The effects of sugar on your body
SUGAR HAS a bittersweet reputation when it comes to health. It occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is good.
Plant foods also have high amounts of fibre, essential minerals, and antioxidants; and dairy foods contain protein and calcium.
Since your body digests these foods slowly, the sugar in them offers a steady supply of energy to your cells. A high intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
However, according to Dr Jermaine Nicholas, board-certified doctor of naturopathy and a director at Nutriverse Natural Wellness Centre, the problems occur when you consume too much added sugar; that is, sugar that food manufacturers add to products to increase flavour or extend shelf life.
The top sources of added sugar are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavoured yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. Added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup.
“The result is that we consume way too much added sugar. Adult men take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day. That is equal to 384 calories. The effects of added sugar intake include higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease that are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,” Dr Nicholas said.
If 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day is too much, then what is the right amount? It is hard to say, since sugar is not a required nutrient in your diet. However, it is suggested that women consume no more than 100 calories (about six teaspoons, or 24 grams), and men no more than 150 calories (about nine teaspoons, or 36 grams) of added sugar per day. That is close to the amount in a 12-ounce can of soda.
Reading food labels is one of the best ways to monitor your intake of added sugar. Look for the following ingredients for added sugar and try to either avoid, or cut back on the amount or frequency of the foods where they are found: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt sugar, molasses, and syrup sugar molecules ending in ‘ose’ (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).
Total sugar, which includes added sugar, is often listed in grams. Note the number of grams of sugar per serving, as well as the total number of servings. “It might only say five grams of sugar per serving, but if the normal amount is three or four servings, you can easily consume 20 grams of sugar and thus, a lot of added sugar,” Dr Nicholas said.
Also, keep track of sugar you add to your food or beverages, as about half of added sugar comes from beverages, including coffee and tea.
Yet, Dr Nicholas warns against being overzealous in your attempts to cut back on added sugar, as this can backfire. “You may find yourself reaching for other foods to satisfy your sweet cravings, like refined starches, such as white bread and white rice, which can increase glucose levels, and comfort foods high in saturated fat and sodium, which also cause problems with your health,” he said.
While it is simply not realistic to avoid all added sugars in your diet, it is a good idea to read labels, focus on whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible, and make healthier food choices.
“Companies are going to make their foods taste good. That is part of their business; but as individuals, we are becoming more conscious of our health, so we can decide how much of that stuff we put in our body,” Dr Nicholas said.