Is sugar really bad for you?
SUGAR usually gets a bad rap for spoiling many a diet plan and so serious dieters are often warned to stay away from sweets if they have any hopes of reaching their weight loss goal or even just maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
But despite numerous warnings from nutritionists, dentists and other health professionals, many of us find it extremely difficult to stay away from the sugar jar. It seems life doesn’t make much sense if we are deprived from indulging in cakes, candies and sweet juices. In fact, in times of distress, we have always managed to find comfort in biting into a cupcake or gulping down bottles of soda, and we will never grow wary of seeing the colourful assortments in the glass cases of our favourite bakery. It would seem as if the sweeter the product, the better it is.
Which begs the question, is sugar all that bad for you?
Well, not really, said alternative medical practitioner Dr Heiz-Peter Becker.
"Sugars are extremely essential. They are some of the most essential nutrients for health. So sugars are some of the healthiest possible things to eat. In fact babies prefer sugar to almost any other taste and that’s because sugar is critical and has been critical to our survival," he said.
"Sugar also has a natural analgesic effect, it helps with pain and it helps to change a lot of the ways we feel about things," he added.
However, he points out that consuming too much is not necessarily a good thing, especially concentrated and purified sugars such as fructose, sucrose, lactose, corn syrups and honey.
"They are more likely to cause things like diabetes in combination with a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and they can create blood sugar spikes and fatigue," he said.
"Also things like tooth decay are associated with refined sugar intake and decreased concentration and hyperactivity in kids is another thing that we associate with refined sugar intake," the health practitioner said.
Dr Becker said just having two to three servings of fruits will give us our daily allowance of sugar.
"We should not be adding sugar to anything we eat or drink, so the whole idea with health largely is that whole foods are likely to be healthier than refined foods."
Refined sugars are the least desirable because refined sugars are empty calories which don’t contribute anything significantly to our health. Sugar should come in the form of whole foods, he said.
Sugar is present in virtually every fruit and vegetable, but is more pronounced in sugar cane and sugar beet. It is important to note that there are different types of sugar, however, the one doctors warn against is sucrose, which is derived from sugar cane and sugar beet.
Here is how experts say refined sugar affects your body:
1. Sugar makes you age faster.
A lifetime of eating sugar can hasten the aging process, experts say. That’s because sugar deposited in the bloodstream usually attaches itself to protein molecules and damages them. Among the proteins that are most vulnerable is collagen and elastin which is what keeps the body firm and elastic. This then results in wrinkles and sagging.
2. It raises your blood sugar level.
Constantly eating sugar can cause your blood glucose levels to go up and your pancreas would have to release insulin to help clear the sugar from your blood cells. Over time, your body would require more and more insulin to get the job done, and this constant pressure on your pancreas may eventually cause it to stop responding to the call. This then results in diabetes.
3. It can suppress your immune system.
Sugar has been found to weaken the immune system. Vitamin C, which is important for fighting viruses such as the common cold, has a similar cell structure to glucose, however, when sugar levels increase, Vitamin C and glucose starts to compete to enter your cells. The glucose is more overpowering and so your body is often left defenceless when this occurs. This means you are made susceptible to various diseases.
4. It contributes to obesity.
Doctors advise that staying away from sugar is one of the best ways to win the battle with the bulge. That’s because just a tablespoon of sugar, for example, contains between 50 and 60 calories but offers very little else in terms of nutritional value. Eating a lot of sugar can also increase one’s risk of cardiovascular diseases, as sugar raises the triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood. It also lowers the level of high-density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol and increases the low-density lipoprotein or "bad" cholesterol.
But don’t worry. You won’t starve if you reduce your intake of sugar and you can still enjoy your favourite foods by being a bit more creative. Here are some alternatives for you:
1. Molasses. This is a safe sweetener which can be used for most of, if not all, your baking purposes.
2. Raisins. Sprinkle in cereals, oatmeal and on salads to add taste.
3. Cane juice. Use this to sweeten your juices instead of sugar.
4. Maple syrup. Instead of sprinkling with sugar, add a bit of maple syrup to your tarts, danishes and donuts.
5. Fruits and natural fruit juices. Natural fruit juices are a great alternative to soda. Some fruits such as ripe bananas, for example, can help to sweeten smoothies and other beverages.
6. Stevia. This can be found in most if not all health food stores in Jamaica and is the healthiest and most practical alternative to sugar.