It is officially the season to eat chocolate! Unfortunately for us all, the diet demon of the decade appears to sugar. Being a trainer with a notoriously sweet tooth (and a business name to match), I am trying to navigate my way through all the nutritional information in the hope of finding some holes in the information, instead of my teeth. This time however, it looks like Dr Google might just be conspiring against me!
In an effort to analyse what can only be described as my primal urge for chocolate, I have researched far back into history. It seems that early man first discovered the joys of sugar by eating ripe fruit. As fructose is easily converted into fat, those that ate the most fruit became the fattest and during extended periods of starvation, the fattest were the survivors and the reproducers. Cellulite was the new sexy.
In those days, there was nothing specialized about diet. You ate whatever was available to you, similar to a bear or a pig. Modern marketers have called this clever pig and bear diet the “Paleo” or caveman diet. Diet in those days also differed by season and geographical location and a hive of honey was about as close as it got to chocolate bars growing on trees.
Luckily for us, we were gifted with a long gut to make it easier to digest poor quality food and large liver to process any nasty chemicals.
Jumping forward a few Millenium, early evidence of sugar was found in Papua New Guinea where they fattened their pigs with sugar cane. The first processed sugar came from India and by the Middle Ages, sugar was considered a rare and expensive spice. Sugar plantations quickly sprung up with the help of the slave trade and the sugar craze officially went global. It was about this time, that they discovered the magic combination of cacao seeds, seen then as a healthy cognitive enhancer and aphrodisiac, and sugar. A culinary genius of the time invented a heavenly drink called the “hot chocolate” which was consumed by the aristocracy. It was only a matter of time before this evolved into today’s chocolate bar.
Nowadays, Australians eat the equivalent of 14 teaspoons of sugar per day, only to be outeaten by the Americans who consume a staggering 22 teaspoons. Today’s sugar has come a long way from a piece of ripe fruit on the Savannah. The sugar has been concentrated by refining it through multiple processes. It is the daily consumption habit which even our adaptable guts and livers cannot hope to deal with, that is causing a pandemic of health issues.
Chocolate consumption however, is much lower – just over half of us consume chocolate once per month, although anecdotally this statistic seems hard to believe! Chocolate is a substance worthy of worship and chocolate of 70% cacao or higher has been proven to hold antioxidant benefits to rival any superfood on the current list.
My humble conclusion to the current banned food information overload is to look at our prehistoric ancestors, call it twisted Paleo if you like. Yes, they ate sugar, loved it and became addicted to it. Those that were addicted were the fattest and the survivors. However in order to eat, they had to walk massive distances often sprinting after prey or sprinting even faster to avoid being the prey.
Although today our hunting and gathering is more limited to hunting in Coles aisles for the right brand of chocolate and gathering the children from afternoon activities by car, there is a way that we can sometimes allow a guiltless piece of chocolate amongst friends or even a mild overdose of sugar. The antidote is High Intensity Interval Training.
The trick is to exercise at high intensity straight after consumption so that the body will use the glucose circulating in the blood stream as its first preference for fuel, before storing it as fat. Your HIIT post exercise burn will also assist if you want to reverse the sequence. A word of warning however is that exercise is not the substitute for a poor diet and chronic overeating of sugar will most probably result in weight gain, or worse still diabetes.
But overall, my Christmas message of hope is eat chocolate and be merry. There is always a Chocolate HIIT session just around the corner!