Sugar: A sweet problem?
Sugar, both craved and criticized, proves an essential, necessary part of our life. The body needs sugars for bodily functions and day to day existence, so why is there a hypocrisy with sugar?
How it works
The process of breaking down sugar begins in your mouth. When you put a carbohydrate-containing food inside your mouth, enzymes from the saliva in your mouth begin to break down the carbohydrates. After you swallow your food, it travels to your stomach where digestion awaits. Your stomach breaks down carbohydrates into sugar molecules. The sugar molecules pass through the lining of your stomach and get absorbed into your bloodstream.
Blood sugar basics - the good and the bad?
As we know sugar is our main source of energy, everything is a breakdown of sugars and minerals. The vital source of our energy is glucose. Glucose is a result of when our bodies breakdown carbohydrates, it then breaks them down into units of glucose. Glucose levels rise with the consumption of carbohydrates, cells in the pancreas release insulin signalling cells to take the glucose from the blood. As cells absorb the sugar from the blood, the levels start to drop.
Fructose is the sugar derived from fruits naturally and is used in fruit, honey, and syrups. it is absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion but has no impact on the insulin production or blood sugar levels. The body handles this differently, as it is metabolised in the liver. If you consume too much the liver can not process it fast enough and instead started to make fats which are carried through the bloodstream as triglycerides, the body’s main form of fat.
Lactose is the sugar found in milk, it is broken down slowly and helps the increase of minerals and calcium, magnesium and zinc. It is broken down into two parts by an enzyme called Lactase, once this is done the body can then absorb the sugars into the bloodstream. For those that suffer from the consumption of milk may be because their bodies lack the enzyme in which breaks the sugars down in milk and the digestion, it can cause bloating, discomfort and other gastrointestinal symptoms. This can be supplemented if needed, alternatively, there are lactose-free options.
Lastly, Sucrose, this is the most commonly found crystallised sugar in most households today and food products, with this use of sugar, is can presser foods, giving them a longer lasting lifespan and it is the broken down rapidly into its constituent parts. It is known as a disaccharide, a mix of 50% glucose and 50% fructose, it is then metabolised by the liver, but also has the same effects on the blood levels. This sugar carries the most risk with consumption and overconsumption. Diabetics need to be mindful with there choosing of this sugars and foods containing this.
The effects of too much sugar
Ever heard of the sugar crash? The sudden feel of fatigue, headaches and irritability? As a population, we are overeating sugar, with women consuming as much as 15tsbp of sugar daily and men an amount of 20tsp when the daily recommended amount is 5-6tsp for women and 7-8 for men. With high amounts of consumption of sugar, this spikes our blood sugar levels; this causes hyperactivity – a high in energy levels and uplifting moods and emotions. So when finally the blood sugar levels are regulated, usually after a few hours you are left feeling worse than before – Meaning fatigued, sad and in some cases depressed.
The health implications of sugar?
So in addition to the 'sugar crash' what are the serious effects of a high consistent consumption of sugar?
Sugar can cause insulin resistance, which can lead toward metabolic syndrome, or diabetes - Which furthermore could develop to: type 2 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes
- Obesity, weight gain
- Hormone imbalance
- High blood pressure
- With an increase of metabolic problems and the considerable inflammation sugar results in, the risk of cancer is increased
- High cholesterol, higher risk of heart disease
- Higher risk of liver disease
Where it can be hidden and where to look?
Now with the ever changing diets that social media and the news promote, the population are constantly puzzled as to what is really healthy and what is nutritional. Low fat, no fat, no sugar, no added sugar, which is it and what do we need to be looking for?
Always read the label, regardless of the packaging, promotion or title, look at the nutritional content. This will then allow you to discover the hidden ingredients and the sugar content looks for carbohydrates and then this of sugars on the nutritional panel. This will include both natural and added sugars, less than 5g per 100g is low, anything more than 15-18g per 100g is high.
In addition, look through the ingredients, checking for listings with those ending in ‘ose’ (glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose) these are all forms of sugar, as are honey, agave, molasses, and syrups like the corn and rice syrup. The higher up these ingredients are, the higher content they have within the product.
Know your substitutes: for example xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol. These occur naturally in small amounts in plants and fruits and often are low-calorie products to provide sweetness but fewer calories.
General rule: avoid foods labelled ‘low fat’ these usually contain high sugars, avoid ‘sugar free’ foods, all foods contain sugars, so they will artificial sweeteners within.
How to curb the cravings - keep hydrated, following a well balanced diet. Yes refrain from eating a lot of sugars, but don't restrict entirely. A very big belief of my own and message i stress is if it isn't sustainable it isn't healthy. So if you are someone who enjoys sugar, have it as a treat, moderation is key.
Additionally, replace your sugar cravings with whole foods, containing natural sugars such as;
- Agave Syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Maple syrup
- Fruits and dried fruits : dates, banana
So if we reduce our intake of sugars, can we supplement with sweetener?
Many people turn to artificial sweeteners as a sugar alternative, but research goes to show these are linked to a direct risk of obesity and diabetes; most artificial sweeteners contain saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame, which in turn interfere with the gut bacteria. Long term consumption with increased weight gain, abdominal increase, higher fasting blood glucose levels, and increased glycosylated haemoglobin levels.
The bottom line with sugar
There are two types of sugar, naturally occurring sugars like lactose in milk and added sugar which includes table sugar, as well as concentrated sources such as fructose.
On a daily basis, the recommended amount for sugar content is: 25g (5-6tsp) for women and 35g (7-8tsp) for men.
We simply don’t need it, we need glucose for our energy, but our bodies get that from eating wholegrains, vegetables and fruit. Fats also provide energy, a key to weaning of sugar completely is to ensue you are eating enough fats and not to be scared of them.
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