If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably because—like many—you have a love-hate relationship with sugar. (We couldn't keep ourselves from sharing this video of Alia Bhatt's relationship with sugar. Her reaction to added sugar represents the sugar-fear of millions around the country.
As a society, our attitude towards sugar is complicated. While consuming sugary foods is often considered an indulgence, it’s also looked at as a guilty pleasure that comes with a wide range of health issues. Read on, as our Nutrition Expert, Chandni Haldurai takes you through the bitter and sweet of sugar.
But is sugar something that you must completely avoid? Let’s take a closer look.
If we’re talking science, sugar is a form of carbohydrate—i.e., it comprises carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules. These molecules, when formed together in different chemical structures, make different types of sugar.
- Glucose: The form of sugar that our bodies use as fuel. All other types of carbohydrates are ultimately broken into glucose to provide us with energy
- Fructose: A type of sugar that is commonly found in fruits, honey, and vegetables. It is the sweetest of all natural sugars
- Sucrose: A combination of one-part glucose and one-part fructose. While it is found naturally in plants, it is also what is found in table sugar
- Lactose: The sugar that is found in dairy products
The above sugar types, along with other variants, are found in most of our food. However, the sugar we refer to—the stuff we find in chocolate cakes, sweets, and sugary drinks—is what we’re asked to be wary of. Called “added sugars”, this is extra sugar that is added to our foods to enhance flavour, texture, or shelf life.
Added Sugar vs Natural Sugar
Our body treats both added and natural sugar the same way. However, when we consume sugar from natural sources, we’re also consuming other sources of nutrients. Added sugar, on the other hand, are empty calories, i.e., calories that don’t add any nutritional value.
Another major difference between natural and added sugar is the sheer amount of sugar the food contains. Foods with natural sugar tend to have very little sugar content as compared to dishes with added sugar in them.
It is important to note here that added sugar doesn’t only refer to table sugar. It can be any form of processed sweeteners including brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, cane sugar, raw sugar, and corn syrup among others.
Effects of added sugar on health
It's a well-known fact that excess consumption of sugar causes a wide range of health-related issues. Let's look at some of them:
As added sugar contains empty calories, consuming sugar-heavy food can put you in a calorie surplus. Over time, excess consumption of sugar coupled with little to no exercise may even lead to obesity
Type 2 diabetes
Consuming excess sugar causes insulin resistance, leading to a rise in blood sugar levels. If unchecked, this may lead to type 2 diabetes, which in turn leads to higher health risk, from heart related problems to deterioration in vision, if sugar levels are not kept in check.
Several studies have suggested that high-sugar diets can lead to obesity, inflammation, high blood pressure. These symptoms can eventually lead to heart disease
The raise in insulin levels can cause an imbalance in hormones which may lead to clogged pores and eventually acne. Additionally, sugar is also known to accelerate the skin’s ages process
Increased risk of cancer
Studies link obesity—a common result of consuming excess sugar—to an increase one’s risk of cancer.
While fatty liver is common in those who consume excess alcohol, it is also common in middle-aged people who are diabetic and obese. Research shows that high fructose intake can lead to fatty liver.
Also read - How to beat those sugar cravings?
Should you cut your sugar intake?
Like all things in health and food, sugar, when consumed in moderation, does not have adverse effects. However, cutting down on added sugar has several benefits:
Improvement in energy levels
Yes, sugar can give us an energy rush. However, it enters our bloodstream quickly and is metabolized faster than most foods, leading to a sugar crash. When you cut out on your added sugar intake and consume more protein and healthy fats, you may find that your energy levels are a lot more steady.
Reducing your sugar intake can slow down your skin’s aging, as it does not hinder your skin’s collagen building process. Less sugar consumption may also help improve one’s acne as it may reduce chances of hormone imbalances.
Reduced body fat
Cutting down on your sugar intake, accompanied by regular exercise, can lead to fat loss. This, in turn, can reduce several health risks like cardiovasular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and more.
Better oral health
Less sugar means lesser food for oral bacteria. So cutting down on your sugar intake can save you a couple of visits to your dentist!
Beginners’ Guide to Cutting Down on Added Sugar
How to quit sugar, you ask? Going cold turkey is not be the best way to go. Instead, follow these tips for a more sustainable sugar-free life approach:
Cut down on sugary drinks
Drinks, especially pre-packaged ones, contain lots of sugar. For starters, reduce your drink intake and swap them with regular water to quench your thirst. Like fruity drinks? Switch them for fresh fruit juices without sugar
Swap dessert for fruit
If you’re someone who can’t do without your post-meal dessert, we’d recommend opting for fruit instead of your regular indulgence
Consume wholesome meals
Are you someone who can’t control their dessert cravings? It could be because your meals are not satiating you. So make sure you have meals that are packed with nutrients. Have a good serving of protein, veggies, carbs, and fat. While it may not seem as exciting at first, we promise, you will learn to enjoy it!
Read food labels
Most packaged food contains processed sugar. So read the nutrition labels so you are on top of your sugar intake
Decode marketing jargon on packages
Most over-the-counter foods that are marketed as healthy are still processed and contain sugars. So make sure you decode the jargon to understand what the products are trying to promote.
Have more protein
Sugar-rich foods can lead to an increase in appetite and often leads to making bad food decisions. So make sure you up your protein intake. This will help you feel more satiated, curbing your cravings.
The Final Word
Sugar, like all other foods, are not inherently unhealthy. However, consuming added sugar—especially in excess—is something one should definitely be careful about. While going off added sugar completely has great health benefits, we’d recommend using your descretion and consulting your doctor before you do.