Sugar has been the talk of the town over the past few years and increasing awareness of the health consequences of excessive sugar or carb intake, in general, has led us to cut down anything and everything that comes in plain sight.
Is sugar really that bad for us? Should we cut it off completely or is it okay to have some? What about the added sugar & fruit sugar? Before we jump right into the details of these questions, let’s cover up the basics!
(For a quick list of key takeaways, check towards the end of the article)
Our food gets converted into glucose via the digestion process which provides fuel to our body to function on a day-to-day basis. This process ensures that our body is already making enough sugar for itself and does not need any extra.
Carbohydrates are the ‘energy-giving’ foods and can be classified into simple & complex¹ carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates release glucose in your bloodstream quicker than complex carbohydrates. Including more complex carbohydrates in your diet ensures there is not a sudden skip and dip in your blood sugar levels. Foods like fruits & milk contain naturally-occurring sugars that pose no harm, rather they are packed with the goodness of essential vitamins & minerals which are essential for proper bodily functions.
Did you know that excessive sugar consumption causes a resistance towards leptin, a hormone that tells your body when to stop eating? This is why it is easier to pile upon calories from sugary beverages and processed foods leading to weight gain² due to an uncontrolled appetite & overeating. Sugar is of no nutritional value. It has no vitamins & minerals that could make it healthy but all it gives is empty calories and replaces true healthy nutritious food.
“Findings published in the European Journal of Nutrition³ in 2016 stated that symptoms of sugar are addictive and produce similar craving effects to a drug.”
High-sugar diets have also been linked to increased risk of heart disease⁴ and high blood pressure levels as sugar is a pro-inflammatory substance, increases triglyceride levels and chances of developing atherosclerosis (deposition of fat causing clogged arteries). Type 2 diabetes⁵ is also linked to high sugar intake due to an increased insulin resistance⁶ in the body.
The excess of glucose produced in our body is stored in the muscle & liver as glycogen. When the liver exceeds its glycogen storing capacity, the glycogen is converted to fat which is deposited in the liver leading to the Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver (NAFL)⁷ disease. Research has also shown that depression⁸ and the aging⁹ process can also be accelerated with excess sugar intake. It also damages the vessels in the kidneys¹⁰ and increases uric acid levels worsening gout¹¹ condition.
Now that we are clear about what can be added and deleted from our diet, are some sugars healthier than others? Well, it’s hard to break the bubble but all sugars are the same, be it coming from honey, jaggery, coconut, brown, or white sugar. Our body processes all sugars equally to yield 4 kcal per gram. Yes, they do contain some nutritional but the nutrients in them at per teaspoon level are in such minuscule quantities that they would not have any major impact on your health.
While having said that, it must be noted that every individual’s body is different and it reacts differently to things. For some eating, sugar every day might not do any harm and for others, they may develop a severe medical condition. Therefore, limiting sugar in our diet is advised as a precautionary measure. Try cutting down gradually and having smaller portions along with retrospecting each time you want to dig into a dessert. It wouldn’t hurt to grab a piece of chocolate or a healthier dessert on days when you REALLY feel like but remember not to go overboard and not feel guilty! :)
- Our food gets broken down into glucose which gives us the energy to carry out daily activities. Naturally occurring sugar coming from fruits & milk shouldn’t be avoided as these foods provide important vitamins & minerals for bodily functions.
- Excess sugar consumption is associated with weight gain, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, gout, aging & depression, and dental caries in children.
- Look out for added sugar in food products by checking the ingredient list thoroughly.
- Remember that all forms of sugar (white, brown, coconut, jaggery, honey) provide equally 4kcal per gram, and nutrients present in them are very minuscule amounts.
- While cutting back on sugar, start gradually, maintain portion control, and try to figure out why you feel the need to have sugary drinks or snacks and work upon it eventually.
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