking Everyday?
For Hong Kongers, January and February are celebratory months with a couple of favorite holidays: Lunar New Year and Valentines Day. The celebratory atmosphere helps buoy the collective mood, which is necessary for all around health, but there’s a hidden danger of this season that lurks with all the celebration. Traditional Lunar New Year gifts of citrus fruits and seed & nut snacks are a healthy way to celebrate. But often the treats can include sugary sweets and chocolates, which can interrupt the festive feeling in the body.
Added sugar is one of the most insidious forms of toxicity in our bodies. When reading ingredients on soy sauces, boxed drinks, and even soup, you’ll notice that sugar pops up in drinks and sauces all too often. The reason this is so problematic is that the recommended daily sugar intake from the World Health Organization is 5% of total energy (calories). While everyone has a unique caloric need, if we use the example of a 2,000 calorie a day requirement, that’s 100 calories per day from sugar. For a little bit of perspective, a small Vita Lemon Tea box drink contains 27g of sugar, which equates to 108 calories. Doesn’t leave room for any other sugar, does it? Even if you avoid sugary drinks, start reading the ingredients for everything you eat or drink. Just notice if sugar is listed as an ingredient. You may be consuming more of it than you think.
We do require some sugars, but only in their naturally occurring form. It’s important to remember that sugars present in fruits and vegetables are slightly offset by the fibre and micronutrient content. The beneficial components include:
- Vitamin C is essential for a well-functioning immune system;
- Antioxidants neutralize free-radicals, which age us and damage our DNA;
- Flavonols are one of nature’s antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and possibly a cancer fighter.
- Insoluble fibre is not absorbed by the body and creates bulk in our stool to help clean the intestines and detox the body. It slows our absorption of sugars so that we don’t have a sharp spike in blood sugar, sending us into an energy tailspin.
This is why eating whole fruits and vegetables is essential for good health (unless you are on a specific nutrition protocol for therapeutic reasons). However, as soon as you extract the sugars from the fibre or heat the sugars up via pasteurization, the health benefits diminish significantly. Fruit juice is an example of this. Even fresh juice from a street vendor is slightly heated by the speed of the juicer (centrifugal juicers are usually used; masticating juicers are slower and do not heat the juice). Additionally, the pulp (ie. fibre) is separated from the sugars and fluids, removing an essential healthy component of fruit. Instead of juicing, try blending the entire fruit, or just eat the whole fruit, which will also slow down consumption and slow blood sugar spikes.
If sweetened drinks like a soy milk latte, oat milk flat white, or bubble tea are a common snack for you, note how often you drink them. If it is rare - maybe once per week - but you’re still not meeting your health goals, then they may still be contributing to your problem. It’s the compounding issue of added sugars from all directions that ultimately keep us in a perpetually inflamed state. The one soda per week might not be the number one reason for your pain, headaches, or extra weight, but it is definitely keeping your body from healing and creating a healthy internal environment.
If cutting fun drinks from your diet is a challenge try these swaps:
- Instead of the in-house soy/oat/almond milk in your coffee, bring your own unsweetened nut milk. If that’s too much of a hassle, switch to tea for your caffeine fix, or ask your local coffee shop if they can start stocking unsweetened nut milk.
- Soda can be exchanged for soda water with a squeeze of citrus or frozen berries and herbs.
- Boxed lemon tea can be made at home with tea and fresh lemon. While it won’t have the sweet taste, the fresh ingredients may be more invigorating than the syrupy sweet flavor.
- Swap store-bought juice with a piece of fresh fruit. All fruits come prepackaged in their own skin for your convenience.
After implementing some of these changes, take note of how you feel. In the beginning you may be more irritable with cravings or seemingly lethargic as your body detoxes and withdrawals from the sugar addiction. But after a few days, you should start to notice a difference. Remember if you slip up it’s not the end of the world but also understand that early on, one sugary drink will make a big difference and you may have to go through the same detox/withdrawal process again. Habits are hardest to change in the beginning but there is a payoff if you stick to it. Try telling a close friend or family member that you’re staying away from sugary drinks to help hold you accountable. You can do it!