These days, sugar is the latest bad guy in town and experts are now claiming that it’s actually a poison, saying that the stuff that we have been eating and feeding to our children in abundance on a daily basis, is really that bad for you. On an anatomical level, our bodies actually need sugar, it’s our preferred fuel. We just eat too much of it. Naturally occurring sugars which give fruit, some veggies, and milk their sweet taste are perfectly healthy. It’s the added refined sugars in processing and food preparation that we need to concerned about. So, why is sugar really that bad for you? Let’s look at this topic in more depth.
Is There Such a Thing as a Sweet Tooth?
Yes, sugar love is in your DNA. Researchers have found two sweet-receptor genes that can predict a preference for sweets. However, even those of us without a sweet tooth may be eating more than we realise because so many everyday processed foods, from cereals and bread to pasta sauce and soups contain sugar.
How Much Should I be Eating?
The new recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) are that only 5% of your daily calorie intake should consist of added, or ‘free’ sugars. This equates to approximately seven sugar cubes (30g). Children should have less – no more than 19g a day for children aged 4 to 6 years old (5 sugar cubes), and no more than 24g (6 sugar cubes) for children aged 7 to 10 years old.
The problem for the majority of us is that many of the processed foods we eat have added sugar which supplies energy in the form of calories, and very little else – so we end up consuming more than we need. This means our body has to draw on the nutrients from the rest of our diet to process the sugar and this can affect our health, including our immunity – leaving us more prone to bugs and colds.
But it’s not all bad news – sugar is a carbohydrate found naturally in a host of different foods from lactose in milk to the fructose in fruit and honey. In fact, if you’re very active and exercise regularly, some sugar in your diet helps supply ready energy to fuel your muscles and keep your brain active.
Spot the Hidden Sugar
- Low-fat and ‘diet’ foods often contain extra sugar to help improve their taste and palatability and to add bulk and texture in the place of fat.
- Even savoury foods, like ready-made soups and sauces may contain added sugar.
- A can of soft drink, on average, contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar.
- The natural sugar in some fruit, including apples, has increased as new varieties (including Pink Lady, Fuji and Jazz) are bred to satisfy our desire for greater sweetness
Read the Label
Discover how much sugar is in your food by doing these simple checks:
- Look at the ‘carbs as sugars’ on the nutrition panel – this includes both natural and added sugars; less than 5g per 100g is low, more than 22.5g per 100g is high.
- Check the ingredients list for anything ending in ‘ose’ (glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose) – these are all forms of sugar, as are honey, agave, molasses and syrups like corn and rice syrup. The higher up the ingredients list these are, the more sugar the product contains.
- Know your substitutes – for example xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol. These occur naturally in small amounts in plants and fruits and are often used in low-calorie products to provide sweetness but with fewer calories. Xylitol can be used in home-baking as a replacement for regular sugar (ratio 1:1) although your bakes won’t brown as much and xylitol can’t be used where yeast is the raising agent.
Ways to Cut Down on Sugar
Making a few simple adjustments to your diet can help you cut down on unnecessary sugar consumption.
- Reduce the sugar you add to hot drinks. Try doing this gradually to give your taste buds time to adjust. Try adding a sprinkle of cinnamon to cappuccino or hot chocolate, cinnamon helps stabilise blood sugar levels and adds flavour without the sweetness.
- Avoid low-fat ‘diet’ foods which tend to be high in sugars. Instead have smaller portions of the regular versions.
- Be wary of ‘sugar-free’ foods. These often contain synthetic sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin and aspartame. Although these taste sweet, they don’t help curb a sweet tooth so they tend to send confusing messages to the brain, which can lead to over-eating.
- Swap white bread, rice and pasta for wholegrain versions like oats, granary and wholemeal breads, brown rice and pasta.
- Reduce the sugar in recipes and add organic spices to boost flavour and taste.
- Stick to one glass of fruit juice a day (and dilute it) and keep sweet soft drinks and alcohol for the weekends. Enjoy herbal teas or water with slices of lemon or citrus fruits for flavouring.
- For a pick me up, have a piece of whole fruit with a handful of nuts or a small tub of plain yogurt. Both contain protein which helps balance blood sugar and energy levels.
Sugar Can Give You Cancer
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and is characterized by uncontrolled growth and multiplication of cells. Insulin is one of the key hormones in regulating this sort of growth. For this reason, many scientists believe that having constantly elevated insulin levels (a consequence of sugar consumption) can contribute to cancer. In addition, the metabolic problems associated with sugar consumption are a known driver of inflammation, another potential cause of cancer. Multiple studies show that people who eat a lot of sugar are at a much higher risk of getting cancer.
The Take Home on Sugar
The bottom line is, there is room for sugar in a balanced diet when consumed in small amounts. If you find yourself craving sugar, it is better to satisfy that craving with naturally sweet fruits as opposed to processed foods. This way, you can get your sugar fix while getting the nutrients your body needs. There is overwhelming evidence that people with cancer should not add sugar to their diets in the form on chocolate, cakes, fizzy soft drinks, bought smoothies. processed and packed foods. So is sugar really that bad for you? We conclude with a resounding “Yes”. Cut it out altogether or keep it to a minimum.
Is sugar really that bad for you?