Despite knowing about the dangers of consuming too much sugar—diabetes and cavities—my childhood involved stuffing my pockets with sugar packets and snagging an orange-flavoured lollipop at the end of my yearly check-up.
After being scolded for my sugar addiction, I came to associate sugar with candies, dessert, and soft drinks. However, sports drinks, cereal bars, milk, and even fruits contain sugar. The issue pertains to the kind and quantity of sugar one consumes.
In certain foods and beverages, there are natural sugars and added sugars. The American Heart Association defines natural sugars as sugar “found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose),” while “added sugars are sugars and syrups put in foods during preparation or processing or added at the table.”
The difference between them is that added sugar is derived from other substances, removing the nutritional factor that helps regulate consumption. Therefore, fruits with the same amount of sugar as junk food are healthier. In fruit, there exists fibre, vitamins, potassium, and water that help slow down the absorption process.
When you think about added sugars, you usually think of candy and soda, but dairy and grain products, such as flavoured yogurt and cereal, also contain added sugars. Usually, a good indicator is ingredients with the suffix ‘-ose’, namely sucrose, glucose, fructose, and lactose (excluding plain milk). However, there are many other names for sugars such as maltose (the dreaded ‘ose’), nectars, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup, honey, and molasses.
Many companies will try to disguise the sugar with healthy sounding ingredients like fruit concentrate or agave nectar, but it is still sugar!
Now sugar isn’t inherently bad for you.
Sugar is a carbohydrate your body uses for energy. However, certain types of sugar and sugar combinations can have adverse effects on your health.
Glucose and fructose are natural sugars. Glucose circulates in your blood and regulates your blood sugar. It is easily broken down and absorbed, most of which is converted into energy.
We need this energy to function. As the World Health Organization points out, “Sustaining energy balance is critical to maintaining healthy body weight and ensuring optimal nutrient intake.”
Intaking too much glucose can cause your pancreas to overproduce insulin, says organics.com, and this results in “low sugar levels.” They also argue that too little glucose results in low energy levels. With anything, but especially your diet, balance is a key component to a healthy lifestyle.
Fructose is sourced from fruits, vegetables, and honey, and it’s added to flavoured “beverages such as soda and fruit-flavoured drinks,” healthy eating states. When sugar is not consumed from its natural source, but rather processed, it becomes lipogenic and difficult for the muscles and brain to absorb. Too much can result in weight gain since it does not release insulin or produce leptin, the fructose begins to “behave more like fat in the body.” The nutrients in fruits help with this process, which is why fructose is best when absorbed from fruits and vegetables.
Sucrose, commonly referred to as ‘table sugar’, is a combination of fructose and glucose and it is usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets. However, fruits and vegetables also contain sucrose. Enzymes will separate the glucose and fructose in the body with glucose providing energy and fructose “will be poured into fat synthesis,” according to healthyeating.sfgate.com.
The American Heart Association suggests no more than 36 grams (150 calories) of sugar for men and 25 grams (100 calories) for women. For every gram, you get 4 calories. When you consider that some junk food and soda contain more than 25-36g per serving, you get an idea of how bad it is for you and your body.
Always check the nutritional label. Many foods have a lot of sugar, but no nutritional value. These foods may be sweet, but high blood sugar and unhealthy weight gain are bad for your heart and can lead to heart disease and leave you bitter.
The same thing that gives you energy can negatively impact your health.